Sherman's Food Adventures

Elite

On my last visit to LA, it was all about the kiddies and a multi-day visit to Disneyland and then subsequent day at Universal.  That left us with very little time to eat anything good and also limited us in terms of location.  Ultimately, we languished in family-friendly eats that wouldn't set any culinary world on fire.  Heck, we didn't even make it out to Monterey Park to try some of the best Dim Sum LA has to offer.  This time around, we did do Disney and Universal, but left plenty of time to wander.  Thus, we made our way to Elite to see how LA Dim Sum stacks up to that of Vancouver.

We ordered a bunch of the standards including the usual Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) and Siu Mai (Pork and Shrimp Dumplings).  Sporting a medium-thick dumpling wrapper, the ha gau were quite good.  I found the wrapper to be a bit on the chewier side, but it had good elasticity and mouth-feel.  The filling was on point with meaty shrimp that had a sweet snap.  There was plenty of natural shrimp aroma left which was rather appealing in my opinion.  As for the siu mai, there was a nice rebound texture from the meaty pork and accompanying snap from the shrimp.  I would've liked to see a bit less pork fat as it was hard to chew.  The dumpling was mildly seasoned where I could definitely still taste the pork.

Instead of ordering just one rice noodle roll dish, we had both the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll in addition to the Rice Noodles with Pork Spareribs.  Texturally, the shrimp rice noodle roll was on the thicker side and hence denser.  With that being said, it still featured elasticity which made it a satisfying chew.  In the middle, there were large pieces of shrimp that were similar to the ha gau where the natural flavour was dominant.  We found the rice noodle rolls with the spareribs to be more tender and softer.  They soaked up some of the garlicky pork rib juices as well as the sweetened soy.  The spareribs were meaty and tender with some bounce texture.  I found that there was just a bit too much fat for our liking.

Probably the most surprising items was the Phoenix Talons (Steamed Chicken Feet) as they were some of the biggest claws we've ever seen.  Not only that, but they were prepared flawlessly.  Deep fried with a slightly chewy exterior, it gave way to buttery cartilage and fat.  Despite being soft, the chicken feet stayed intact and were super plump.  Flavor-wise, there was a good balance of sweet, saltiness and garlickiness with some spice.  For our offal selection, we had the Steamed Beef Bible Tripe with green onion and ginger.  This was pretty textbook with mild flavours while the tripe was properly cleaned (not gamy).  Texturally, the tripe had a good chew while being tender.  We only wished they didn't cut some of it into little bits.

Looking pretty pink in the middle, the Beef Meatballs may have looked raw, but that wasn't the case at all.  Whenever the beef is processed along with baking soda, it tends to have a particular color even when cooked through.  Texturally, these were a bit denser and meatier than I would've liked, but there was still the classic rebound with each bite.  I thought they were bang-on with the cilantro where there was only a bit for effect.  Plenty of water chestnuts for an extra crunch.  Unlike some of the other versions we've had, the XO Daikon Cake was rather greasy and saucy.  It was still the right texture being buttery soft while not falling apart.  There was good spice from the XO, but as mentioned, too much oil.

Sporting a fairly thick layer of glutinous rice, the Deep Fried Glutinous Dumplings were pretty good.  Outside was crispy and not overly greasy while there was enough filling in each bite.  I'm never a fan of adding cilantro to the ground pork filling and this one did just that.  Too pungent in my opinion and overwhelming.  Also, they could've lightened up with the pork fat as well.  As usual, we also ordered the Steamed BBQ Pork Buns, which were also textbook.  Beyond the fluffy bun itself, the filling featured fairly lean BBQ pork.  It wasn't as saucy as some other versions I've had, yet it was hardly dry either.  We felt the glaze was nicely balanced between sweet and savory.

For dessert, we got the Pineapple Buns filled with a mashed pineapple custard.  The best part of the bun was its texture as it was soft, fluffy and light.  It was almost like biting into a cloud (if we could eat clouds that is).  Inside, the pineapple filling was more sweet than pineapple tasting.  There were some intermittent chunks though.

Mr. BBQ

I know, I know...  The best Korean food in Los Angeles resides in K-Town.  There I said it.  I wanted to get that in before people chime in and criticize my decision to eat at Mr. BBQ out in Fullerton.  You see, due to our tight schedule of eats, the only time we could get Korean was when we were staying out in Anaheim.  So taking our dinner break from Disneyland, we made the short drive over to Mr. BBQ for some AYCE action.  Normally, AYCE means low quality and bad service, but at Mr. BBQ, that couldn't be any further from the truth.  This was some of the best service I've ever had in a non-fine dining establishment.  No joke!

So for the AYCE, the menu is pretty extensive and one could get even more selections with the premium AYCE.  We ended up staying with the standard menu since there was like over 20 items already.  That theme would continue into the Banchan as we were served 14 different kinds including a green salad.  Impressive not only for AYCE, but any Korean BBQ joint.  Even better, they refilled the banchan, salad, water and sauces without us even asking!  Literally, we turned our heads and things were topped up.  Impressive.  Onto the meats, we got all of the beef options including the Premium Wagyu Beef Belly.  Let's just say when this cooked up, it was buttery and soft.  Heaven in our mouths!  Pro-tip, make sure you cooked this through as the considerable amount of fat isn't that appealing when not activated.

Continuing on with the Thinly-Sliced Prime Beef Brisket, it was fairly lean so it was not as soft as the beef belly (also it wasn't wagyu).  With that being said, it was still plenty tender with a meatier texture.  This cooked rather quickly and the grill had a difficult time providing an effective sear.  Hence, you would have to overcook it quite a bit to achieve this. I would ask for the grill to be turned up in this case.  Next, the Black Angus USDA Prime Top Sirloin was not only legit-looking, it was completely legit when we ate it.  Being a thicker-cut, we could get a proper sear on it and still keep the meat around medium-rare.  The result was a super tender and full-bodied tasting steak.  It completely blew our minds that we were getting such quality beef at a reasonable AYCE price!

Not finished with beef, we had the Marinated USDA Prime Sirloin as well as the Marinated Black Angus Choice Chuck. Due to the marinate, these did sear up a bit more easily and of course didn't need much at all of the sauces on the side except for the aromatic sesame oil.  I thought the prime sirloin was somewhat similar to the steak, but less meaty due to the marinade.  As for the chuck, it may have been a lesser cut of meat, but due to being thinly-sliced, it was soft.  Our last beef dish was the Premium Wagyu Finger Short Ribs.  This was essentially, the remaining meat on the bones which meant it wasn't exactly tender nor buttery.  Rather, with the tendon and fat, it ended up to be pretty chewy.  If you really wanted actual short ribs, you would need to pay another $10.00pp for the premium AYCE.  Our first non-beef meat was the Teriyaki Marinated Chicken.  Being thigh meat, it was tender and was also well-seasoned.

Onto some other meats, we had the Premium Cut Fresh Pork Belly along with the Premium Sliced Pork Neck.  For me, I wasn't as impressed with the pork compared to the beef.  It wasn't as if the quality wasn't good, it was well-marbled and fresh.  Rather, with the grill not being hot enough (possibly our fault not asking it to be turned up), the meat didn't char properly and it became a bit chewy since it cooked so long.  We really wanted to try more meats, but we were at our maximum meat consumption.  So we ended off with the Spicy Garlic Pork Butt and Fresh Shrimp.  Due to being thinly sliced and marinated, the pork butt ended up to be much more tender and tastier than the other 2 cuts of pork.  As for the shrimp, we cooked it just enough so it had a meaty sweet snap.  By now, we couldn't eat anymore despite many more items on the menu.  For the price, the quality of the meats was also very good.  I also can't forget to mention the awesome service.  I've never had such good service at a Korean AYCE before or most other casual restaurants.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Meats are good quality
- Outstanding service

The Bad:
- Floors are pretty slippery
- Lineup is crazy during peak times

Nightshade

Dining with Mijune is not an unusual activity.  That happens here and there where we eat most of the menu and literally roll out of the restaurant.  This time around, it was something different as we met up for dinner at the hot new Nightshade in Los Angeles' arts district.  At the helm, we find Top Chef winner Mei Lin whose heavily Asian-influenced menu has been impressing diners for the past half-year.  We hoped to tackle most of the menu even if we had to force ourselves to eat it all.  Yes, it is a tough job, but someone has to do it!

Without further ado, the meal started off with a bang.  Usually, Oysters can be a refreshing start to a progressive meal, but these were in-our-faces good.  Served on the half-shell, the buttery and briny oysters were sitting in a mix of passionfruit leche de tigre and charred garlic oil.  OMG, the tart sweetness of the tropical passionfruit hit me like a culinary train while the smoky and aromatic garlic oil took some of the edge off.  All this time, the oyster was not lost as the briny sweetness came through at the end.  As if this wasn't impressive enough, the Hokkaido Scallops merely continued where the oysters left off.  The coconut vinaigrette was not shy on the acidity, yet at the same time, retained the aromatics.  Again, the soft and sweet scallops were not overwhelmed as they showed up at the end.  Crispy ginger and coriander added another layer of aromatics.

From there, we moved onto the Beef Tartare with sesame, egg yolk jam, kohlrabi and tapioca puffs.  Another solid offering, if not less explosive in flavor.  Rather, we found the delicateness of the melt-in-our-mouths tender beef accentuated by the strong amount of sesame oil.  Yet at the same time, I got the saltiness of the soy and the sweetness of the kohlrabi.  The light and crunchy crisps were the perfect vessel as they complimented the beef rather than being overbearing.  Something that really surprised me was the Tamarind Glazed Baby Carrots.  Normally, I am not one to gush about vegetables, but this one had the robustness that could challenge a meat dish.  Plenty of umami and body, the carrots were firm and earthy sweet.  Loved the intense tang and sweetness of the tamarind while the carrot top emulsion added a certain vegetable brightness.  Toasted coconut on top provided an extra pop of aroma.

Beautifully plated, the Koshihikari Rice Congee was topped with XO sauce, crispy challots, pork floss and green onions.  Lots of classic Chinese ingredients on top whereby the XO sauce was definitely the dominant ingredient.  Hence, the whole congee taste briny and spicy.  I still got some of the aromatics from the shallots and the salty sweetness of the dried pork floss.  The congee itself was thick with discernible grains of rice present.  They were tender and melted in my mouth though.  I enjoyed this, but maybe a bit less XO would've created more balance.  Creative and stunning to the eye, the "Lasagna" featuring tofu skins as the noodle and tofu cream as the "bechamel" was definitely Top Chef level.  This was topped with a pork ragu to give the dish a Ma Poh tofu-like eating experience.  The dish was ever-so-delicate where the lasagna basically melted in my mouth.  Again, the combined flavours were almost classic Ma Poh tofu whereby we got the taste of tofu and also the meaty spice with the pork.

One of our favourite interpretations was Mei's version of Shrimp Toast that sat on classic Cantonese yellow curry.  Usually, we find the bread underneath the shrimp to be so oil-soaked, it would be unappealing.  This was only lightly fried where the middle of the toast was still bready.  On top, the hand-diced shrimp was delicate and cold-water crunchy.  However, the best part was the thick coconut yellow curry underneath.  It was so balanced and flavorful, we could've licked the plate. Onto the larger items, we tried the Pork Schnitzel first.  It was dusted with five-spice and combined with the crunchy breading, it had an almost Taiwanese salty peppery chicken flavour to it.  The pork was perfect being juicy and tender with only a touch of pink.  It was intensely natural-tasting with a sweet porkiness.  By itself, I found it on the bland side, but the side of tomatoes took care of business.  Beyond the natural sweetness and tang, the gwaimei (weird or odd flavour in Chinese) dressing added the aromatics of sesame, the saltiness of soy and the umaminess of miso.  That made the schnitzel sing.

I thought we were pretty done by the time we finished the schnitzel, but no, not when eating with Mijune!  We also went for the other 2 larger dishes including the Szechuan Hot Quail with Japanese milk bread and house pickles.  Originally, I was apprehensive about ordering this due to the small size of quails.  Well, this one was not only quite large, it was prepared perfectly.  The batter was firmly crunchy with rendered skin and nicely seasoned.  There was definitely some heat as well as a touch of numbing from the Szechuan spice.   Best of all, the meat was tender and moist.  Now this was good, but the 28oz Bone-in Angus Short Rib was absolutely killer.   The slow-cooked meat was completely melt-in-our-mouths tender.  Beyond the soft and buttery texture, we found an impactful bark and glaze.  It was full of umaminess from the black garlic.  Furthermore, there was a balance of sweet, savory and spice.  With the accompanying bonito habanero emulsion, fermented radish, mint and pickles, we made some pretty awesome lettuce wraps.

From here, we moved onto all of the desserts.  Yes, all of them.  We dug into the Almond Sorbet with mandarin ice first.  It was stunningly presented with orange cream flowers on top.  Once we broke them apart, it reveals an aromatic and particularly almond nuttiness from the smooth sorbet.  Of course this had a strong Asian influence where my childhood memories were triggered.  Add in the sweet and citrusy ice, there was a brightness and refreshingness to the dish.  Next, the Silkened Tofu with baby peaches, shiso oil and chia seeds was almost too beautiful to dig into.  Again, the fruitiness of the peaches (as well as the light crunch) helped add impact to a relatively subtle dessert.  The smooth tofu was nicely accented by the sweetness of the peaches and the aromatic shiso oil.

Stunningly green, the coconut lime granita encompassed an aromatic Coconut Mousse.  Beyond the mousse, we found a center consisting of pineapple which combined with the rest of the ingredients created a pina colada-type of effect.  Again, like the other 2 desserts so far, the use of fruit really kept things light and also made things refreshing.  For me personally, I'm so into fruity desserts, this was absolutely heaven for me.  To top it all off, the nata de coco underneath was essentially what we more commonly know as coconut jelly.  The most understated plating was the Guava and cream cheese hidden underneath a sheet of decorated white chocolate.  Once past the firm chocolate. we found the tropical flavour of guava accented by pop rocks!  Loved the creaminess of the cheese as well.

Hidden by a crispy disc of meringue, we found Cherry Sobert with a plethora of plump cherries marinated in cola.  The result as a pretty sweet concoction that was a bit syrupy yet still fruity like all of the other offerings.  I really enjoyed the meringue as it was soft and chewy inside while crispy on the outside.  Subjectively, I really enjoyed the desserts because, as mentioned, these were right up my alley being refreshing, fruity and light.  As for the rest of the meal, I thought it was not only solid, it was expertly executed while full of impactful flavors.  Definitely a must-try in LA in my opinion.

The Good:
- Impactful, yet thoughtful flavors
- Light and creative Asian-inspired desserts
- Re-imagined Asian flavors that actually work

The Bad:
- Personally, I loved the Asian-influence in every dish, but I can also see it being repetitive for those looking for more variety

Ichimiann

When traveling, we run into a few first world problems when it comes to eating.  First, the food can be rather heavy and fattening if we resort to the burgers/BBQ/fast food options.  Second, some of the more refined restaurants can cost an arm and a leg, especially when the kiddos are ordering off the regular menu.  Therefore, to ensure that their college fund stays intact, we often mix in some less expensive and/or healthier options to our itinerary.  Our visit to Ichimiann checked all the necessary boxes as well as being convenient considering our location.

We each got something a bit different, yet all in the noodle category (as it is their specialty).  I decided on their combo consisting of a hot Tanuki Soba with green onions, wakame and tempura flakes as well as a Curry Rice.  Obviously and thankfully, the noodles were the best part of this as it was fresh and slippery with a light chewiness.  I found the dashi to be mild with a smoky-like sweetness.  Although light on the ingredients, the curry had a nice viscosity and was classic Japanese being sweet with only a light spice.  I found the rice to be chewy and dry enough to accept the curry.  For my daughter, she had the Kitsune that sported the same broth and ingredients except for the sweet tofu skins.  Hence it ate very similar to mine.

For my son, he opted for the hot Unagi Soba that also had wakame and green onions. However, with the addition of unagi, the dashi, it tasted remarkably different as the sweetness from the unagi made the broth even sweeter.  Of course with protein on top, the bowl of noodles ate more robust and meatier.  Noodles were on point as well.  Viv's hot Tororo was uniquely different with grated mountain yam on top.  Combined with a healthy amount of wakame, the flavor of the broth took on a more vegetable gaminess that was rather strong.  It was pleasant though since there were layers of different tastes to go with the excellent noodles.

Lastly, we had to wait for them to make the Onsen Egg that I ordered.  Due to that, they added an extra one for the inconvenience.  So nice of them!  These were excellent being silky and runny.  Perfect for dipping the remaining noodles into!  Now as you can clearly see, the food here at Ichimiann is pretty simple and clean.  That is the point by-the-way and they do a good job of it.  We actually left feeling good about ourselves and were ready for more gluttony...  LOL...

The Good:
- Simple, focused menu
- Clean flavors
- Nice people

The Bad:
- A little lacking in substance for those who are truly hungry


Felix

For all the times I've visited LA, there have been very few opportunities for me to do some "real" dining.  What I mean by that is rather than going to family-friendly restaurants that were convenient to where I had been staying (ie. Disneyland, Universal etc...), this time around we were going to eat well.  So after some research (thanks Mijune!) and recommendations from some local expertise, I settled on a good lineup of eats including my Felix out at Venice Beach.  This happens to be Janet Zuccarini's (of Top Chef Canada) restaurant that features house-made pasta and pizza.  We were lucky to score a reservation for this hard-to-get into restaurant.

The kids were jacked for this meal and totally brushed off the offer of "kid-friendly" options.  We began with some delicious Fiori di Zucca (fried squash blossoms stuffed with creama di ricotta).  These were delicate with a light, yet uniform crunch.  Inside, the creamy ricotta was well-seasoned bordering on salty.  However, there was no wanting for anymore flavor.  Loved how this was not greasy at all despite the possibility of oil absorption (testament to the correct oil temperature).  Seemingly also deep-fried, the Polpette della Maestra Alessandra (pork meatballs with salsa verde and parmigiano reggiano) sported a crispy exterior that revealed a tender and moist interior.  There was very little filler since the pork was quite meaty, yet at the same time, it wasn't too firm either.  Seasoning was sufficient while the salsa verde added some brightness.

Normally, when you see burrata on the menu as a part of a dish, one would expect it to be a small piece.  However, we found a whole burrata in the Panzanella with summer vegetables and pane fritto.  Now that wasn't the only thing that made this salad good.  The vinaigrette was intensely acidic (in a good way) with balancing sweetness.  Nutty and crunchy, the fried bread was several notches above ordinary croutons.  The outside crunch was texturally contrasted by the softer interior.    The fresh tomatoes only added to the overall enjoyment.  We chose the classic Margherita as our pizza for the meal and it sported a leoparding on the bottom and some portions of the crust.  I found the dough to be chewy with elasticity with enough salt.  Although the center is supposed to be tender and saucy, it was a bit too wet for us.  The amount of cheese was on point though.

Heading to the pastas, we were served the Rigatoni All'Amatriciana first.  It consisted of firmly al dente pasta tubes perfectly sauced by a pomodoro with plenty of guanciale and pecorino romano DOP.  With a touch a spice, full of meatiness and body, the pasta was robust and impactful.  The generous amount of guanciale added a certain silkiness and appealing saltiness.  There was also a balancing amount of tang to bring down some of the heaviness.  Equally good was the Orecchiette with sausage sugo, friarielli, peperoncino and canestrato.  Also firmly al dente, the orecchiette offered up a rebounding resistance with every chew.  We enjoyed the meatiness of the sausage and the spice.  The crunch from the friarielle provided extra texture and freshness.  Naturally, the cheese added some nuttiness and saltiness as well.

For our larger dish, we had the Taliata di Manzo (ribeye cap) with heirloom tomatoes dressed in aceto balsamico di moderno and parmigiano reggiano.  Prepared perfectly and evenly medium-rare (closer to rare), the rib cap was tender with all the fat activated.  It was well-seasoned which added to the overall umaminess and richness of the meat.  Not merely just a side, the tomato salad mirrored the panzanella with sweet tomatoes in a tangy dressing.  To end the meal, we tried the Flourless Chocolate Cake with hazelnuts.  This was rich while not overly dense.  Hits of dark chocolate with semi-sweetness was complimented by the sweeter chocolate sauce.  Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Felix with the pastas being the highlight.  Also, the location and general vibe enhances the experience.

The Good:
- Outstanding pastas
- Impactful flavors
- Energetic vibe

The Bad:
- Pizza crust could be less wet
- Tight seating