Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Holidays From Costa Rica

We've been here since December 23 and have only spotty Internet access, so I won't be blogging near real-time like I did for Chile and Argentina.
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But I just wanted to say a quick hello to you guys, as we won't be back until the new year. In the meantime, you get a Mr. Monkey mini montage. Hope the season is treating you well!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Top Dining -- The Michael Voltaggio Show


On Saturday, we made the trek
To see this season's hot Top Chef.
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Our friends, The Cruisers, met us here.
Fine dining fun and much good cheer!

On every wall, there was a ship --
So strange 'cause Mikey V. is hip.
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A renovation's in the works.
Meanwhile, the contrast's just berserk.

We knew ahead what we would get.
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You know the tasting's the best bet.

Bread so good, you might fill up.
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Bacon, truffle, yup yup yup.

Amuse bouche -- almost holy,
Dehydrated guacamole!
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Loved these fancy chips and guac!
Made me smile! Man, they rocked!

I wish I could go on rhyming, but now it's time for the real show. Behold the art of Chef Michael Voltaggio! The Plating Picasso of Pasadena!

Japanese shima aji, pickled baby peach, sea sponge, bonito.
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This fresh firm fish topped with an aquatic marshmallow kicked things off beautifully. The sweet, tangy, and lightly crisp accompaniments paired well.

Langoustine, young fennel, lobster mushroom lasagna.
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Excellent. Meaty meaty langoustine. Rich and creamy lasagna. Great juxtaposition.

Foie gras, blood orange, salsify, aerated brioche.
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What's better than foie gras? Foie gras with fruit filling inside! Sublime.

Skate wing, brown butter, scrambled cauliflower, caper powder.
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Really really enjoyed this. I wish everything could be prepared in brown butter. The fish was absolutely delectable.

Pastrami pigeon, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, rye.
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I love pastrami, but I don't love squab (well, at least not as much as I love other tiny fowl). I didn't know how I'd react to this dish. The verdict? Pure joy! A salty juicy masterpiece! (That's what she said!)

Japanese Kuroge beef, marrow toast, matsutake, Bordelaise sauce.
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East meets West meets Awesome. The meat was luscious and the marrow decadent.

Nitro egg nog.
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This is how Dippin' Dots are done at The Dining Room, dude. Damn delish.

Fool's Gold, chocolate, salty hazelnut praline, milk sorbet.
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This was the ladies' dessert. Not sure why women are always given chocolate. I find this practice very...Cathy. I hate that stupid comic strip. But I digress. I only had a few nibbles of this because too much chocolate gives me hives, but what little I had was quite yummy.

Baba au rhum, exotic fruits.
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This was the gentlemen's dessert. Now this, dear readers, was something. Super dreamy. Ms. Cruiser said it best: "It tastes like vacation." I can't think of higher praise than that.

Chocolate pop rock suckers, lemon fennel mini macarons, fruit gelées.
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While most tiny things taste better than their large versions, mini macarons always disappoint me. These had a very interesting flavor -- tart and herby -- but the consistency of mini macarons never rises to the greatness of their regular-sized cousins. They sure are cute, though.

The gelées were gelées. Fine but nothing crazy. Of note, however, the wrappers were edible. We had a good time noshing on faux cellophane.
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The chocolate pop rock suckers were a hit with the boys. They had...a blast with them.

The whole night was a blast. It always is with The Cruisers. And it got even better when we all visited the kitchen and chatted with Chef Voltaggio.
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Don't believe all the TV editing. We found him to be quite nice. He asked us about our favorite dishes, was really excited about a visit to the restaurant by The Office writing staff a week before, and lamented about his long commute from Venice to Pasadena. Totally down-to-earth guy.

The one thing you should believe from TV is that Michael Voltaggio is an exceptional talent and is entirely deserving of the Top Chef title.

And, even if you think he is cocky, guess what? He can back it up and then some.

Go to The Dining Room and experience the magic for yourself. Not every chef can bring whimsy on a plate in a room full of old, framed 3D clipper ship dioramas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lotsa Ludo Love

When LudoBites popped up at Breadbar earlier this year, I didn't get a chance to visit. I was pretty sad about that. So, when I heard that LudoBites would be at the Royal/T Cafe for about two weeks in December, I made reservations immediately.
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insomniac, Ann Marie, and Amber were the best Top Chef Masters-loving companions that I could ever have. Better yet, they specifically love Chef Ludo Lefebvre. We were all very excited about this meal.

Tuna sashimi, sushi rice ice cream, soy sauce gelee, smoked ginger oil ($16).
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Fish and ice cream! Together at last! I'm not kidding. Admittedly, our first few bites were filed under "things that make you go hmm." But it didn't take us long to get to "I think I kinda like this." And, soon after, the plate was clean. A chef who can get you to like a fish and ice cream dish is really something, no?

Foie gras beignet, saffron-dried apricots ($17).
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All four of us love foie gras, so there was no way that this wasn't going to be a hit. It was essentially a foie gras donut! Ann Marie was particularly thrilled, as she'd been looking forward to this ever since she'd read about it. The contrast of textures was very pleasing, and the apricots provided a lovely mellow tang.

Braised veal, udon, caramelized onions, kombu dashi, enoki mushrooms ($16).
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If you don't know what umami tastes like, you should taste this -- it is the perfect embodiment of the flavor. The veal was very tasty and the noodles delightfully springy, but what really won me over was the broth. I wanted to pick up my bowl and slurp it all.

Crispy confit pork belly, burnt eggplant puree, plantain, coconut Thai chili emulsion ($16).
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I don't think I've ever met a pork belly I didn't like, and Chef Lefebvre's offering didn't disappoint. It had a nice crisp edge, and I enjoyed it with a generous helping of puree.

Fried chicken, mole, cantal polenta, baby corn, baby bok choy ($18).
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Oh. Mah. Gah. Sooooo good. So crunchy. So tender. So flavorful. Note that Chef Lefebvre is truly dedicated to creating authentic flavors -- he got a mole-making lesson from Teenage Glutster's mom.

When insomniac cut into the baby bok choy and the baby corn popped out, Amber and I literally squealed with joy. I think you had to be there to appreciate just how spazzy we were. Yes, we were that delighted by the emergence of secret baby corn.

Special thanks to @FrenchChefWife for sneaking the fried chicken out to us, as it wasn't on the menu this night! We loved it!

Brittany cod teriyaki, mashed potatoes, pickled garlic, lemon-miso ($24).
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Perfectly cooked cod. Absolutely adored the lemon-miso -- it really gave an oomph to the sweet fish.

Grilled beef tenderloin, crispy lard, carrots "vichy," mustard ($28).
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Exquisitely prepared meat. Melt-in-your-mouth tender lusciousness. Really enjoyed the mustard, too. All the sauces were generally very good.

Guacamole, exotic fruits, ginger ice cream ($12).
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Ok, so here's where things got weird again. We came around on the fish and ice cream, so we decided to be bold and try guacamole for dessert. Again, we started with funny faces as we took our first bites. But it got better. We actually ate the whole thing. While I can't say that this is something I'd necessarily order again, I do applaud the dessert's creativity. insomniac said she liked it!

Fourme d'Ambert tourte, red pear, honey-balsamic ($12).
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This was another challenging dish. I liked it a lot, but I didn't think it tasted very much like dessert. Amber said it would make a great cheese course, and I agree. I would've thought it was more dessert-like had it been drizzled with a truly sweet sauce.

Correction: This was a cheese course! It just came out of the kitchen after dessert instead of before dessert. Oopsies. It all makes so much more sense now!

I can't write this post without paying homage to the awesome light box that LudoBites provides for weirdo food bloggers like yours truly.

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This contraption made my photos a million times better. Genius.

While we were there, we spied Dr. Drew from Loveline.
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My stalkerazzi skills clearly (or, rather, unclearly) need improvement.

Good thing @chefludo and @FrenchChefWife were kind enough to pose still.
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Amber made sure the I got a pic with Ludo, too.

Fabulous night. Thank you, @chefludo and @FrenchChefWife, for a wonderful evening. Thank you, insomniac, Ann Marie, and Amber, for letting me run to the light box with each dish before we dug in. You guys are the best.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Roll Your Own

Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa (9016 Mission Drive, Rosemead, (626) 286-3370) could be an impossible name to remember if you don't speak Vietnamese.
But you won't forget the food.

Ordering is simple when you come with one friend and just get this.
Can't go wrong with the house special.

The pictures speak for themselves.
Easy. Tasty. Fast. Reasonably priced.
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