Tag: Los Angeles

L.A. Chow: Erewhon Tonic Bar

We tried the Hailey Bieber smoothie. Is it worth the hype?

If you are not on TikTok, you might never have heard about Erewhon, the pricy “health food” store in Southern California, which has gone viral for its smoothies. That’s where my daughter heard the super-expensive Hailey Bieber smoothie, which she sort-of-but-it’s-too-expensive-but-if-you-pay-for-it wanted to try. I was game. Sure, the 20-oz smoothie was nineteen-dollars-plus-tax-and-tip, but I figured we weren’t paying for the smoothie, we were paying for the experience. And really, an experience for three people for a fifteen minute drive and a bit over $20 is not bad.

The Erewhon in Calabazas was buzzing at mid-morning in a Wednesday. Apparently, everyone who wasn’t stuffing themselves at Porto’s, was getting some pretend healthy food and expensive smoothies here. Or, really, being seen. While middle age women shopped inside, the outside patio was filled with the young-enough-to-be-carded crowd. Beautiful people, because everyone is beautiful when they’re young.

I only had a quick look at the Erewhon market itself as my too-ashamed-to-be-with-mom daughter rushed us into the Tonic Bar at the far side of the market. The market looked like a smaller version of Sprouts. The Tonic Bar, like your typical cafe counter at any supermarket. I didn’t get a chance to look at prices, but looking at them online, they seem in line with Whole Foods or even the organic produce at Safeway.

Even the smoothie, which seemed outrageously expensive at $19, didn’t end up being so. Or rather, it turns out that all smoothies everywhere are outrageously expensive. Smoothies at Jamba Juice are $10 each – which is the same price as the 20-oz basic smoothies at Erewhon. The Haley Bieber smoothie is so much more because it has a lot of very weird ingredients, plus a famous name attached to it.

Ingredient wise, the Haley Bieber smoothie has “Malk almond milk, organic bananas, organic strawberries, organic avocado, organic dates, organic maple syrup, Vital Proteins vanilla collagen, vanilla stevia, sea moss, organic coconut creme, Driscoll’s Organic Strawberry Glaze”. The smoothie was originally released in conjunction with Haley Bieber’s skin product line and it’s suppose to help you achieve better skin – I’m guessing through its minute quantities of collagen and sea moss. Erewhon seems to keep the nutritional information of its smoothies a secret, but this one seems to have about 700 calories. With sugar from the maple syrup and the strawberry glaze in addition to that naturally occurring in the fruits, it’s also not fit for those in a low-sugar diet. It’s an unhealthy treat, and that’s how it should be seen.

But ultimately, it’s all about the taste and this smoothie is… not bad. Actually, I enjoyed it. It tastes like very light, not too sweet strawberries and cream ice cream with a ‘green’ undertone – I’m guessing from the sea moss. I liked how smooth and not-icy it was. It made me realize that what I dislike about smoothies is how icy they are, and what I dislike about shakes, is that they are too thick and not cold enough. This one had a thin, cold, smooth mouthfeel I really enjoyed. I also liked the strawberries and cream flavor and the fact that despite it having lots of sugar, it didn’t taste too sweet. Now, the colder something is, the less sweet it tastes, so that makes sense. And I liked the green flavor in the background. It wasn’t too forward but it gave it an ‘adult’ bitterness that made it feel more refreshing. I don’t make smoothies myself, but I was thinking about trying to make one by combining ice cream, milk (or almond milk), ice and some matcha powder and blending it very, very well.

Would I get it again? Not for $19 and 700-calories, but I’m glad I tried it once – and shared it with two other people.

L.A. Chow: Porto’s Bakery & Café

This Cuban Bakery is All the Rage in Southern California

Judge by the hype Porto’s has been getting in recent years, you would never guess that Porto’s Bakery has been around at its original location in Echo Park since 1976. Perhaps its expansion into six locations hit the Southern California zeitgeist at just the right time. Affordable prices at a time of high food inflation is certainly a draw. All I can say, is that when the co-founder died a couple of weeks ago this was news worthy of a “have you heard?”.

This was my second time at Porto’s. The first time I was less than impressed. Don’t get me wrong, I loved their prices but the baked goods? Not so much. Camila got a cinnamon coffee cake ($10.25 a small ring cake) that was quite good, mostly because of its cinnamon pecan streusel, and I’d had high hopes for the guava strudel ($1.25), but it turned out to be no better than what I could make myself with some puff pastry and guava jam. Later, my sister got the refugiados ($1.35) for her baby shower, which are guava strudels with the addition of cream cheese, and these were marginally better. Still, this is the one place my mother will go out for breakfast to, and I was happy to oblige her.

We hit the Porto’s in Northridge mid-morning on a Tuesday. I thought this would allowed us to beat both the breakfast and lunch crowds, but apparently everyone else thought the same, as the place was packed – just as packed as when I went for the first time earlier in a weekend morning a couple of months before. It is, fortunately, quite a large locale, so we were able to find a table to accommodate the four of us (+ newborn baby) fairly easily. This was also my opportunity to learn how Porto’s actually works.

You see, Porto’s has four different counters, and you have to go to the correct one to order what you want. At the Cafecito counter, which is located to the far left of the entrance, just next to the dining room, you can order coffee drinks, smoothies and juices – they do have fresh orange juice. They also have a small selection of baked goods. After you order, you need to hang around as they will call your name when your drink is ready.

I ordered a dulce de leche latte ($5 for a small), and I liked it quite a bit. For me, it had the perfect amount of sweetness and coffee flavor. It tasted as caramel rather than dulce de leche, however. My daughter also had one and she didn’t like at all – she thought it was too strong and not sweet enough; adding more sugar didn’t help. She is not a coffee drinker, however. My sister had the passion colada smoothie ($5.5), “mango and passion fruit ice-blended with a touch of coconut cream” and it was quite good, it did taste strongly of passion fruit.

At the Café counter, along the main wall facing the front door, you can order food, pastries and drinks. They have a breakfast menu, salads, sandwiches and main dishes as well as cold drinks. If you order a food dish you can also order any drink from the Cafecito offerings. If you just order a pastry, you’ll have to go to the Cafecito for your drinks (except for the beverages in the Cafe’s menu). The line here was quite longer than at the other counters, but they will bring your food to your table (as well as any Cafecito drink you order here). They give you an electronic device which allows them to locate you.

If you are only interested in getting pastries, then just head to the Bakery counter. The lines are shorter here and they go faster. You will be able to eat your goodies in the dining room, or any of the tables along the wall or in the patio outside.

Finally, at the end of that counter, you’ll find the Cakes counter, where you can pick up their cakes. They have some coffee cakes, loaf cakes and portioned caked desserts at the other counters, but round, decorated cakes are the Cake counter.

I wasn’t extremely hopeful about Porto’s, after my experience last time we visited, but I was willing to give it another college try. As it was mid-morning, neither breakfast nor lunch time, I decided to hit both at the same and get a little from each menu. Thus I ordered a croissant chocolate twist ($2.75) as it sort of reminded me of the wonderful torsades-aux-pepites-de-chocolat we used to breakfast with in Paris a whole lifetime ago. I won’t say it was that good, it lacked the wonderful pastry cream for one, but they were better than I expected. I appreciated the small chocolate pepites, much smaller than chocolate chips, and the dark chocolate flavor – which contrasted nicely with the mildly sweet pastry. It’s served cold, so it was better when I microwaved it later. I’ll definitely get this again.

I also got a baked ham & cheese croissant ($3.25), which I left for breakfast the next day as I wasn’t hungry enough for that and the rest. It’s also served cold so it does need to be microwaved, but it stood very nicely to the microwave and the pastry didn’t get too chewy, as often happens. I liked it even more than the ham & cheese croissant I get at my local bagel shop, and those are $6. This illustrates why Porto’s is so popular.

Finally, I got a ropa vieja sandwich ($8.7), which comes with crispy fried plantain slices. I was a little afraid when I ordered it. Ropa vieja – shredded beef cooked in a tomato sauce flavored with onions and bell peppers -, is one of my all-time favorite dishes. It’s a pain to make (well, to shred the beef), but it’s absolutely delicious. I got my recipe from a Frugal Gourmet cookbook ions ago, and I was a bit afraid about just how it would compare to the “real thing” – assuming that the ropa vieja at Porto’s would be that. And I was also afraid that Porto’s ropa vieja would just not be that good. I needn’t had worried. Porto’s ropa vieja was almost exactly like mine. It had a subtly bitter element – perhaps a different choice of wine? -, but it could have fooled me. So the ropa vieja sandwich was absolutely delicious. The soft bun had the right amount of filling and was a bit hard to maneuver, but I managed not to spill any on myself (a huge accomplishment). For less than $9, this was also wonderfully priced and oh, so delicious. I had the other half the next day for lunch, and it held up very well to the microwave. I’ll certainly be ordering this again. They also serve it as a plate, and I might do that instead.

Camila, had a chicken milanesa sandwich ($9.6), which comes with mozzarella cheese, tomato, smashed avocado, and spicy jalapeño spread, all in a Medianoche roll. She was quite happy with it, strange given everything the sandwich had inside it. But then again, this girl just loves milanesas.

My mother tried the Napoleon slice ($4.45), a cake consisting of layers of puff pastry covered with vanilla pudding and topped with puff pastry crumbs and powdered sugar. This is a pretty mild tasting dessert, which somehow manages to be more than the sum of its two parts. I think it’s because it’s comparably light and not too sweet, thus appealing to both the very young and the middle aged or older. Now, it won’t win any bakery awards, but it was pleasant enough.

My sister ordered the fresh fruit tartlet ($4.45), which was a little unwieldy and broke when she tried to take it out of the box, but she otherwise liked. It has a lot of fresh fruit, including apple slices. This is a good bet for people who are pretending to be healthier.

Given that Porto’s is the one place my mom will go ut to for breakfast, I will no doubt be returning. But I would return anyway after this experience.

Porto's Bakery & Café
19467 Nordhoff St
(818) 534-5210
Daily 6:30 AM - 8 PM
Part of a Southern California chain

Chain Restaurant Review: Popeyes Chicken

Good chicken, but skip the biscuits

I like fried chicken. As I mentioned in a recent review, I had my first taste of it at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant my first evening in America. It wasn’t at all what I expected – breading?! – but I quickly became a fan of it. My mother doesn’t eat any poultry – her father, a doctor who served a low income population was often paid in live chickens, and she has terrible memories of having to clean them -, so it was a special treat to have it when I was growing up. After we came to America, once in a blue moon my dad would bring home a bucket of KFC, and I just swooned.

Over the years, however, I stopped being as much of a fan and fried chicken buckets did not really feature in our family dinners for the last couple of decades. So when my sister, whom we were visiting, suggested we get some Popeyes for dinner, my reaction was to look into alternatives. But it was a Monday, memorial day, and I didn’t want to go through the trouble of finding a restaurant that was open, so I acquiesced. I’m glad I did.

We ordered fried chicken for us, a chicken sandwich for my daughter and chicken strips for everyone else. My usual problem with commercial fried chicken is that it’s too salty, but this one was OK. It probably hit my personal limits for saltiness, but it didn’t go over it. The chicken itself was flavorful, and the breading was nicely seasoned and mostly stuck to the chicken. I’d probably would have waned it to be thinner, but it wasn’t too bad. The chicken was very crispy and remained that way. I didn’t eat the leftovers, so I’m not sure how it microwaved the next day. I also didn’t try any sides, so I can’t comment. My daughter liked her chicken sandwich ($6).

We were all far less fond of the biscuits. They, fortunately, didn’t have that metallic flavor of the bake-at-home biscuits, but they had a similar consistency. They were too flat, too crispy on the outside and not flaky enough. They were also too salty. KFC’s are far superior.

I was intrigued by the strawberry biscuit ($2) in their dessert menu. I had visions of a drier version of the biscuits in strawberry sauce I made years ago. Unfortunately, it was a complete bust. They use the same, overly salted biscuit butter that they use for their regular biscuits and they just include strawberries inside. It doesn’t work at all. I only took a couple of bites and threw it away.

Popeyes, like most chains nowadays, has a their own app and you can get promos with significant discounts – though I think you can only use one promo per order. We got a promo for 10 pieces of chicken, 2 sides and 5 biscuits for $26. Choosing mac & cheese as a side cost an additional $1 (!). Note, however, that you can’t specify all dark chicken if you order via the app – you need to go in person for that. We did, and had the weirdest experience. We ordered at the drive, which is “manned” by what appeared to be an Artificial Intelligence order taking program. It had the voice and speech mode of an AI tool. However, if that’s what it was, it had the best speech recognition system we’ve ever used. My daughter ordered using casual language, changing her order mid-sentence and adding specifications as we went along. And yet the AI understood exactly what she wanted – it repeated it afterwards. Could it really be AI? Let me know of your own experiences.

Now that “fried chicken” is back in my mind, I’ll likely order it again some time.

7635 Winnetka Ave
Los Angeles, CA 91306
(818) 338-2502
Daily 10 AM - 10 PM

L.A. Chow: Gen Korean BBQ

A carnivore paradise for a reasonable price

I love Korean food, but I hadn’t been to a Korean BBQ joint for a couple of decades. Not only are they usually expensive, but when my kids were little, I was reluctant to take them anywhere close a hot grill – one of them still bears a scare from a very unfortunate George Foreman incident. Later, one of them became vegetarian and Korean BBQ restaurants are very sad places for those who love animals too much to eat them. So when my sister, who we were visiting in LA, suggested that we go to Gen Korean BBQ, I was quick to agree – and not only because she just had a baby and I’m being nice to her.

According to my sister, Korean BBQ joints have become very popular in LA, but most are quite expensive. Gen seems to be the exception to the rule, at “just” $30 per person for all your can eat BBQ. They do have some premium items for an additional $20 pp – and everyone at the table has to order this -, but for a first or second visit, at least, there is enough in the regular menu to satisfy everyone. Drinks are not included, and children 10 and under are half price.

The restaurant itself is pretty casual, and includes booths, tables and half-halves, we had one of the latter. In the middle of the table there is a gas grill, which they turn on when you arrive. You can order up to four raw items to cook in the grill – and really, more won’t fit -, as well as appetizers. It’s all you can eat, and they’ll keep bringing food for as long as you want. With three adults and one child, we got to try quite a few dishes. None were amazing, but several were quite good, making it a good place to come when you are just hungry. You are supposed to finish everything you order – so don’t over order – and you can’t take anything home.

I started by ordering a couple of appetizers. The deep friend mandu (pork & vegetable dumplings paired with a savory soy sauce) was actually quite good. The skins were hot and crispy and the filling nicely spiced – the soy sauce wasn’t even necessary. My nephew liked them a well.

The fried rice cake sticks with sweet & spicy sauce, however, were a bust. The ticks themselves had a weird glutinous texture (I know, I know) and no flavor whatsoever. The sauce was too spicy for my taste, so I ate one and that was that. Nobody else wanted to try them.

Later in the meal I got the Pork Riblets. These were listed in the meat menu, but I mention them here because they come already cooked. They have both “Korean style” and “spicy” riblets. I order the former but I think I got the latter, as they were too spicy for my paladar. I ate one, and it was good – though a bit too charred -, but the spiciness made it impossible to eat more. There is quite a bit of fat on these – but then again, that’s a given for ribs, so beware.

While I ate the appetizers, we cooked our first four meals. The waitress had recommended that we order the chadol, thin slices of brisket which I don’t think are marinated. This is a good call, particularly for those who don’t already know they like Korean flavors. I think this might have been my daughter’s favorite. I liked it, though only after it had charred a bit and acquired some flavor. The meats are served with a variety of pickled vegetables as well as soy sauce and flavored salt (and rice).

We also got the Gen Signature Yangyum Galbi, or marinated short ribs. This is a favorite of my sister and was quite good, she ordered it a couple of more times. Again, this benefits from some charring.

Her other favorite is the Hawaiian Steak, which is beef marinated in teriyaki that comes with pineapples. Both beef and pineapple were very tasty. As the meats are cut so thinly, they are pretty tender as well. We had seconds of this.

Finally, we had the beef bulgogi, which wasn’t as good as mine, but pretty good as well.

Among the other things we tried, was the Smoked Samgyubsal – marinated, smoked pork belly. Here, I wish the slice had been thinner, as one slice was too much of a good thing, even with two of us eating it. There was a reasonable amount of meat to fat, and it had a nice smoky flavor, but it was hard to see what was fat and what was meat after cooking it, and I did not like the texture of the thick pieces of fat in my mouth. They have several preparations for samgyubsal, but given that my issue was the texture, I don’t think I’d order it again.

Another item we tried and we’d not order again is the garlic chicken. Once cooked, this really tasted of over-roasted garlic and nothing else. It was bitter and just too one-note, no one liked it.

They had many other meats to try, but frankly, we were too full to try them, and this despite the fact that we didn’t even try the salads.

We did order the Hotteok, a Korean pancake. This was probably not worth the calories. The inside felt like uncooked batter and it wasn’t very flavorful at all.

Now, none of the meats were high quality – but as they are cut thin and heavily marinated, I’m not sure that mattered much. The grill got dark a couple of times with all the burn marinades, but they were promptly changed.

Service was great at the beginning, the waitress explained how things worked carefully, but she sort of disappeared at the end, when things got busy.

Gen Korean BBQ is a chain, with 24 restaurants throughout California, plus a couple in Arizona and Florida. The closest to me is in Fremont, and I might give it a try sometime.

Gen Korean BBQ
10151 Reseda Blvd
Northridge, CA
(818) 709-3932
Monday - Thursday 11:00 AM - 10:30 PM
Friday 11:00 AM - 11:30 PM
Saturday 10:00 AM - 11:30 PM
Sunday 10:00 AM - 10:30 PM

L.A. Chow: Bob’s Big Boy in Northridge

Nostalgia brought me back, but won’t again.

Bob’s Big Boy is the restaurant chain of my adolescence. It was the first restaurant we ate at when we first came to the US. I had fried chicken, which seemed just so American, and thus quite exotic to me. And it was the restaurant where we would go to celebrate special occasions – birthdays, graduations, visits from relatives abroad. In our dire financial situation, it was the best my parents could do – though when my generous aunt would visit, we’d sometimes go to Sizzler’s.

I loved Big Boy burgers – the two decker ones with the flat bread in the middle and I absolutely loved their chocolate fudge cake. Then I moved away, Big Boy closed most of its locations, and I mostly forgot about it. Then last week, while visiting my family in LA, we drove past the Big Boy restaurant in Northridge, it reopened about a decade ago. I knew I had to go. I’m glad I did, but I probably won’t come back any time soon.

To a large degree, Big Boy hasn’t changed. Sure, this restaurant is different from the ones we’d eat at in Encino or Reseda, and the Big Boy character itself has changed looks over the years, but the menu is almost practically the same. It still has that fried chicken, those double decker burgers, those sweet strawberry pies and chocolate fudge desserts. I was happy to see that; I wanted a trip to the past.

And a trip to the past it was, as I convinced my mother and siblings to come along. Of course, neither my dad nor my sister are with us any more, but we had a new generation to bring along. It was probably good that the restaurant was mostly empty – there was one other big party but very few others -, as the younger members of our table were pretty rowdy (no blame to the newborn baby, who was quiet the whole time).

I ordered, of course, the original Big Boy combo ($15) described as “the original double-deck hamburger with two “never frozen” burgers, lettuce, cheese, mayo, and our special red relish” with a side fruit instead of French fries (I’m pretty much done with potatoes) and it was a HUGE disappointment. HUGE.

The problem were the burger patties. They were paper thin. I ordered them medium-rare, but they were too thin to be pink in the middle: there was no middle. That meant, of course, that he burger tasted of bread with just a hint of burger. And even after discarding the bread and just eating the patties, the experience was just sad. The patties were too dry and very unappetizing. I can assure you, this is not how the Big Boy burger was in the day.

Fortunately, everybody else’s food was far better.

My mom got the All American Burger ($16) “American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red relish, mayo, and red onion” and at least it had a single, thick patty. I do think her patty was larger than both of mine combined. She thought the burger was fine – but she’s not super fond of meat anymore, so perhaps that explained her lack of enthusiasm.

My brother and nephew both got the BBQ Bacon Cheeserburger ($18) “crisp bacon, BBQ sauce, sharp cheddar, onion rings, balsamic onions” and they were both much happier. The burger looked much better than mine, and they both thought it was pretty good.

My sister had the Patty Melt ($16) “on grilled Rye with Swiss and American cheese grilled onions on request” and she also was quite happy. As she said “you can’t really mess up a patty melt” but really, they could have done so by having paper thin patties like in my burger. Fortunately they did not, and she enjoyed her meal. I’d probably order this if we were to return.

Camila had the Chicken Parmigiana ($15.50) “breaded chicken tenders served on spaghetti topped with mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce.” She was happy enough with it – this is a favorite dish of hers, and Big Boy did it at least as well as Stouffer’s.

The kids had chicken nuggets and were more occupied with fighting than eating. But they’re kids.

I had to get Bob’s Famous Hot Fudge Cake for dessert and this, at least, was just as good as I remembered it. This dessert is all about the fudge and Bob’s fudge is delicious. The cake is moist and spongy, the ice cream tempers the sugar and I would have loved to eat the whole dessert, even if it killed me, but my sister stole it from me and gave it to my nephews. Well, I still cherish the few bites from it I got to take. And crave it.

So who am I kidding? I will return to Big Boy’s, but just for the dessert.

Service was very friendly – it’s hard to serve a party of 8 but the waitress did a fantastic job. And even though I missed my dad and my sister, I’m glad I got to relive a little bit of that far gone adolescence and mentally toast to the family we once were.

Bob's Big Boy
8876 Corbin Ave
Northridge, CA
(818) 772-2627
Su - Th: 8 AM - 8 PM
F - Sa: 8 AM - 9 PM

Restaurant Review: Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles Has What It Takes

The Ethiopian Feast

Los Angeles has several Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants. Unfortunately, they are all on the same street, South Fairfax Avenue near downtown. That means that if you live in the San Fernando Valley, as does my family, you have to trek all the way to Los Angeles if you want to have some of this delicious and very unique food.

So that’s exactly what we did last month when I went to visit my family down south. My sister read of bunch of reviews and decided on Little Ethiopia (also the name of the neighborhood) – all in all, it was a good choice.

We were a large group, as quite a few of my family members went, including two babies. Fortunately, the restaurant was rather empty. We made a lot of noise! The staff was extremely accommodating and friendly. It’s definitely as family friendly a restaurant as you are likely to get.

The menu is pretty typical for an Ethiopan restaurant. We shared both the meat and the lentil sambusas as an appetizer ($8 for 3) and they were very tasty – though a bit too spicy for some of us (to be expected, this is Ethiopian food, after all). The 2-year old in our party really liked them, spice and all.

As an entree, I shared the $40 Ethiopian feast (pictured above) with my husband and daughter. It was probably not enough food for 3, but my daughter is a light eater and there was more food at the table. It comes with doro wat, alicha wat and tibs. They were all very tasty.

My vegan daughter shared the vegetarian combo ($15), which is vegan, and thought it was pretty good. She particularly liked the kik alicha (a split pea stew) and also ordered it as a side ($6).

Meanwhile, the spaghetti with tomato sauce ($11) satisfied the picky older child in our party, it was a large portion with plenty of leftovers.

While the restaurant is comfortable and very affordable, it’s probably not the most elegant restaurant on the street. If you’re in a date, one of the other ones may be better. But if you’re after good Ethiopian food in a familiar atmosphere, this will do it.

Little Ethiopia
1048 South Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
T-Th, 11 AM – 9 PM
F- Su, 11 AM – 10 PM

Jasmine Thai Cuisine – Restaurant Review – Winnetka, CA

What is it with LA Thai restaurants? Why is it that seemingly every  strip-mall hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant serves spectacular cuisine, while many Thai restaurants in the Bay Area struggle to rise above mediocrity?  Whatever it is in the southern California area that inspires Thai cooks, it’s alive and kicking at Jasmine Thai Cuisine.  We went there for dinner last Saturday night (June 2014), and had a simply delicious meal.

Jasmine Thai is a 2-restaurant chain in the west San Fernando Valley.  We visited the Winnetka branch because it got better slightly better Yelp reviews.  The restaurant is cute and well decorated, but it can’t quite escape its strip-mall architecture.  Fortunately, the prices match the casual surroundings with most entrees priced at a downright cheap (at least by Bay Area standards) $8.


We started by sharing an order of beef satay ($8).  The order came with six sticks, which was great as there were three of us.  The beef was very nicely marinated, and had a very strong flavor.  The peanut sauce was standard, which is nothing to complain about.  The dish was beautifully presented in a plate that came with a small iron heater of some kind with a pretty significant flame. I’m not sure if it was there just for decoration, but we did enjoy putting our meat in the flame.  I hadn’t seen this before, and enjoyed it. I know my girls would have loved it.

Cashew Nut Chicken

Cashew Nut Chicken

We followed this with the cashew nut chicken ($8), panang curry with beef ($8) and curry duck ($11).  The cashew nut chicken was fine, though perhaps not as interesting as one might have liked.  Kathy did like the sauce quite a bit, though.  The two curries, however, were outstanding.  the panang was perfect, flavorful, deep, complex, and yet very much a panang curry. The sliced beef had probably been sauteed separately and then added to it, so it wasn’t the star of the dish, but it was good enough. It was the sauce, however, what really shined.

Panang Beef

Panang Beef

The duck curry was similar, albeit a bit fruitier and sweeter, probably from the pineapple chunks it came with.  It was also delicious.  The duck, a hard meat to get right, was well cooked, not too fatty (but it’s duck), and went very well with the sauce.   Both curries are noted in the menu as being spicy.  We asked for them as mild as possible, and our tongues still burned a little bit.

Duck Curry

Duck Curry

The portions were all quite generous. We had leftover of both curries to bring home (which my husband got to enjoy fully).  Where they did skimp was in the rice ($1.50 per person).  We probably could have used more at the table and had none to take home. Next time, I’ll order an extra portion.

Both my dad and I had strawberry smoothies ($3.25) with our dinner, and they were OK. They basically tasted like strawberry daiquiris without the rum. I don’t think I’d order them again.

Despite how good the food was, there are a few minuses to Jasmine.  First, the menu doesn’t include some Thai favorites like pra ram chicken and massaman beef.  Second, they don’t serve alcohol – not even beers to wash down the spice.  Finally, the service could have been more attentive.  We were done for a while before anyone noticed we needed the bill.  The dinner for three came to close to $60 after tax and tip.

Jasmine Thai Cuisine
20156 Roscoe Blvd.
Winnetka, CA
(818) 718-7000
M-Su 11am – 10:30pm

Los Angeles Restaurant Reviews

Mo-Chica – Los Angeles – Restaurant Review

Mike and I were in Los Angeles for the Democratic Convention last March, and decided to give Mo-Chica a try for lunch.  We both like Peruvian food and were excited to see what this restaurant could do.  With the right expectations, I think Mo-Chica would have been a great experience.  Alas, our expectations were to quench our hunger without having to mortgage our home, and that is not quite possible here.  Still, the food was very nicely presented and interesting and I appreciated the experience.

Mike and I started with the tiradito de seabass.  The thin slices of cold seabass (maybe 8 or so) came beautifully presented in a long plate decorated with the aji amarillo sauce.  You would never have guessed from the delicate look of the dish just how bursting in flavor it’d be.  It did get boring after a while, so this is definitely a dish to share.  And it’s all about the flavor, there is almost no substance to the dish.

As our main dishes, we ordered the carapulcra (“Peruvian sun dried potato stew, crispy pork belly, peanuts, chimichurri”, $14) and the Estofado de alpaca (“Braised alpaca, tagliatelle, aji amarillo sauce, fried organic egg”, $15).  I’d had llama in Argentina, but I figured alpaca wasn’t exactly the same, so I might as well add it to my list of meats I’ve tried.  I can do that now, but as the alpaca meat was cut into extremely small pieces, and its flavor was covered by the rest of the stew, I can’t quite say I know what it tastes like.  I can imagine, that’s probably the point.  There must be a reason why llamas and alpacas are pretty much only served in restaurants catering to tourists in their home regions.

In any case, both dishes were very good, they had distinct and pleasant flavors and I enjoyed them.  Neither, however, was a show stopper.  The presentation and novelty, rather than the taste, is what justified their absurd prices for lunch.  They also weren’t particularly generous portions.  Mike, in particular, who had been less enthusiastic about the food and had let me had the lion’s share, left hungry.

The restaurant itself looks too casual to justify its prices.  It’s more of a hipster place, and I would perhaps not have minded it so much for dinner, where a larger meal at a larger expense might seem justified.

Needless to say I won’t be going back, but I’m glad I tried it.

514 W 7th St
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 622-3744

Los Angeles Restaurant Reviews

Indian Oven Restaurant – Chatsworth – Review

Indian Oven opened up in the space that Raaga used to occupy.  They still have the same phone number, but the space has been modified (part of the dining room is gone) and I think they are under new ownership.  I went to the restaurant for dinner there last week with my sister Kathy, who was having a hankering for Indian food, and left mostly satisfied.

Looks wise, Indian Oven doesn’t have much to recommend it for. It’s your typical Indian restaurant, without much in the way of ambiance, but nice enough. You go here for the food, not anything else.  The service was quite good, however, and the waiters very young and very affable.

Kathy and I were planning on taking food back home for Mike and Mika, who were at the pool, so we ordered tons of things.  We started with the chicken pakora ($4), which was disappointing.  The very small chicken pieces has been overly battered and were quite flavorless.  To add insult to injury, they were very tough and dry.  I got the impression they had been cooked earlier in old, almost stale oil, and then reheated.  I would definitely not order this dish again.

Indeed, you may want to avoid all chicken dishes at Indian Oven.  Our chicken tikka masala ($10) was equally disappointing.  The chicken once again was very, very dry.  While I suspect that chicken tikka masala was invented in the first place to use up left over chicken tikka, most restaurants manage to make it with pieces that retain some moisture and flavor.  The sauce itself was quite good, a pretty standard masala, and I’d order the dish again, albeit with lamb.

Indeed, both of the lamb dishes we ordered were quite good.  Lamb korma ($11) is one of my all time favorite dishes and Indian Oven’s version was pretty good.  The lamb was moist and not overly fatty, and the curry was mild but flavorful.  Kathy was disappointed by the lack of coconut flavor in the curry (per the description of the dish), but IMHO kormas never taste much of coconut. In all, I was satisfied though I’ve tasted better kormas elsewhere.

The mint lamb ($11) was equally satisfying.  Once again the lamb was tender, and the mild mint flavor of the curry was quite alluring. Kathy enjoyed it as well.

Finally, we shared a kashmiri (aka kabuli) naan ($4). It was good enough, though once again not the best version of kashmiri/kabuli naan I’ve ever had.  It was s bit expensive for the quality.

In all, our meal was quite good.  What we ordered ended up being enough for 4 adults and one child, and the total bill came to $54 including tax and tip.  I’d go back there again, though I might give other nearby Indian restaurants a try first.

Indian Oven
10110 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Chatsworth, CA
Daily 11 AM – 3 PM & 5 PM – 10 PM.

Marga’s Restaurant Reviews – Outside the Bay Area

Raaga Restaurant – Chatsworth

Note: Raaga has closed. Indian Oven has opened in its location.

I was visiting my parents in the SF Valley this weekend, and my sister Kathy suggested that we go to Thai West for lunch, a favorite restaurant in the neighborhood. Alas, it was close for Sunday lunch, so we went hunting for another alternative. Raaga was the first such alternative we found – and I was glad we did.

We got to the small strip-mall restaurant around 12:30 PM on Sunday (July 2008). The place was deserted, and they were just putting out the lunch buffet. I hope people in the area are late lunchers, because no one came while we ate.

The food was very good. The buffet consisted of three meat dishes (chicken curry, goat curry and tandoori chicken), and 2 or 3 veggie dishes – I noticed a vegetable sambaal and some daal, I’m not sure if they had something else. There was also rice, vegetable pakoras, raita and things of the sort. They brought fresh nan to the table, and it was very good, thick and warm.

I loved everything I had. The tandoori chicken lacked the red dye that is usually used to give the dish its distinctive color, but it was juicy and very flavorful, without being spicy. Indeed, Mika, my picky 6-yo, ate quite a bit of it. The chicken curry was both rich and deep, a tiny bit spicy and somewhat sweet, with layers of complexity. It was not the sort of dish you tend to get in a buffet – I really enjoyed it. The goat curry was almost as good, well balanced, rich in flavor, giving you something new, yet familiar (to eaters of Indian food). Kathy tried the veggie pakoras and she thought they were very good as well, Mika even ate a couple of bites without complain.

Service was great, if silent.

The bill came up to $38 after tax. They only charged us for 3 buffets (there were 3 adults and 3 kids, but the kids mostly ate rice), and we had 4 drinks. In all, I thought it was very affordable for the quality of food.

10110 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Chatsworth, CA

Marga’s Restaurant Reviews

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