Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hop Li
10974 W Pico Blvd (Cross Street: Greenfield Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA 90064-2115

"Why isn't there any good Chinese food on the westside??"
I've heard this phrase uttered in disgust over a dozen times. And yes, I agree, the best Chinese food is located in Monterey Park, Alhambra and Chinatown. But there HAS to be something closer, to satiate that craving for some crispy noodles on a cold day. And I'm not talking Panda Express, or (shrudder) PF Chang's (Blasphemy!!) Enter: Hop Li.

I know, I know. Hop Li isn't AS CHEAP or AS GOOD as its' competitors on the other side of town. But we all can't have our cake and eat it too. (anyone ever see that SNL skit, "Lothar of the Hill People"? Where they pick apart that saying, but instead of "cake" they substitute "flagon of mead". "I don't understand that saying at all. If I had mead, would I not drink it?" Man I miss that skit. ANYWAYS.)
First up was Wonton Soup. Not bad. The broth was that oily-ish chicken stock, alright but not that intense chicken flavor that some other restaurants have. Those button-mushrooms-from-a-can really give me some nostalgia...I only eat these kind of mushrooms at chinese restaurants. The shrimp floating around were decent sized - not mini, but not monster. The wonton themselves were...okay. Not amazing. Nothing to write home about. Small, not filled with too much flavor. Next up, a banquet favorite: Honey-walnut shrimp. These are the ultimate in indulgence. Fried, very minimally battered jumbo prawns, doused on the outside with honey-mayonaise, on a bed of iceburg lettuce, with honey covered walnut pieces. A little too much mayo - there shouldn't be big gobs of the stuff all over each piece. It's a subtle flavor, and needs the right ratio of each. So while the pieces of shrimp were spot on - huge, at least two bites each - the overwhelming mayo needed to be scraped off.

Tofu clay pot. I LOVE clay pot dishes, there's something so comforting about having that thick sauce, embedded with a mix of fried, soft sauce soaked tofu, chicken pieces, slices of BBQ pork, smaller pieces of shrimp and slices of scallion. It's hard for me to hate any version of this, as I mentioned before, is one of my favorite dishes. They did this very sufficiently.

House special pan fried noodles...YUM. The noodles were just right - crispy, fried, soft when covered with the gravy sauce, covered in tons of toppings - slices of beef, BBQ pork, chicken, canned mushrooms, and bok choy. This is classic - like I remember it from back home.

Hop Li is my answer to edible chinese food on the west side. Not too shabby, although a little overpriced for dinner. The lunch special is the best, because you get one of these dishes, but with a bowl of either hot and sour soup or egg drop soup, and rice, for around 8 bucks.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bay Area Holidays - a retrospect
I've been seriously behind on my here's a quick post that's basically going to quickly go through my food adventures when I went back home to the Bay area for the holidays. I had some great food and I wanted to at least point these places least, before the next holiday season comes around!First stop, St. John's Grill. I came here with almost all my immediate family members, and chowed down on some of the best burgers I've ever had. This is one of the places that I really wish they had in Southern California. Unfortunately, there's only one St. John's. And this is it.
Garlic fries will give you a kick start in the head...or in the gut. This plate of heaven is loaded with garlic, parsley, parmesan cheese and crispy - not oily - fries. The skin of the potato actually adds a really nice texture to each fry.
More bar food...fried zucchini rounds, with ranch sauce. Fried goodness. Enough said about those. These onion rings are to-die-for. Battered, fried, crispy, golden, sweet. Everything you want in a onion ring.
Owen went all out with his bacon-guacamole burger. Juicy meat, creamy avocado and thick bacon. Can't get any better thaDid I mention that on Saturdays, St. John's burgers are half priced?? Here's a blown out flash close up. Gotta work on my camera skills. I had a mushroom swiss burger. It was soo filling, I didn't even eat half of my burger. I think I filled up on fries. I guess the burgers USED to be bigger...although maybe it's better that they're smaller now...less gluttony. Each burger comes with a bag of Lay's original potato chips. I don't think any of us opened one. But we saved all of them (ew the bags were covered in burger grease) and took them home for later. Waste not want not!!!Next up with Frankie, Johnnie and Luigi's. We went to the original location in Mountain View. Great place, I've been to the other location closer to my house, but this is the ORIGINAL!! These are what was left of a plate of Ravoil Compare - Breaded cheese ravioli, deep fried, served with a chipotle-ranch sauce. The plate that came to us had more ravioli, but everyone took one before I remember to snap a picture. The plate was practically licked clean 2 minutes after taking this picture.
Horribly blurry picture of bread. This bread is awesome, (white, good crust, carby, warm) but what makes this an amazing bread is the butter herb spread. It's soft, light as air, easily spreadable, and completely delicious. We were warned not to eat too much of it because we had this coming up...
A MASSIVE beautiful pizza. This is the Stromboli, holding the holy trinity of meats - Sausage, pepperoni and salami, with some mushrooms thrown on there for good measure. The sausage is amazing, not that fake crap from Domino's or Pizza hut. It's freshly made, huge chunks of meat with great flavor. This pizza is meat-coma inducing. The crust is great too - chewy, crunchy, flavorful.
We also got a Fresh Tomato, Basil and Garlic pizza to balance out the Stromboli. I thought it was a great choice and really highlighted the perfection of the bread.
During Christmas break, I went to Rosie McCann's, an Irish Pub restaurant to meet up with some old friends. I ordered some garlic fries for the table. This was not as good as the garlic fries I got from St. John's during Thanksgiving break, but they were still of decent quality and consumed quickly.
Here's a crappy picture of Krang's California Chicken burger. Grilled chicken, avocado, bacon, rabbit food and fries. He seemed to enjoy it.
Here's an extremely blurry picture of Jay's Irish Nachos. I think Irish nachos are Jay's favorite comfort/junk food, because I remember him ordering irish nachos often at THE ROWS (Carrows...the only 24 hour restaurant open close to my house in San Jose.) back in high school. Basically, Irish nachos are just like regular Mexican nachos...but instead of tortilla chips, they use sliced baked/fried/extreme potatoes. They're sinfully good.
Chris and I decided to be good and split a plate of Wild Salmon fish and chips, with wasabi mayo. If anyone knows me, they know that I love wasabi infused...anything. So the wasabi mayo was great. The fried fish was had a crispy panko-crumb outside. I prefer the thicker batter type of fried fish, like from King's Head, but this wasn't bad. I liked the salmon itself, which was a decent cut of fish. The fries were alright. Slaw was edible but I don't really love slaw. Saved the WORST for last. Vicky and I met up and had a quick bite at The Village: California Bistro and Wine Bar. For a trendy space and dark mood lighting, the food was completely lacking. I got the Crispy Monterey Calamari with Garlic Aioli. The word to describe this was: Whatever. Not special, not outstanding, but not completely unedible. I've had better, but I've had worse. I guess I was just hoping for...something more special.
Vicky chose the Curried Seared Tofu - "Lightly Breaded & Seared Tofu, Jasmine Rice, Bok Choy, Garlic, Carrot & Tomato, Thai Red Curry Broth, Bean Sprouts, Peanuts". This was totally and completely lacking of flavor! How could anyone mess up tofu! AND to use curry, and to not even infuse the tofu with something so flavorful as curry...lame! For a 15 dollar vegetarian plate, this was supposed to be knock your socks off, but instead it was a waste of bean curd. Shame on you "The Village". (Doesn't help that the restaurant is named after an M. Night Shymalan movie. I hate his movies. And his ego.)

I had a great time during the holidays - it was good to get away for awhile. How I miss the bay area.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

1544 S. La Cienega Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90035

I guess I've been on a sandwich kick recently. On the way to catch a quick flick at the Beverly Center, my friends and I didn't want to risk someplace that might take too long. Hoagies and Wings was conveniently on the way to the theater so we pulled over to the newly minted, glorifed fast food style shack.

I've been to the other location before (which is out in the middle of nowhere, and also a little shady for late-at-night), so I knew what I was getting into. Hoagies and Wings are known for just that - California style hoagies (whatever that means- when I think of "California Style" all I can think of is avacados and BBQ chicken pizza) and wings. Citysearch touts them pretty highly, (winner in the categories of: fast food, cheap eats and sandwich in 2005). So bring on the food...
Here it is, nestled in its' white butcher paper wrapping. "Buck crispy"...oh yeah. That sounds ominous and, strangely, like the name of an up-and-coming rapper.
But what "buck crispy" stood for was a Buffalo Crispy Specialty Chicken Hoagie. The best of both hoagie and wing worlds, the hoagie was topped off with the same buffalo wing sauce they use on their oh so famous wings. The chicken was fried strips of processed chicken meat. That's probably the weak point of the sandwich - processed chicken meat freaks me out a little bit (mechanically separated meat, anyone?) Shredded iceburg lettuce, tomato slices and cheese (although I don't remember encountering cheese, but everything was covered in sauce) rounded out the rest of the sandwich. The hoagie bun held everything together well, but once you start biting into it, it's going to make a huge mess. No way to get around it, just get in there and get your face covered in sauce. Make sure you have a ton of napkins.
Here are the fries. Sometimes, they're way too overseasoned with what I think is the contents of a Ramen seasoning packet. This time around they were alright, good sized, golden and crispy.

Here's a shot of Owen's Western Crispy Chicken Hoagie. You can get a better sense of the whole sandwich in this shot. I like the "western" sauce better than the buffalo sauce (western sauce being BBQ sauce.)
Here's a close up on that Western Hoagie. Mm, fried mechanically separated chicken slices....
...which are the star in Kate's Flavored Chicken Fries. It was a MASSIVE take out container full of fried chicken strips, fries and parmesan cheese. It came with a little container of ranch sauce for dipping. Oh delicious fried things.

This place isn't bad, but for my dollar, go to Bay Cities Deli for the "to die for" sandwich. The price is cheaper here though, they're open late and they deliver (if you're within their delivery area. I'm not.)
Philippe's - The original french dip sandwich
1001 N. Alameda St. Los Angeles CA. 90012 -
(Downtown LA, close to Union Station, Chinatown and Olivera Street)

I've been craving a decent french dip sandwich for awhile. And not any old french dip sandwich (french dip from IHOP is not my idea of fufilling a sandwich craving...much less any kind of craving for anything edible) - something transcendent, something life-changing - well okay, I can just settle for something filling and delicious. Philippe's fills that need nicely.

Philippe's has been around for awhile (that's an understatement - hardly do I get to eat at any restaurant that was established before the 1990's, Philippe's started in 1908...) and seems to do pretty well for itself, sticking to what it knows best - good quality food, cash only, sawdust on the floor, cafeteria style service.

Everyone waits in line for their sandwich, to give their orders to waitresses who prepare your sandwich or anything else you order behind the counter. They all wear spiffy uniforms, and have that "tough as nails" vibe - but don't be afraid, they are so polite and nice! Order what you want, they put everything on disposable cardboard plates (so high school cafeteria!), pay them (CASH only, yep, I know this is the second time I mentioned it) and do remember to TIP them (they give you change on this little tray, leave them their tip on there.)

Scuffle on the sawdust (to hide...what I'm stepping on underneath the sawdust? Unsettling..), roll up to a bench and gaze upon...

The french dip. I got a beef french dip. At each table there's their famous mustard (hot hot hot, but I love the stuff - not unlike chinese hot mustard, I could drink it if I needed to), give your sandwich an extra lashing or two of this mustard if you dare. The first perfect. Meat and meat juice are contained sufficiently within the bread - and not too soggy! A small bite of the potato salad scoop, with its' dusting of paprika, is a good balance. It's not the best potato salad I've had but definitely ranks up there with "potato salads I'd eat again".
Here's a lovely close up - waiting to be eaten!
Philippe's lemonade is notorious not for its' taste, but for its' price - 60 cents! Lemonade from a kids' lemonade stand is not that cheap anymore! And that's the great thing about this place - everything is super cheap and good quality. My beef dip sandwich ran me $4.90. Scoop of potato salad? 95 cents. This is UNHEARD of anywhere else! If you haven't gone, take in some of the scenery and food over at Philippe's. Take advantage of their hospitality (and free parking!)