Friday, August 28, 2009

Bar*Food. Home of the $0 Hot Dog

The area around Bundy and Wilshire intersection has no shortage of good eats. You've got world-class sushi from Sasabune, excellent pastries from Amadine, and fine brunch and dinner entrees at Literati. With the addition of the recently opened Bar*Food, this area just gained another solid reason to make the short trek here. Situated directly next door to Amadine, Bar*Food took over the space once occupied by Zu Robata, a Japanese restaurant which I tried and found to be mediocre.

Stepping inside Bar*Food brings back fresh memories of Zu Robata's decore, as not much in terms of hardware has appeared to change since the takover and that's a good thing as I find the layout to be ideal for mixing sit-down diners with happy-hour scenesters under one roof. Formal two and four tops hug the perimeter and surround a Cheers-esque bar with its prominent tap setup. High-tops sit along the window overlooking a small Wilshire-facing patio. It looks as nice as it sounds.

A few pics of the interior

These containers appear to be the infused sakes from the former occupant, Zu Robata.

Bar*Food's reputation on Yelp is stellar--as of this writing it stands at 4 stars with 100 reviews--and so I was looking forward to giving this place a try during my usual Thursday happy hour outing. Speaking of happy hour, Bar*Food's is one of the best, with appetizers, beers, and wine marked down significantly. The burger, listed at $9 regularly and is actually a deal at that price, is $6 during happy hour and you'd be wise to order one. A selection of tap pours run $3.50 each, with the house red going for $5. Another big draw is the inclusion of free hot dogs. Yes. Free hot dogs, full-size. They're on the happy hour menu. Price: $0. You're not going to find a deal like that on the west side.

We arrive at 6:45, just in time before happy hour ends at 7pm, and ordered a few items to kick off the night.

Bar Blonde and House Red

The $0 hot dog

It's a hot dog, and it's free. And you know what? It actually tasted quite good with the simple mustard, ketchup, and onion preparation. I don't know if there's a limit on the number of $0 hot dogs you can order, but I highly suggest you save plenty of room for more of Bar*Food's savory offerings.


The texture and flavor reminded me of the ones at Jack in the Box. Not bad, but I wouldn't order these over the next item.

Potato Puffs

Deep-fried morsels of mashed potatoes -- yum! I couldn't stop eating these. Fluffy insides with fried, crispy outside made for a wonderful mouthfeel.


I believe these were pan-fried in a black bean sauce. It was excellent but very messy to eat. I think I went through two napkins while devouring these. I'm not exactly a spotless eater and these made that known loud and clear.

Bar food. With the frites and hot dogs, this arrangement set us back $6. Things are off to a good start.

With small-bites of the way, it's time to step and order a few mains:

Spicy Tuna

Wickedly spicy tuna sits atop what appears to be a block of white rice that was quickly deep-fried. The rice was firm enough to make this hand-holdable and easy to consume--although nothing is safe with this foodie. Taste wise it was good and I loved how they seasoned and prepared the tuna. When's the last time you saw spicy tuna like this served in a bar?

Bar Burger

The meat was cooked nicely, very juicy, and had hints of soy sauce which made for a unique and delicious taste. I wasn't a fan of the bun and I would gladly pay another dollar for a freshly baked roll like the one at Father's Office or 8oz. In fact, with a higher quality bun this burger would come dangerously close in overall taste to my beloved Father's Office burger. Yes the FO burger is feeling more of the heat these days with so much competition sprouting up in LA.

Thai Bangers and Mash

My favorite dish of the night and a must-have if you are ever within a block of this place and are in need of sustenance. The bangers were delicious and perfectly cooked and served with a side of cilantro mashed potatoes. I shared this dish with my friends, but next time I visit I'm ordering one for myself.

Bread Pudding

This was incredibly moist and delicious, and served with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Within the first few bites I felt the texture was more like cake than bread pudding, but the cake's faux firmness eventually caved in and the pudding began spilling out and over the plate. That spillage combined with the ice cream and chocolate sauce made for a fabulous party for the taste buds. It has inspired me to make one at home in the near future.

Service was friendly and no real complaints can be made. Food came out in reasonable time although we waited about 20 minutes before the bread pudding arrived. We were actually surprised this place wasn't more crowded when we left at around 10pm on a Thursday night. About 1/2 mile east along Wilshire sits a pair of always-seemingly packed bars which might be filtering some of the westward bar-goers from reaching Bar*Food. That's fine with me because I enjoyed the slightly subdued scene in which I didn't have to shout at the person sitting directly across from me.

In the end, Bar*Food succeeds at bringing slightly-upscale food in a bar setting and it's definitely a place I'll be returning to very soon. I suspect this place is more crowed during Friday and Saturday nights, and as our faltering economy makes its recovery, I can see Bar*Food becoming a packed house during the week.

12217 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025

Lastly, I've added a survey on the top-right of this page for the next recipe review, and based on the results and I'll create whatever is most requested and post a full overview with lots of pictures.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Top Chef Tortellini

So recently I had this predicament: what to do with a one-pound package of tortellini sitting in my fridge with an expiration date looming on the horizon? A simple preparation with jarred pasta sauce might do, but knowing that I was going to make an early exodus from work that day, I knew I had some extra time to concoct a more involved dish.

I searched high and low across all the internets (yes all of them) for tortellini-based recipes, and made the executive decision to go with this recipe for Tortellini Salad with Fresh Herb and Tomato Vinaigrette that I uncovered on Top Chef fans will immediately notice that this comes from Michael Chiarello, who was a finalist on the recently-aired Top Chef Master's finale. He didn't win and neither did the chef I was rooting for--Hubert Keller--but this recipe is definitely a big winner in my book.

(copied straight from at the above link )
Tortellini Salad with Fresh Herb and Tomato Vinaigrette
by Michael Chiarello
  • 2 pounds packaged tortellini
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 1/4 cups
  • 4 cups freshly diced tomato
  • 4 tablespoons chopped tarragon leaves
  • 4 tablespoons chiffonade basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
  • 2 minced shallots
  • 6 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4-inch thick into approximately 30 slices
  • 4 cups fresh arugula
  • Gray salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the tortellini according to the package instructions. When fully cooked, drain and toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and allow to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in a nonreactive mixing bowl, combine the diced tomatoes, herbs, shallots, lemon juice, and remaining 1 1/4 cups olive oil. Mix to combine and season with gray salt and pepper to combine. When the tortellini have cooled to room temperature toss with the vinaigrette.

To serve, line the perimeter of a large serving platter with overlapping slices of the mozzarella. Spoon the tortellini salad in the center and scatter the arugula leaves over the top.

I used sage instead of tarragon (Whole Foods was out. Boo!), and also substituted block mozzarella instead of fresh as I was looking to save on the overall cost. Hey easy there -- I'm saving up for the 35-course "Gamut" at Michael Mina's XIV in West Hollywood. I also halved the portion, because seriously, what am I going to do with 2 pounds of tortellini salad? I'm feeding two people in the household and I already know I'll have leftovers for the next day, or dinner #2 if you read my last post. Also, I'm not really sure what gray salt is, but suffice it to say that Kosher salt will work just as well and that no one will exclaim "oooh is that gray salt I detect?!" Oh is that so, Mr. Ramsay?

Since I already had the pasta, I just needed to procure the herbs, arugula, and few other items. Basil is cheap these days; this entire bunch was $1.25.

A few pics of the finished masterpiece.

And there you have, dinner is served. Total time for prepping and cooking: about 45 mins and this would have been closer to 35 but a certain four-legged staff member kept wanting my attention in the living room. And the cost came out to roughly $15 for ingredients, as since this serves 4 easily, you're looking at under $4 per serving. Recession friendly indeed.

Dinner for two and no one was injured during the process.

Japanese-Italian Fusion at Blue Marlin

Last weekend was quite eventful with a visit from the in-laws, our Westside Tavern outing, a drive to OC, and hosting Sunday brunch for 8 people. It all concluded nicely on Sunday night with a rare visit from my nephew Andrew and his girlfriend Brianne when they stopped by for dinner. I asked what they were in the mood for and they requesting fusion--leaning towards Mexican/Asian fusion. I really can't think of a Mexican/Asian fusion place in the Westside other than Kogi at the Alibi Room, so if other readers and bloggers have any tips, feel free to send them my way or post in the comments area.

I mentioned to both of them about Blue Marlin and their Japanese-Italian fusion offerings of pastas, curries, and Japanese egg dishes known as omurice. Sold! We shuttled over to Sawtelle boulevard, found side street parking, and waltzed right in and grabbed a table. This area is actually a 10-minute walk from my house and the weather was pefect outside, but please, we're So Cal residents. 'Nuff said. By the way, Furaibo is directly across the street, so without the delay, here's the obligatory link to my review.

Having had a rough and busy weekend, I was in the mood for some booze so I asked for the house cold sake:

It was OK. Nothing special but then again it was only $5. Actually it wasn't bad until my curry entree came out, which did not pair well with the sake taste (spicy food with a dry sake -- I should have known that).

Here's the salad that came with our entrees:

It was just OK. The greens were wet from just being washed. I didn't expect much so thus I guess you could say my expectations were met.

Brianne ordered the Rosemary Chicken:

No complaints from her and she nearly finished the plate.

Andrew went all-in and got the hamburger omurice:

I've had this before and can attest to its flavor indulgence. It's a huge serving that would easily feed two; he finished half and took the rest home.

My entree--vegetable curry; extra spicy of course:

Excellent. The curry was hot, spicy, flavorful and not too salty. The veggies were a little overcooked and the potatoes were a tad undercooked, but that's OK considering the very reasonable price of this item at $8. I should point out that this was actually my second dinner of the night, as I had polished off dinner #1 a few hours earlier because I was so hungry. It didn't matter because this curry was so good! I still finished it.

Yes, two complete dinners and 1/2 of a DQ Blizzard. Somebody went for an extra long walk that night with the dog.

Blue Marlin
2121 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Westside Tavern. Keeping up with the Eastside.

Over the past few years we Angelinos have witnessed a resurgence of fine dining establishments and gastropubs in downtown Los Angeles, and it has this westside foodie a little envious. I’m especially intrigued by Rivera, Drago Centro, and Church & State, and I can assure you I will be visiting those difficult-to-get-into downtown hot spots before year’s end. Even casual downtown outposts like Bottega Louie and Nickel Diner have me itching to get on the 10 eastbound after work. Nonetheless, the west side--characterized by anything west of La Cienega or in my coworker’s opinion, west of the 405--has been establishing its own culinary stronghold with such offerings as Anisette, Craft, Tavern LA, Father’s Office 2, and as you're about to read, Westside Tavern.

Situated near the entrance of the Landmark Theaters on Pico and Westwood boulevards, Westside Tavern is helmed by executive chef Warren Schwartz, who was formerly the execute chef at Whist in Santa Monica’s swanky Viceroy Hotel. Prior to Whist, chef Schwartz led a successful stint at Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas, and I can tell you the nice folks in Calabasas are going to want him back after reading this review.

I realize that we are in a recession, but one would never know that by stepping into this bustling restaurant which was completely full when we arrived. They don’t take reservations and that's probably a smart move in an effort to help lure theater patrons who may have not planned their post-cinema dining destinations in advance (as no one likes to hear "do you have a reservation?"). Luckily our 50-minute wait passed quickly with a stopover at an adjacent Barnes and Noble, although being the foodies we are, we completely bypassed the reading materials and headed straight for the Starbucks on the second level for pastries and drinks. And, actually, while the rest of my group chowed down on the aforementioned pastries and drinks, I was on the phone coordinating my dinner plans for next weekend. This is tough work, you know.

I came here with a group of 5 which made for an ideal sharing of different plates and appetizers. The interior is beautifully designed with dark wood accents and deep, comfortable leather booths--I felt as if the entire room was furnished by Room and Board, which is a good thing. A gorgeous long bar runs across almost the entire length of the restaurant and was filled with a good mix of older and younger bar-goers enjoying many of Westside Tavern's fine drink offerings. Neat dish-towel cloth napkins round out the hip factor. Once seated, we perused the impressive looking drink menu and proceeded with our libation requests.

After hearing about a few recommendations from other bloggers, I picked the Moscow Mule, a vodka drink with pureed ginger, club soda, and lime juice:

The taste was very refreshing with a subtle ginger tone. It could use a little more Vodka but I generally like my drinks to be strong. Additional ginger at the bottom made for a wonderful after-mint style finish. Mark ordered a Smoked Stone Porter, pictured behind my - Mule.

Complimentary bread and salted butter:

Wonderful, fresh, crusty, and warm. The provided butter was creamy and slightly salty. I almost ate the entire loaf. Oh how I do love a good, crusty bread.

Westside Tavern's menu is mostly comprised of bistro-style offerings such as steaks, fresh seafood, hearty sandwiches, substantial salads, and a variety of market-driven sides.

We placed our orders and I should note that I made sure to pick something no else in our party would select so that my wonderful readers get to see a picture of a fifth entrée. The hard life of the foodie blogger. Now let's see what we ordered.

Spit-Roasted Lemon & Mustard Chicken:

Our server actually recommended this dish over the short rib, which I was leaning towards, and it ended up being a huge hit with the table. Incredibly moist, tender, and very flavorful pieces of breast meat and thigh needed little or none of the provided sauce to enhance the dish’s overall execution. A heaping mound of sautéed spinach was cooked and seasoned perfectly.

Grilled Prime Flat Iron Steak with Sea-Salted Fries:

Perfectly cooked to a medium-rare done-ness, the steak was very good on its own, but combined with a dab of the accompanying sauce made for an overall explosion of savoriness. Mark noted that the fries could have been crispier, but other than that this dish was well received.

Day boat scallops with corn and mashed potatoes:

One of the chalkboard specials, these beautifully presented and perfectly seared scallops had that fresh out-the-ocean taste. The creamed corn and spinach got high praises from Fonda.

Duck Confit with figs:

Another chalkboard special. The duck was maybe just a little too cooked for my palate but it tasted wonderfully and paired nicely with the figs. Cynthia left no trace of this bird on the plate.

Grilled All Natural Atlantic Salmon:

I did not have any of this dish, but Connie left nothing behind and had no complaints. She did say it was moist and not overcooked.

Heirloom tomatoes:

Yet another chalkboard item. Thick juicy slabs of tomato slices packed freshness and flavor reminiscent of tomatoes picked right from your garden. Fonda wasn’t particularly wowed by them, but I feel this side dish’s intent wasn’t to provoke excitement, but rather to showcase the beautiful color and unmasked freshness of these in-season heirloom tomatoes.

We had contemplated ordering the Warm Sticky Toffee Cake for dessert, but decided to save that for another visit as we had Connie's birthday cake waiting patiently for us at the house.

In short, Westside Tavern was a resounding success and it’s obvious as to why this place was packed when we arrived and packed when we departed. Although it’s only been open for about a year, chef Schwartz and his staff clearly have all the details nailed. The execution of such details was textbook: Our server was very knowledgeable and checked on us at all the right times, no items we asked about had already run out of supply, and all dishes arrived at once and were beautifully plated, perfectly cooked, and near-perfectly seasoned. You don’t appreciate this attention to detail until you visit a lesser restaurant where the staff and the kitchen are on separate pages, making for a forgettable night of dining.

Total price before tax and tip was about $30/person which is a bargain when you consider the quality and portions of food, and the service provided. Suffice it to say, we’ll be returning to Westside Tavern in short order, as I’m wanting to try another artisanal cocktail paired with one of their delicious-sounding sandwich offerings (i.e., BLT with soft fried egg), and then finally sink my teeth into that Warm Sticky Toffee Cake. Eastsiders have another good reason to get on the 10 West, and to the folks in Calabasas, perhaps chef Schwartz will open a second outpost in your area to heal any lingering wounds.

Westside Tavern
10850 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Westside Tavern in Los Angeles

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pink Taco and the Tale of the Disappearing Happy Hour

Here’s a little restaurant trivia that I bet you didn’t know. The franchise known as Pink Taco—with locations in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, and soon to be in Hollywood--is owned by Harry Morton, the son of Hard Rock Café’s co-founder Peter Morton. The name Morton should ring a bell, as Peter is the son of Arnold Morton, who founded the Morton’s chain of steakhouses. Now there’s a food dynasty if I’ve ever seen one! And don’t say you never learn anything from this blog because I just gave you more restaurant knowledge that I bet you ever wanted to know.

Anyway, Pink Taco in Los Angeles was the destination of our happy hour last night. Located on the second floor in the Century City mall, Pink Taco has Hard Rock’s eccentricity written all over it, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your style. The interior is oddly decked out with gleaming hub caps, statues of the Virgin Mary, Mexican artwork, and one seriously pimped-out lowrider bicycle. Think of this place as Hard Rock Cafe restaurant, la familia style.

We arrived just in time for happy hour--which takes place seven days a week from 3-7pm--whose menu offers up deals on drinks and appetizers. This appears to be good buy, but things went south as soon as we were seated.

I asked our server which drinks--specifically which margaritas--were part of the happy special.
Her response “All Margaritas”

danieleats: “Alrighty then I’ll have the Rico Suave”

server: “All margaritas except for that one”
(WTH? Strike one.)

danieleats: “Very well then, I shall order the pomegranate margarita”

My wife and our good friend Jackie order a round of house “Pink” margaritas. Our drinks arrive in short order.

Pomegranate Margarita and a shot of Cabo Wabo. Somehow Pink Taco managed to forget the alcohol in both.

I took a few sips of my “margarita” and immediately realized that Pink Taco must have a United States patent on the world’s weakest margarita because I was clearly in possession of it. Strike two. I grabbed the nearest server and promptly asked for a shot of Cabo Wabo reposado; she asked if I wanted it chilled. Chilled? At first I couldn’t understand why she asked that. Why would I want my tequila shot chilled? But then it all made sense because a chilled shot wouldn’t warm your heavily iced margarita, so clearly the staff is aware of their patented faux-alcohol margaritas. I suppose the Morton clan hasn’t achieved what they have by serving stiff drinks at recession-friendly prices.

I tossed that produce aside and drank the shot. The debate is still out as to whether or not that was really Cabo Wabo, because I have the same at home along with about 5 other tequilas (oh please, I have Mexican in my blood!) and I recall it tasting smoother at home.

On to the food. Again, we asked our server:

danieleats: “What are the food specials?”

server: “Six dollars off on all appetizers”

This answer led to strikes 3 to 99 million, to be explained later.

We proceed with ordering the Pink Taco platter – a $24 (before “discount”) platter of pickings from the appetizer menu.

Pork ribs, guacamole, quesadillas, beef skewers, chicken skewers, tamales, and fried shrimp.

I apologize for the poor photography. The lighting in this zoo is what I can only describe as a photography dark room on steroids. There’s an intense reddish glow throughout the interior that plays havoc with the camera’s white-balance sensor. Even with a gray card, your photos are still going to have that unnatural, unwanted tint. As for the food, it wasn’t memorable to say the least. Pork chops were probably the best part. Quesadilla was a quesadilla, fried shrimp was overcooked, guacamole was all onion and seasonings, both meat skewers way overcooked, and the tamales were dry.

I also ordered a shrimp cocktail. The menu read “seared shrimp” but apparently the sear pan had about 4 inches of oil in it. The shrimp were over fried, over seasoned, and served with a disproportional amount of cocktail sauce. I didn’t even bother taking a picture of it. Ouch.

So now it’s time for the bill and upon close inspection of said bill I realize the server did not discount our appetizers. We asked her politely about the discount and, yep, you guessed it, she stated the two appetizers we ordered were the two appetizers not on the happy hour list. Strike out.

And it’s at this point in time where Pink Taco goes from FAIL to EPIC FAIL because our server started rattling off a laundry list of excuses like “oh you must have not heard me because it’s loud in here” and “I’m sorry I didn’t mention this” and “You know our menu should mark which ones are discounted”. Sorry but this seems like a bait-and-switch and if you’re reading this blog, you’ve been warned.

Total bill for this “happy hour” for us three: $68 without tip.

As for the crowd, basically just take the party-goers from the Hard Rock Las Vegas hotel pool, put a few more clothes on them, and insert them into Pink Taco. Add a few backward-facing baseball caps and jean shorts and you have yourself one Pink Taco setting.

Needless to say, this is not a do-over for us.

Pink Taco
10250 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Daniel's Pizzeria -- Best pies in LA?

As I've stated in a previous post, pizza making is something in which I take great pride and enjoyment. Having worked at a pizzeria many years ago, I know a few things about this culinary undertaking and I continue to learn new tricks every time I craft pizzas at home.

Firstly, I make the dough from scratch using high quality bread flour such as King Arthur. Sure you can buy prepared dough or even--gasp--Boboli--but with hand-made dough you can control the sugar, salt, rise time, yeast amounts, and everything else involved with making artisinal pizza dough. All of this ultimately leads to a crispy outside with chewy, doughy inside texture that store-bought doughs and crusts strive to achieve.

As for dough recipes, the internet is flooded with all sorts of creations but the one that has never failed me is Tyler Florence's basic dough recipe. It's a perfect balance of saltiness and sweetness, and is relatively easy to handle and stretch. I also employ a two-rise process where I let the dough rise in a 90-degree oven for about two hours, then punch and reshape and let slow rise in the fridge for one or two days. This, combined with a really hot oven and a quality pizza stone, is how the Mozza's of the world achieve that crispy, airy, bubbly texture.

Now this is a critical step in making pizza at home: you need to use a good quality pizza stone to obtain that crispiness found at pizzerias:

I purchased mine from Surfas in Culver City for $50; you can find good stones at any restaurant supply store. Don't be a cheapskate and settle for one of those paper-thin Playskool stones at Bed Bath and Beyond. The thin design can't retain heat very well, leading to a soggy crust, and it's more prone to cracking. I've cracked two of those girlie stones before finally manning up and purchasing the grown-up version.

Speaking of heat, you need to set your oven to its highest heat setting and it needs to preheat for a while. I set my dial to a point just below the "Broil" setting which is probably around 550-degrees, and I let it pre-heat for at least 45 mins. Don't rely on the preheat light to turn off; let the oven continue to heat as this allows the stone to build up to an intensely high temperature, giving you that crispy crust and soft center.

You'll also need a pizza peel; actually you might want to get two:

Why two? If you're making multiple pizzas then you'll need one peel to extract the finished pizza, and the other to hold the next pizza for preparation and insertion, as you'll see the upcoming pictures.

A few pics of the dough and ingredients:

Tyler's dough recipe puts out three 10" pizzas or two 15"s, give or take a few "s. The smaller 10" rounds are easier to handle but require more time since you have to cook three pizzas.

Punched and ready to poke, prod, and stretch.

Organic roma tomatoes, garlic infused olive oil, mushrooms, chopped rosemary.


Dough tossing. What can I say? This takes practice, and yet I still choke under pressure. Oh wait, that's my golf game.

Looks like the cleaning crew has arrived early.

My friends from all the internets, I give you the finished products (click for larger pics):

Mozzarella, mushrooms, yellow peppers, rosemary, olive oil.

Mozzarella, mushrooms, yellow peppers, prosciutto.

Spinach, garlic infused oil, tomatoes, mozzarella, feta, Parmesan, and rosemary (no sauce).

Mozza has nothing on me

Riva who?

I should start my own pizza truck, and I shall name it "Crusty Wheels."

Everyone gets to partake in pizza night:

True story: Pebbles doesn't like PinkBerry, but loves YogurtLand, just like her dad.

As for taste, these pies are far better than any chain pizzeria--in fact they're in a whole different league to be honest. Better than Mozza, Riva, Ortica, Gjelina? What? Are you kidding me? You know you're asking the wrong person! But I will gladly put my creations up against any pie LA or OC has to offer. Keep an eye out for that pizza truck.

Special thanks to my wife for playing the paparazzi part.

Daniel's Pizzeria
West LA

FoodDigger Score: 42 million.