Friday, August 07, 2009

Ciao Christina

Ciao Christina is a small little restaurant, just recently reopened after a long refurbishment, within walking distance of work, so Louisa and I decided to give it a try. We had heard that they had great gelato, and the gelato case is what instantly drew my eyes when I walked in. After a quick review of what flavors they had, I decided on:

Ciao Christina!

A scoop of hazelnut and a scoop of pistachio. I actually am not usually a pistachio flavor kinda gal, but this was an excellent pistachio gelato, although I think the real pistachios were quite stale and I had wished they had excluded them. The hazelnut was a rich nutty flavor, it was a good accompaniment to the pistachio. I ate this pretty quick - isn't gelato best eaten fairly quickly, before it gets soupy?

The rest of our dinner (yes, we had dessert first while waiting for our "to-go" order, sometimes, dessert first is a necessity) was unearthed when we arrived back at work, and what a pretty sight it was...
Ciao Christina!Align Center


This was Louisa's chicken parm sandwich (sorry for the blurriness). The bread was thick, and possibly could have been made in house, it was so good. The chicken had a nice breading to it, and held up its' crispness against the tomato sauce. There were even some olive slices in the sandwich. The potato chips were a real treat - they were freshly fried! Not out of a bag! Extra crispy crunchy, and really fun to eat. (I ended up ordering this the next time I went!)


Ciao Christina!
I had decided on a chicken sausage stromboli (they also have calzones, but strombolis have mozzarella cheese on the inside, instead of ricotta, and for me, it was not a ricotta kinda day.), which was freshly made by request, and it showed. First off, this thing was huge - like, football sized. The bread was really great, not too much chew, not too hard of a crust. I neglected to take a picture of the insides, but the chicken sausage was where all the flavor was, and the cheese held it all together.
Ciao Christina!

This also came with my stromboli - tomato sauce. This was excellent sauce - great to dip pieces of the stromboli in, I was almost eating this as if it was tomato soup. Louisa gave her approval, as an Italian - she mentioned it was "good gravy" (I guess tomato sauce is known as gravy in her family?)

Ciao Christina!
Louisa also had gotten a cannoli to go, as her snack/dessert for later. I should have gotten one too, but I figured my stromboli was going to kick my ass (which it did.) I tried a bit of the creamy ricotta insides...sweet, tangy but mild, with bits of chocolate chips and dried fruit in the filling. I should have gotten one.

The proximity of this place pretty much assures the fact I will return, but I am also pleased it has great food, although I admit it is a little pricey (cept the gelato, which is a steal at 3 dollars for their biggest cup.) I will have to try their pizza next time.

Ciao Christina
4201 W. Olive Ave.
Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 563-2426

http://www.ciaocristina.com/

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Vegas getaway

A mini trip to Vegas! Literally, we went here just to go to a room, sleep all day, and then sleep some more. Is that weird? A vacation to sleep? Considering we live behind a car lot, and a really busy street, I don’t really get to experience pure silence very often, and better yet, air conditioning on a hot day. A hotel provides all these things, and I found a great deal to stay at Caesar’s Palace, so we booked a few days here.

We got off our flight extremely early (well, extremely early, relative to me and Owen) – our flight was annoyingly scheduled for 7 in the morning or something – by the time we rolled into Payard Patisserie, we were ready for a good meal to start us off on a better foot for the rest of our mini-break.

The seating is very interesting here – the cook is in the middle, where he makes everything to order, and the patrons are all seated around him in a circular design. It’s a very different kind of setup, but I found it was fascinating watching the cook make everything, (picking up some cooking tips, hah.) Our waiter was very good, very attentive but not too bothersome. We both ordered a glass of orange juice to start.

Payard Patisserie Restaurant

I really liked this juice! It tasted fresh squeezed, I think Owen mentioned it was the “best fresh squeezed orange juice he’s had”. It was a really tall glass, as well…I guess in Vegas, go big or go home, right?

Payard Patisserie Restaurant

Owen and I decided to get two plates, and halfway through, to switch and share. He ordered the French toast with Berry compote. This was amazing, this dish managed to be rich, yet light at the same time. The berries were my favorite kinds – raspberry, blueberry and blackberry, in their own juices, were not sweetened, so it didn’t feel like a over-sugared mess we usually get for something like this. This dish was overall NOT sweet, which I actually loved! And I USUALLY hate French toast, (weird hang-up, I know.), but I liked this a lot – the bread was almost custardy in the middle, the whipped cream was really freshly whipped cream, and not just sugary junk. If there was ever a perfect French toast plate, this would be it for me.

Payard Patisserie Restaurant

I ordered a croque madame – a ham and swiss sandwich, toasted, topped with b├ęchamel sauce and a sunny side up egg. The plate was rounded out with a stuffed tomato, and mixed baby greens with a vinaigrette. I only had half of this and secretly wished I could have eaten the whole thing, heh. Again, the richness was not too rich, balanced by the tartness of the vinaigrette on the greens, and the tomato, and the bechamel was not globbed on, like other places I've had this before - this was almost toasted into the sandwich already, so it was more a flavorful crunch on the outside of the bread. Excellent meal, and we will definitely be back.

We also picked up some croissants - Owen got a chocolate croissant, and I got a regular plain one. I didn't take a picture of these, but I SWEAR they were some of the best croissants I've ever eaten.

A bit later, while Owen was asleep (I had napped earlier, as I slept much less than him the night before), I went off on my own and walked around the Caesar's Palace gambling area on my own. I was pretty hungry (this was around dinnertime, and I didn't eat since around 10am at Payard), so I grabbed something at the food court. This is what I got...

Caesar's Palace Food Court

A Lobster roll with fries. Uh...well, I guess I can't say that my expectations were extremely high, but the bread was extremely burnt, which was a shame because it was a nice amount of buttered brioche. The lobster itself..a cold mash of seafood tasting stuff, but lobster meat was definitely lacking. I don't know if it WAS actually lobster, but...what should I expect from a food court, right? The fries were addicting, but I made an effort to only eat a few, because I knew Owen would be hungry later that night. I also got an iced tea, which was not pictured. I got a lot of mileage out of that iced tea, as you could refill your drinks from the soft serve machine yourself, so during the whole of our stay, I would go back to refill the drink with the same cup...awesome!

After a few games of Monopoly Penny Slots (ahhh, so mindless, those slot machines), a bit of shopping (the Forum shops are MASSIVE!), I went back to check on Owen, who I think, could have slept the whole night if I hadn't had walked back in the room. At that point, it was pretty late, but I knew there was a 24 hour restaurant at Caesar's, and I had gotten a 20 dollar food coupon for the cafe, because I had signed up for their rewards club (might as well, it's free, right?)

At the Augustus Cafe, I felt like it took forever to get our food...a lot of waiting, and then everything came at once. We weren't in a hurry but it really took an abnormal amount of time to get what we ordered.

Augustus Cafe

First off, onion rings. These were really tasty, actually - beer battered, thick, dusted with parmesan cheese, and two dipping sauces (red pepper aioli and ranch). Addicting, and a huge amount of them, we wanted to finish these off because we couldn't save them for later.

Augustus Cafe

Whenever there's a club sandwich available on the menu, Owen will almost always order it. This was pretty standard, oddly with the addition of roast beef, but they were heavy on the bacon (awesome!). These fries were very fresh, oddly better than the other fries with the other sandwich (which came later than this one.) We saved half of this sandwich for later, which was happily devoured by us in our hotel room the next morning.

Augustus Cafe

I had a hankering for french onion soup, which made this an onion heavy meal. This was mouthwatering when they set it down - melty gruyere cheese, on top of a french bread piece, with savory beef broth, and tons of carmelized onions. A huge amount of soup, again, Vegas does not skimp on quantity. I made an extra effort to finish this because there's no way to save this soup for later.

Augustus Cafe

Last thing we ordered (we definitely ordered too much) was a prime rib dip sandwich, which was piled high with quality beef, a little saucer of au-jus, and fries. Oddly, these fries were not the seasoned ones, pretty much the same fries from the food court that I had had earlier. We only managed a quarter of this sandwich, and saved the rest.

We had a few other meals in Vegas but it had been places we had been to before (Bouchon, although it was a dinner instead of the brunch we usually have, I remember sharing a roasted chicken, mixed green salad and creme brulee, all delicious of course). It was a pretty successful trip, I'd say, aside from the horrible early plane flights. Of course, another trip to Vegas will be in the future, so stay tuned!


Payard Patisserie, Caesar's Palace Food Court, Augustus Cafe, all at:
Caesar's Palace
E Flamingo Rd & Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Bouchon is at Venetian Hotel
Spring Mountain Rd & Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Gyenari

I met up with Annette, for her birthday, at Gyenari, on a really hot day. Culver City was hopping, as usual – tons of people milling around for lunch on a weekday, which made it almost impossible to park in the lots around the area. I lucked out (squeezing in-between two huge SUVs…), snagged a table at the restaurant and sipped on an Arnold Palmer while waiting for Annette.

Gyenari Korean BBQ

A decent Arnold Palmer, especially welcome on such a hot day!

Looking around the place, first thing I noticed, I felt really under dressed to be here – really trendy and contemporary, super clean lines, but the ambiance was nice, and the waitstaff weren’t acting snooty, so it was comforting.

Annette arrived soon after I was seated, so they brought some banchan (small plate appetizers) to the table. I’ve been to a lot more Korean restaurants over the years, and I admit, I am used to a lot more of a variety of banchan. I had to remind myself that this was more of an American style kind of place.

Gyenari Korean BBQ

From the upper left, going clockwise – bean sprouts, broccoli, kimchi, and a scoop of potato salad. We polished these off pretty quick, as we were pretty hungry. The potato salad was the best, I’d say, with the broccoli a close second. The kimchi had a nice bite to it, not too shabby. Again, I would have liked more of a variety (maybe some daikon, or some spinach? Maybe some japchae? But I guess that’s a separate dish here.)

Gyenari Korean BBQ

For an appetizer, I ordered some shrimp and kimchi Korean style pancakes. Not the best I’ve had, (I like more of a crunch on the outside, these were bigger, so they were softer all around) but these were flavorful enough, from the kimchi flavor. I can’t say I tasted any of the shrimp at all…maybe they pureed it so it was just the flavor? The dipping sauce was nice and tangy, the carrot shreds were a nice fresh and crunchy flavor contrast. Overall, filling and tasty, did a great job as an appetizer (even though it came as the same time as our main meal...)

Gyenari Korean BBQ

Annette and I each ordered our own bimibap -Korean rice bowls. This is a picture of my choice, the bulgolgi style marinated meat. I love the presentation – all the different veggies neatly placed around the hot stone bowl, with a pretty sunny side up egg on top. I forgot to shoot a picture of the spicy paste that I added to the top of all this (the spicer the better!) and gave everything a quick mix. Rice plus veggies and meat, a perfect combination. I think if I had anything to complain about here, would be that I don’t remember the hot stone being very hot, so the rice didn’t crisp up very much (getting those crispy rice bits is one of the reasons why bimibap is so good!) , but it was a minor complaint.

The prices were pretty fair for lunch, although I suspect they skyrocket, come dinnertime. I might have to come back to try their real Korean bbq, just to see how it compares to my other more “authentic” experiences in K-Town.

Gyenari Korean BBQ
9540 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 838-3131
www.gyenari.com

Monday, August 03, 2009

Andrew's Cheese Shop

Daphne had introduced me to this place, insisting I HAD to check it out. And I'm sure glad she did. When we opened the door, a strong pungent smell wafted in our faces. Andrew, the owner, is an extremely patient and experienced cheese connoisseur, and basically, we would ask him for suggestions, which he would happily give, once we told him what kind of cheese we were looking for. I usually ask for "runny" and "strong" cheese, and every suggestion he's given has been spot on delicious. Samples are key to cheese, when I'm at a supermarket, I never know what a cheese is going to taste like when it's wrapped and packaged in a noisy open case refrigerator. Andrew, on the other hand, insists on samples. I'm in heaven. I love cheese.

Now that I've been back a couple of times, I've got a nice little collection of photos from this place. I usually get a sandwich...
Andrew's Cheese Shop
This is the first one I've had, the turkey sandwich. I don't know what cheese is in it, but it's nice and sharp, and it's a hard cheese. The bread is a drier, yielding bread, good as a background accompaniment but not the star of the show. The turkey was a little thicker cut than I like, a bit reminiscent of water packed turkey that I avoid, but still good and turkey-ish. The cheese was definitely the best part, great bite to it.
Andrew's Cheese Shop
On this occasion I got a bit of the cheese Picolo...a very soft creamy cheese that had the texture of a dry goat cheese, but the taste of a creme fraiche. Mmm.
Andrew's Cheese Shop
Every cheese comes with an informational card to remind me what I got for next time. So thoughtful!
Andrew's Cheese Shop
The next time I went, I got this awesome smoked salmon sandwich, which is amazing. The capers add a great briny surprise with every bite, the creme fraiche cheese is the perfect pairing with the smoked salmon, the red bell pepper adds the balance of freshness that the sandwich needs. Definitely try this one.

Andrew's Cheese Shop
I went with Daphne this past time, and got some Mini flatbreads, on a whim, to go with the cheese I got. They were a bit expensive - 5 dollars for this small package, but they were crispy, savory, and the perfect accompaniment to...
Andrew's Cheese Shop
...the small, SMALL wedge of Stinking Bishop that I got! This is not a cheese for the weary, it's definitely stinky, super soft...Daphne mentioned it tasted like a "wet brush". I found it really interesting and tasty on my tongue, but my fingers smelled of Stinking Bishop for the rest of the day...ugh. I would STILL get this again next time, hah.
Andrew's Cheese Shop
Another smoked salmon sandwich, this time, there was pesto smear on it! That was like, taking this sandwich to the next LEVEL!
Andrew's Cheese Shop
Daphne got the Italian sandwich, a mix of cold cuts, and a strong sharp cheese. I like the arugala greenery, added a nice peppery taste to the sandwich, a great contrast. I might try this next time if they happen to run out of smoked salmon (which they do!)
Andrew's Cheese Shop
Hank's Root Beer...this is some seriously good root beer. Andrew swears by it, and I trust his opinion completely. Deep flavors, not very fizzy, less of a "bite" than I'm used to, but more of a rolling sweetness on the tongue. Only enjoy when it's frosty cold.
Andrew's Cheese Shop
And Daphne's drink, Curiousity cola. Totally not the usual kind of cola, it was almost like a thick fizzy brew, I tasted much more ginger in this than cola. I love the design of this bottle...I'd probably buy it more for that than anything else.

Andrew's Cheese shop is a must visit...I think Andrew himself is a great guy, he does what he loves to do (share his love of cheeses to the world), and the shop is just a testament to his love of food and cheese.

Andrew's Cheese Shop (look for the big sign - 'This place stinks!")
728 Montana Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90403-1404
(310) 393-3308
andrewscheese.com