Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (Morgan Crossing)

Awhile back, I attended the media dinner at Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria on Commercial Drive when it first opened.  Suffice to say, I came away not particularly impressed with the pizza as it was super soggy and lacking in leoparding.  To be fair, I returned on my own dime to discover that my initial thoughts were indeed true.  So when I received an invite to try out some new menu items, I was apprehensive.  However, I wanted to see if things have changed.  So Hot Mama and I trekked out to the Morgan Crossing location (to change things up a bit) to see for ourselves.

The one item that we had to try was the basic Margherita because it is the baseline of Neapolitan pizzas.  Second, I could compare it to the original one I had at the Commercial Drive location.  We were pleasantly surprised that it turned out far better than the aforementioned pizza.  This one had a crispy crust and was chewy and tender throughout.  It was not soggy, even at the centre.  As for the tomato sauce, it tasted fresh with mild notes acidity and a light sweetness.  I would've liked to see more basil and even more leoparding though.  For our next pizza, we tried their new Korean BBQ Pork consisting of slow-roasted spiced pork butt, Korean BBQ sauce, fior-di-latte, green onion, cheddar cheese and hoisin.  Okay, hoisin is not particularly Korean, but it worked in this concoction.  There was an impactful spiciness that helped temper the sweetness of the hoisin (although the pizza was still rather sweet).  The pork was moist and tender while the combination of flavours were not tame.

We also sampled their Paesano sandwich comprised of house-made pulled pork, salsa verde, provolone cheese, rosemary-lemon aioli, arugula, and roasted red peppers.  Strangely, the pulled pork ate somewhat like tuna despite tasting completely porky.  It was probably due to the abundance of salsa verde which was bright and acidic.  In combination with the rosemary-lemon aioli, there was an aromatic herbal quality to the sandwich in addition to the tartness.  On the side, there was a bowl of the Roasted Tomato Bisque which was thick, rich and creamy.  There was a subtle smokiness combined with a balanced of saltiness, sweetness and acidity. Well, we were glad we took the chance and tried the pizzas again.  Although not to be confused with the best in town, the ones we tried at the Morgan Crossing location were more than acceptable.

*All food was comped excluding gratuities*

The Good:
- Decent Neapolitan pizza (at this location at least)
- No absence of flavour in the dishes we tried
- Spacious dining space

The Bad:
- Pizza was better this time, but I would've still liked to see even more leoparding
- Can get up there in price

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (Morgan Crossing) on Urbanspoon

Linh Cafe - French Cooking

Sometimes, fusion is not necessarily a bad thing.  Take the French colonization of Vietnam - it yielded such delicious creations such as Pho and Banh Mi.  We can denounce the colonization part of the equation, but the culinary by-product is the world's gain.  So with that in mind, we finally see an establishment in Vancouver take this head on by offering a predominantly French menu with Vietnamese elements (of course influenced by French cuisine).  Linh Cafe, situated in the old location of Cafe Regalade, is that very place that offers up items such as Cassoulet along with Pho and pastries.  I gathered up the family with the grandparents for this food adventure.

For the table, we started with the Banh Mi Cay Hai Phong or Spicy Baguette Sticks.  These were super crusty as they were well-toasted.  Inside, the mini baguettes were airy and light.  With an ample amount of pate, there was no shortage of moisture and flavour.  The pate was smooth with meaty nuggets where it was well-spiced with a peppery finish.  Of course, with a drizzle of hot sauce, there was a nice kick that didn't overwhelm.  We also tried a couple of their Croissants which ultimately disappointed. These were heavy, doughy and not crispy at all.  Inside, the pastry was dense and too "wet".  The kids still ate it, but for me, I thought they were terrible.  At the very least, they weren't very big as they were more like mini-croissants that cost only $1.95 each.

Viv decided to try the Cassoulet with duck confit, sausage, bacon and white beans.  She added a poached egg for 95 cents extra.  We found the duck leg to be well-prepared where the skin was nicely rendered and crisp.  The meat was succulent and mildly seasoned where the natural flavours came to the forefront.  Meaty and firm with a natural-tasting gaminess, the sausage was also a bit mild with a slight salty finish.  The ample amount of white beans were soft while still retaining a bite.  We would've liked to see the bacon cooked a bit more as it was a bit chewy.  For myself, I went for the Pho Bo (Hanoi Breakfast) with braised beef flank and rice noodles.  I also added a poached egg for 95 cents.  Since this was the Northern version, it came with the obligatory pickled chilis and garlic.  I thought the broth was clean and meaty while being very light with the sodium.  There was a bit of residual grease which provided a nice essence.  The rice noodles were slippery being past al dente.  I enjoyed the little nuggets of super moist beef, but there was very little of it.

My mom ended up with the 7-Hour Braised Short Ribs with peppercorn sauce, honey glazed carrots and frites. The modest portion of beef short rib was tender, yet not completely moist.  Again, it wasn't aggressively seasoned where the natural beef flavour really came through.  However, the creamy and peppery sauce added all the necessary flavours without relying on salt.  I found the sweet carrots to be a nice accompaniment as it stayed in the background while still adding a certain understated sweetness.  As for the side of frites, they were crispy, yet a little dense.  With probably the best dish of the bunch, my dad had the Chicken Fricassee with chicken legs, tomato confit, preserved lemon and couscous. Normally, I'm as excited about a chicken dish as much as navigating a parking lot in Richmond.  But this was expertly executed with succulent chicken meat that was well-seasoned with preserved lemon.  Hence, there was an overall brightness and appetizing flavour that was further accented by the sweet and slightly acidic tomato confit.

For the kiddies, they shared the Paris Breakfast consisting of 2 sunny side up eggs, cooked ham, pan fried tomatoes, Swiss cheese, potatoes and salad. Although the egg yolks were still runny, the rest of the egg was fried until crispy where we could really taste the butter.  The mixture of ham, cheese and tomatoes had a bit of everything including a notable saltiness from the ham and sweet-tartness from the tomatoes.  Overall, we were pleased with the dishes we sampled.  Sure the croissants were not very good, but most everything else was tasty without an over-reliance on salt.

The Good:
- Well-prepared proteins
- Not overly salty
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Modest portions
- Croissants are no good

Linh Café - French Cooking on Urbanspoon

Rainforest Cafe

Promises.  We are taught at an early age that when we make a promise, it is imperative that we keep it.  I guess that doesn't apply to politicians or used car salespeople...  So when Costanza promised his oldest son that we'd visit The Rainforest Cafe in Downtown Disney, he had to keep it despite all the warning signs - such as high prices, mediocre food and indoor thunderstorms.  I tried to convince him to make up an excuse or something, but that would be breaking a promise wouldn't it?  But, but...  anything for good food right?  Negative.  Off we went to The Rainforest Cafe for lunch on our first day at Disneyland...

We shared the Spinach & Artichoke Dip as an appie.  It was pretty standard consisting of a cream cheese and mayo concoction with spinach and artichoke.  I found it slightly thick, but all the better to dip the tortilla chips into.  Nothing particularly exciting though.  For myself, I went for the Taste of the Islands consisting of Caribbean Coconut Shrimp, Blackened Tilapia topped with
a mango salsa and Dynamite Scallops and Shrimp. I found the coconut shrimp to be decent with a crunchy coating.  However, we were not convinced that the cumin tamarind dip was a good compliment (as it was too tart).  I thought the tilapia to be prepared properly being flaky and moist.  The mango salsa could've used more acidity for impact though.  I was not a huge fan of the scallops and shrimp as the "sauce" was a watery salty mess.  The seafood was okay though except for the rubbery scallops.

I added the Creamy Clam Chowder as a starter for my main (which was $1.00 less than ordering it individually).  It wasn't particularly creamy, yet the broth was thick enough without being watery.  Although the clams were large and tender, there was no seafood flavor present.  This was partially due to the abundance of salt (which made the soup almost inedible) that masked everything else.  Viv had the Blue Mountain Chicken Sandwich which was acceptable in a general sense.  The peppers were particularly impactful with plenty of tang and sweetness.  The chicken itself was a bit dry though.  There was nothing terrible about the sandwich, but hardly anything to get excited about either.

Costanza had the Rainforest Burger with a thick beef patty topped with a fried onion ring, lettuce, tomato, pickles and
cheese on a toasted bun. Although it was decently moist and meaty, it wasn't particularly flavorful.  Despite the toppings, there was little impact.  Furthermore, the fries were pretty generic and weren't particularly crispy either.  Their second item was the China Chicken Salad. It was basically a green salad with a sweet dressing and lots of overcooked chicken.  It wasn't really all that appetizing as the dressing didn't really flavor all of the ingredients properly.  It was pretty much watery and bland.  Worst of all, the chicken was terrible being chewy and tough.

Of course we cannot forget about the kiddies as this visit was essentially for them.  Trust me, it certainly wasn't for me!  I think my palate regressed with this visit...  I digress.  So my son went for something incredibly exciting in the Rainforest Rascals (mini-cheeseburgers) with fries.  Well, at the very least, the burgers were decent in size and not too dry.  But the same couldn't be said for my daughter's order of Grilled Chicken with apple slices.  The 2 pathetic pieces of meat couldn't be any chewier.  Man, they killed the chicken once, but they really finished it off in their kitchen.  She didn't even attempt to eat any of it.  In fact, none of us could eat it.  To top it all off, there was not flavor to speak of.  At the very least, the Mac n' Cheese was not half bad as it was a big portion of soft (but not mushy) noodles in a mildly cheesy sauce. Now back to that promise...  I think in this case, Costanza should've taught his son a lesson in what a white lie is all about...

The Good:
- Kid-friendly
- Lots of choice
- Decent portion sizes

The Bad:
- Food just ain't good
- Expensive
- They focus on the gimmicks more than the food

Rainforest Cafe on Urbanspoon

Curry House

Having already made a Northerly detour to try out Bottega Louie, no one was particularly interested in traveling far for dinner.  Heck, even I didn't want to get back on the freeways, especially during rush hour!  So we did something that was purely out of convenience - eat at a restaurant just outside our hotel.  Oh, the humanity!  Has my culinary adventures sunk to a new low?  In fact, it was at a place that we scoffed at while walking over to the nearby Target when we first checked into our hotel.  Pfft...  Curry House, we won't eat there!  Well, we did and little did we know, the place features Yoshuku cuisine with an emphasis on Japanese Curry.

For those unfamiliar, Yoshuku cuisine is Japanese-interpretations of various dishes such as pasta and Salisbury steak.  Hence, you won't find sushi or the usual Japanese dishes here. Oh and Japanese curry is typical more sweet than a traditional Indian curry.  Viv started things off with the standard being the Chicken Katsu Curry with dark meat and mild sauce.  Naturally, it was on the sweeter side, but not overly sweet.  We could still taste the curry and a touch of spice.  The katsu was crunchy while juicy and moist on the inside.  For myself, I had the Hamburger Steak with spicy curry sauce.  It was only marginally more spicy than Viv's mild.  The steak was really moist and tender with a good char on the outside.

Elaine had the Menchi Curry which was essentially a hamburger steak coated with panko and fried.  It was also juicy and tender with a crispy (not greasy) exterior.  She went for the non-spicy curry and it was definitely more sweet than the one (due to the lack of spiciness, leaving it one-note in taste).  Costanza went for the Spaghetti with a buttery soy sauce.  The pasta was firm with a slippery and mildly salty sauce.  For me, I personally like the combination of butter and soy as it had this salty smoothness with a touch of sweetness.  The squeeze of lemon was necessary as it lightened things up with acidity.

For the my son, he had the Appetizer Platter consisting of Popcorn Shrimp, Fried Shrimp, Fries and Onion Rings.  The popcorn shrimp was not exactly crunchy where the exterior was soggy.  However, the shrimp had a nice sweet snap.  The panko-coated fried shrimp was very crunchy, yet a bit dense.  Texturally, the shrimp was buttery with a slight snap.  A big soggy, the fries were also quite salty.  On the other hand, the onion rings were crunchy, well-seasoned and easy on the grease. Costanza's kids ended up sharing the Sesame Chicken with mild curry sauce.  The chicken was appealingly fried where it was golden and crispy while juicy inside. We weren't sure about the teriyaki with the curry though.  It was rather sweet on sweet.  In the end, the curry overshadowed the teriyaki as it was the more dominant flavor.

For curiosity's sake, Costanza decided to try the Fried Curry Bun. It looked more like a donut when it arrived, but it didn't eat like one.  We found it dense, yet marginally crispy on the outside.  The filling was fairly thick and mild.  We weren't huge fans of it as it was heavy-on-heavy.  Yet, we really didn't mind the other dishes, especially the curries.  Definitely a surprise as we didn't hold out much hope for the place since we were unfamiliar with it.  In the end, it accomplish more than merely filling our bellies as a restaurant based on convenience.

The Good:
- Something different from regular Japanese restaurants
- Friendly service
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Stick with the curries as some of the other items we had were so-so

Curry House on Urbanspoon

Bottega Louie

With the first leg of our trip over and done with, we were now in fabulous LA.  Sadly, this was going to be more for the kiddies than anything else.  Hence, more Disneyland and less gastronomical delights for moi.  Joining us in LA was Costanza and Elaine (with their 2 kiddies), and before we descended into theme park purgatory, I suggested we head over to Bottega Louie for some eats and sweets.  I think Costanza and I were on the same wavelength as he readily agreed to navigate the wonderful freeways of LA for our latest eating adventure.

As if our minds were in sync, we both wanted the Lobster Hash.  The Porchetta Sandwich also caught his eye, so I ended up getting the that as he ordered the hash.  With squishy potatoes and perfectly poached eggs, the hash was amped up by the silky and rich Hollandaise.  It was mild on the acidity while high on the butter content.  Surrounding the hash were little nicely poached nuggets of lobster.  As for my sandwich, the cubes of pork were fatty and moist.  It was accented by the sweetness of the caramelized onions as well as the peppers.  The brined caper aioli added the necessary saltiness.  What brought it all together was the salt and pepper topped brioche bun.  It was soft, yet dense enough to stand up to the ingredients.

Elaine decided to be the healthiest of the bunch by trying the Kale Salad with Taylor Farms organic baby kale, cherry tomatoes, garlic herbed croutons, Parmigiano Reggiano & buttermilk dressing.  With tender kale and the creaminess of the dressing along with the saltiness of the parm, this was a pleasant, if not typical salad.  Viv opted for the Smoked Salmon Benedict with poached eggs, smoked wild salmon, crème fraîche, red onions, sautéed greens & Hollandaise sauce on a potato pancake.  Once again, the eggs were runny while the Hollandaise was silky.  As much as the potato pancake was a nice departure from a type of bread, it didn't provide much in the way of a textural contrast.

For the table, we decided to share 2 pizzas including the Margherita and Sausage.  We found the crust to be well-charred and appealing in appearance.  The pizza dough was crunchy throughout the outside while being chewy and well-seasoned.  I particularly liked the fresh tomato sauce as it was vibrant and tart.  With high-quality EVOO, the aroma was definitely apparent.  For the sausage pizza, there was no shortage of meat.  The kiddies shared the pizza as well as the Mac n' Cheese.  With a cheesy firm crust on the top, it gave way to relatively firm noodles on the inside.  The sauce was creamy and slightly greasy, yet surprisingly mild on the cheesiness.

For dessert, Viv and I decided to go big or go home, so we had the Raspberry Napoleon.  Each buttery layer was crispy and consistent.  As for the filling, it was creamy and purposefully sweet.  This was a surprisingly refreshing dessert.  We also had 3 Macarons consisting of Mango, Raspberry and Lemon.  I thought the textures to be on point with a crispy and light exterior giving way to a soft chewy interior.  The flavours matched their description in a natural tasting manner without being overly sweet. Elaine and Constanza went for the Pannacotta, Chocolate Eclair and Raspberry Beneight.  I liked the creaminess and zing from the pannacotta which was accented by the crispy white chocolate balls.  The dark chocolate mousse underneath was more like a ganache being thick and smooth.  We really liked the beneight as it was soft and moist with a sweet filling.  The eclair was rather dense, but chocolaty.  In reality, this was only 5% of their total inventory of sweets as their display ran the whole length of the building (and then some).  What a treat to start off our visit to LA!

The Good:
- Huge selection of sweets and pastries
- Decent eats
- Excellent service

The Bad:
- Pricey (of course)
- Can get really busy during peak times 

Bottega Louie on Urbanspoon

Nong La Cafe

Despite hailing from Vancouver, it is not lost upon me that there are not a whole lot of great bowls of Pho to be found in West LA.  My first night here was not supposed to start with a Vietnamese meal.  In fact, we were trying to hit up ROC and their supposedly great XLBs, but they closed early for July 4th.  Hence, we decided to try Nong La Cafe next door.  They were pretty busy and we were only able to snag a table outside, where the lighting was bad and nowhere for my bounce flash to bounce off of...  Yes, woe-is-me... #firstworldproblems

With thicker than usual rice noodles (Northern version?), the Phở Đặc Biệt otherwise looked pretty typical.  The noodle themselves were chewy while the meats were not as soft as we would've liked.  As for the broth, it was quite sweet and had a particularly strong licorice hit from the abundance of star anise.  Despite this, no huge complaints about the entire package as it was decent.  I went for the Bún Bò Huế and it was mildly spicy with not much lemongrass essence.  There was a lack of lai fun noodles where I was left a bit hungry at the end.  On the other hand, the noodles were pleasing being slippery with a rebound texture.  Sliced a bit thickly, the beef shank was rather chewy.

For the kiddies, they split the Lemongrass Chicken with Fried Egg on Rice.  The 2 breast portions were relatively moist while mildly seasoned.  I could get a slight sense of lemongrass, but it could've been more apparent.  The rice was fluffy and soft while the fried egg was nicely runny. Personally, I would've liked to see dark meat here as it would've been more succulent.  Since I was still hungry, I got a Bánh Mì as well.  I found the bun to be overly dense albeit crusty.  The pate was plentiful and smooth with far too many whole peppercorns.  That in turn made it too peppery and a bit hard to eat.  Although Nong La did the job in filling our bellies, we weren't sure if we actually liked the food.  It wasn't bad per se, but hardly impressive either.

The Good:
- Friendly service
- Clean
- Vietnamese food where there isn't a whole lot of choice

The Bad:
- Something lacking with each dish
- Skimpy with the noodles

Nong La Cafe on Urbanspoon