Sunday, February 27, 2011


Picasso is an institution in the Las Vegas dining scene, featuring Julian Serrano's Spanish and French cuisine. The chef needs no introduction. Julian Serrano is the recipient of multiple Michelin stars, with Picasso raking in two. The restaurant is beautiful and colorful, as if to imitate or translate the work of the restaurant's namesake.

The atmosphere bleeds fine dining, and the walls are adorned with several Picasso masterpieces.

Several of the plates, too, are playful and depart from the more traditional tendency of restaurants to exclusively serve their food on white plate-ware.

My parents and I got the Menu Desgustation.

The meal started off with a Roasted Red Pepper Soup with a Pheasant Croquette. The soup was silky and deep with an undeniable presence of red pepper. The soup went really well with the croquette's crispy exterior and substantive filling. Nothing too mind-blowing, but really great, straightforward preparation and flavors.

The bread plate featured three types of bread: French baguette, bacon and onion, and honey wheat. Honey wheat was by far the most delicious of the three with a great balance of sweet and nutty. The bread also came with a somewhat comical and tacky piece of butter molded with Picasso's signature.

Next was the Maine Lobster Salad with an Apple-Champagne Vinaigrette. The presentation was beautiful, with a playful assortment of differently shaped fruits and vegetables. The lobster was perfectly cooked and the sweet lightness of the vinaigrette added some subtle acidity and brightness to the lobster. I loved how the pieces of avocado went with the lobster, but most of the other fruits and vegetables seemed unnecessary.

The Pan Seared U-10 Day Scallops with a Potato Mousseline and Jus de Veau was good, but the potato mousseline seemed out of place and excessive. The scallop and mousseline separately went really well the jus, but I just didn't get the purpose of eating the scallop and mousseline together, other than having a starch to act as a base for the protein. A purée of something lighter (maybe cauliflower or sunchoke) probably would have fared a little better for me.

Next in line was the Sautéed Steak of "A" Foie Gras with Poached Pears and Huckleberries, Crushed Pistachios, and Lemon Zest. I love foie gras, but only for a few bites. This steak was massive, and while I felt like I was getting more bang for my buck, I didn't appreciate the heaviness of the dish. The foie was perfectly cooked, though, and the pistachios added a soft crunch. Unfortunately, the pistachios also added to the fattiness of the dish, and the heavily poached pears and huckleberries didn't do much to lighten up the dish.

Our next course provided the option of either fish or lamb.

The Sautéed Filet of Turbot with Green Asparagus and Sauce Hollandaise was lighter than the foie, but was still heavy from the hollandaise. The fish was perfect and reminded me of why I like turbot. Though the combination of green asparagus with fish and hollandaise was a little bit boring and one-note, I enjoyed the flavors. I just wish there were more fish on the plate to eat with the four gigantic spears of asparagus.

The Roasted Lamb Chops with Sweet Bell Pepper Farci was heavy as well, but definitely more satisfying than the foie or the fish. Again, the protein was cooked perfectly. The lamb melted in my mouth. Though there wasn't really much of a bell pepper farci, I enjoyed the dish. The mushrooms helped also. Not the most exciting and the flavors were straightforward like many of the other dishes, but the preparation was great.

Before we had a chance to eat our desserts, we were left with a few moments to get reacquainted with the great environment.

Desserts were plentiful, a bit more inventive, and, surprisingly, not too heavy.

The Quince Quartet was beautiful and explored the versatility of quince. First on the left was the Jasmine Ice Cream, which was light, creamy, and addictively similar to the flowery flavor of jasmine tea. Though the ice cream wasn't labeled a quince ice cream, the flavors melded well with the rest of the quince-based theme. The Carbonated Quince Soup was a simple, quince-flavored soda. Calling it a carbonated soup was a little bit pretentious of them, but the flavor was great and not too sweet. The Quince Napoleon was delicate and crumbled at the touch of a feather. This part of the quartet featured how well the subtle flavor of quince can go with chocolate. Again, nice, light, and not too sweet. The Quince-Jasmine Crème Soufflé brought back the first flavor of jasmine and the creaminess of the ice cream. The top was perfectly torched and the contents were smooth and creamy. All of these had incredibly subtle hints of quince, which was a nice way to complement the lightness of all four components. Definitely my favorite dessert of the night.

The Warm Chocolate Fondant came with Caramel and Candy Cashew Ice Cream and Chocolate Covered Cashews. The fondant was thick, but not too heavy, while the ice cream had just the right balance of cashew and caramel to bring a sweet, yet refreshing aspect to the plate. The cashews were alright on their own, but were really there to just add some texture to the dish. Overall, this dessert was my least favorite, but it was still good.

My second favorite dessert of the night was the Frangipane Baked Pear. This came with a Sweet Marsala Sauce and a French Butter Pear Sorbet. Everything about this dish sounded heavy and overly sweet, but the sorbet really helped to lighten the entire dish up. The frangipane was crispy and beautifully toasted and encased a perfectly baked pear that oozed with flavor like a poached egg.

The contents were warm, sweet, and fresh, all at the same time, and when eaten together with the frangipane there was a sweet, nutty effect that reminded me of a warm almond-pear tart. The sorbet was a great way to divide up your bites, despite the fact that it was hard not to devour the entire pear and frangipane encasing all at once.

After enjoying our desserts, we took a moment to admire the roses in the middle of the table. Somehow, without us even noticing, the waiter had slipped in a plate of more sweets. Don't mind if I do.

Nothing stood out, but they were delicious, as far as complimentary sweets go.

Speaking of complimentary, they also gave my parents a box of these guys as we were leaving the restaurant. They were nice and buttery, but less crispy and flaky than I was hoping they would be. Regardless of taste, they were free.

What was difficult to enjoy about Picasso was their generous use of heavy and cliché ingredients. Where restaurants like Hatfield's are using healthier, and honestly, more flavorful alternatives (i.e., sunchoke or cauliflower purée instead of mashed potatoes), Picasso seems to be stuck in the land of the more traditional and conservative. For a restaurant called Picasso, their dishes seemed to be less revolutionary than I thought they would be.

That being said, Picasso probably seems more traditional now mostly because its food is up against an onslaught of modernist cuisine and new American restaurants. You've probably noticed that I used the word "perfect" a lot in this post, and that's because the overall dining experience really was incredible. Service was impeccable, the artwork was unbelievable, preparations were perfect, presentation was artistic, and the food had some truly beautiful moments. And let's not forget the fact that they have seating that overlooks the Bellagio fountain show.

The bill was a hard pill to swallow, but Picasso, truly, thank you for the meal.

The Bellagio
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 693-7223

GET: The Menu Desgustation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ramen Jinya

Ramen Jinya sits randomly in the corner of a two-story strip mall, right next to a commanding Marshall's. Parking is thankfully very easy with an underground garage.

The restaurant itself seems a little tacky from the outside, but its interior has some high ceilings, classic wood paneling, and more space than you'd expect for a ramen joint. There's some comfortable outdoor seating, but if you can, sit at the counter.

I always enjoy the opportunity to sit and marvel at the kinetics of a kitchen.

As I waited for my food, I noticed that the fast-paced kitchen still had its moments of absolute tranquility.

I barely got my finger off the shutter button before the kitchen picked up the pace again and pumped out my food.

The meal started with a light, typical, Japanese salad of mixed greens and addictive dressing. It was sweet, bitter, refreshing, and acidic, very much like most Japanese starter salads.

The Gyoza was also, more or less, typical. This set of gyoza tasted a little bit more fried than most, but each bite still gave way to succulent meat seasoned by the accompanying soy sauce and rice vinegar. I also love it when there's that flaky sheet of fried juices hanging off the sides of the dumpling. Not the best gyoza I've had, but still delicious.

The star of the show was the Tonkotsu Ramen. Swimming in a bath of beautiful pork broth, unstable chashu, sharp ginger, bright green onions, chewy spinach, juicy bamboo, and sweet onion, the noodles were hardly the center of attention. The noodles themselves were al dente and springy, but for whatever reason, they didn't taste as fresh as I wanted them to.

Jonathan Gold describes the ramen at Ramen Jinya as a flavor bomb, and with my first scoop of the stuff, I understood what he meant. The pork broth itself is packed with a serious, porky punch, accompanied by the noticeably fishy aroma and flavor of dashi. The pork falls apart in your mouth and soaks up more of the broth throughout the meal. I loved the intensity of the broth's flavors balanced out by a smartly composed canvas of toppings.

My only complaint was that the soup was a little bit on the salty side. I loved the amount of salt as I was eating the first half of the bowl, but by the second half, I found myself drinking more and more water to balance out the sodium intake. Maybe my mouth was just getting worn out by the intensity of the flavors.

With an average bowl of ramen noodles clocking in at 49g of carbs, I made it a point to stick with my normal two-unit dose of insulin, to only eat two-thirds of the noodles, and to schedule in some good exercise thirty minutes after this meal. Ramen in my belly? Check. Let's not forget the taste of broth on my lips for the next 24 hours. Healthy dose of exercise? Check. Taking my brother's dog, Fuji, for a run did the trick. Stable blood sugar levels? Check. My numbers after the exercise were right back to where they normally are.

With very few accessible ramen restaurants in the San Fernando Valley, Ramen Jinya offers a great bowl of ramen. Though it's not the best bowl of ramen I've ever had (I'm sure at some point I'll have a completely biased post about Ramen House, my favorite ramen joint in Los Angeles), it's certainly a great spot for a quick, flavorful, and satisfying meal in the east side of the Valley. It's very likely that you'll leave this place in a food coma. If that's the case, don't hesitate to walk it off at Marshall's.

Ramen Jinya
11239 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 980-3977

GET: Tonkotsu Ramen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jerry Traunfeld's Bay Laurel Roasted Chicken (3/24)

A few months ago, I picked up a copy of Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbfarm Cookbook. I'd read great things about his food at The Herbfarm, and after eating his refreshing interpretation of an Indian thali at Poppy for Seattle Restaurant Week Autumn 2010, I was pretty intent on trying some of his recipes. Luckily enough, Jerry Traunfeld's cookbook includes a fantastically simple and delicious take on a roasted chicken.

Food & Wine also put up a version of this recipe. The only difference is the name of the recipe, and the servings it produces. The Herbfarm Cookbook basically uses half of everything, meaning 1 chicken, 12 bay leaves, 2 garlic cloves, 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper.

With such a short and simple list of ingredients, I wasn't convinced that this chicken would be anything special. But I was short on cash this week, and I needed to cook something substantial with as few ingredients as possible. All I had to buy was the chicken and the bay leaves, which is pretty amazing. And lucky for me, I ran across this amazing deal at Whole Foods. I almost bought ten chickens, but my mom just visited Seattle, which basically means that I have zero freezer space now.

What else was amazing was that this was the first time I got to use my new, proper roasting rack.

Look at that beauty. The only thing that I found annoying about this contraption was the rack's handles and the cleanup. Next time, I'm tucking those handles underneath the rack so that they don't fall on the chicken every other second. I'll just have to deal with the cleanup part though.

The kitchen smelled like bay laurel from the second I cracked open the leaves.

With the recipe only calling for two cloves of garlic, I didn't think there would be much garlic flavor in the end product.

Tucking these ingredients under the chicken skin was a little tough with my short fingers. The bay leaves were occasionally uncooperative too. The resulting chicken looked sickly or martian with its patted-down-dry and bulbous skin. It kind of creeped me out a little bit.

I let out a sigh of relief when the chicken got doused in salt, pepper, and olive oil and started to look a tad bit more edible.

The end product (see top) was entirely reassuring. If that's not edible, then I don't know what is. The roasted bay leaves tucked under the chicken made the chicken look beautiful. Artistic, even.

The intense aroma of the bay leaves combined with the melt in your mouth chunks of garlic make for a surprisingly satisfying roast chicken. The high-heat roasting technique creates some smoke in the oven, which adds to the aromatic heartiness of the dish. I was worried that the high heat would burn out the chicken or at least overcook some parts of the chicken, but the high heat allows for thoroughly crispy skin and perfectly juicy meat.

The Herbfarm Cookbook also suggests heating the drippings with a dry white wine to make a sauce, but I found this sauce to be passable. Maybe that's why it wasn't included in the Food & Wine version of the recipe.

Regardless of the jus, I was really happy with the results.

If you find yourself on a budget and craving some succulent chicken, don't hesitate to try this recipe out at home. Jerry Traunfeld, you are awesome. I can't wait to save up enough money one day to eat at The Herbfarm. In the meantime, I'll settle with exploring more of Jerry Traunfeld's clean flavors and ingenuity secondhand through his cookbook.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

25 Degrees

You might remember from my first post of 2011 that I briefly mentioned a burger that I might have had at 1:00am. This is the one. That's 1:00am on 1/1/11. I don't know, I thought that was kind of cool.

Steph C. had talked about this spot a lot, so I made it a point to hit up this place on my last visit to LA. With so many places on my list, I knew that the only time I'd ever get to try 25 Degrees was for a second dinner, or a fourth meal. After a great night of happy hour at WP24, dinner at Wurstküche, and cocktails at Villain's Tavern, rounding out the night with one last stop only made sense.

The interior was a little bit unpleasant, but I can't blame the place for having obnoxious drunk people stumbling in on New Year's. The walls are ridiculously patterned and bleed red, creating somewhat of a tacky atmosphere. None of this took anything away from the delicious food, though.

First up was the Guinness Milkshake. The whole table shared this one since it was getting late. The sides drool with a house-made chocolate sauce that blends really well with the creamy Guinness and vanilla bean ice cream. I love Guinness, and pairing Guinness with something creamy and sweet makes a lot of sense after considering the mass appeal of an Irish Car Bomb. If I didn't have diabetes and wasn't sharing this drink, I would've swigged this whole drink in a couple of milliseconds. The milkshake is huge though, so sharing it might be worth considering.

In true post-drinking fashion, we decided to get French Fries, Sweet Potato Fries, and Onion Rings.

The French Fries were pretty straightforward. Nice and crispy, and delicious with a huge dollop of ketchup. I love ketchup.

The Sweet Potato Fries were also straightforward and delicious. These were some of the crispiest sweet potato fries I've had. Also great with a generous flood of ketchup.

I've heard great things about the Onion Rings, but I think they were just having an off night. And who could blame them with the absurd influx of drunk, typically trendy customers? I love salt, and I rarely find things so salty that they're inedible. Unfortunately, these were inedible. It was like eating an ocean with each bite. Nothing could save these. Not even an entire bottle of ketchup. I'm going to make it a point to try them again when I get a chance.

In the midst of all the fried goodness, one of us was smart enough to order the Roasted Beet Salad. The citrus vinaigrette was a great way to complement the slight bitterness of the arugula and the deep sweetness of the beets. The menu promised burrata, which we got. I just wish there was more of it.

Let's get to the burgers.

Meet Number One. Number One seems simple enough in its description as a burger filled with gorgonzola, arugula, bacon, caramelized onions, and thousand island, but with the first bite you realize that this burger is more than your average burger.

The patty is undeniably juicy, and the generous load of bacon and caramelized onions adds enough savory flavor to get you through an entire month. The gorgonzola could have easily overpowered the entire burger, but there was just enough to successfully marry the other ingredients without overpowering the senses. The bun is almost like a pastry: flaky on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with enough butter to leave you reaching for five more napkins. Number One undoubtedly deserves its number one spot.

Number Three should get some credit too. The burger is packed with the same overflow of burger juices (notice the juice creeping onto my thumb...), and features the same, beautiful bun. The flavors in the Number Three were more pepper-centric. With jack cheese, chipotle, green chili, and avocado, this burger tastes like what one might call a Cali-Mex burger. The presence of peppers and chilies was intense, in a good way. The smokiness of the chipotle was more subtle than I would've liked, but I really enjoyed the way the avocado toned down the more intense combination of peppers and chilies. It's no Number One, but it's worth a very honorable mention.

If you can get past the inevitable drunken 1:00am crowd, 25 degrees is a great place to have a late night meal. If you can't, then make it a point to hit up this place at normal lunch and dinner hours. Though I can't say just yet if this is my favorite burger in LA, I can definitely say that the Number One is well into my top 10 burgers of all time.

25 Degrees
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
7000 Hollywood Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 785-7244

GET: Guinness Milkshake; Number One Medium Rare.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rick Bayless' Bacon-and-Tomato Guacamole

A few months ago, I picked up a copy of Rick Bayless' Fiesta at Rick's. The book itself is beautiful. It's filled with scrumptious, full-paged pictures of clean, inspiring food. While the overarching theme is obviously Mexican, there are many dishes that you wouldn't expect to successfully make the leap into the realm of Mexican food. The book is exciting and makes you want to cook everything in it.

As I was flipping through, I kept an eye out for quicker snacks to make. With my externship looming around the corner, I was hoping to find some finger food I could snack on while at work. I should have expected this, but Fiesta at Rick's is loaded with quick snack foods. Though there are plenty of desserts, cocktails, and mains, the premise of the book is to show the reader how to successfully throw a party with a series of snack-oriented dishes.

My eyes stopped at the Bacon-and-Tomato Guacamole. I love guacamole, and I love bacon. Reading its description made me drool with excitement. Within 10 minutes, I was out the door with a short shopping list: bacon, avocados, white onion, chipotle chiles, tomato, cilantro, salt, and lime juice.

The recipe actually makes a decent amount. Though it says 8 to 10 nibble-sized servings, I think this could easily amount to six good fistful-sized servings.

The chipotle adds an addictive smokey and somewhat sweet flavor to the otherwise bright and fresh salsa. The tomato and onion add a clean flavor to balance out the fatty bacon and creamy avocado. The cilantro adds that extra Mexican kick to the guacamole. I usually like to have garlic in my guacamole, but I didn't find myself missing it.

If this recipe is any indication of the flavors and uniqueness of the other recipes in this book, then 2011 is in for a strong relationship with Rick Bayless.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Hungry Cat

Suzanne Goin [and David Lentz have] some great food going on at The Hungry Cat. Though you won't see Garfield's lasagna on the menu, you'll definitely see a ton of fresh seafood.

The restaurant sits in the back corner of a random done up alley with large windows, but little natural light. This makes the restaurant feel a little stale on the inside, but the warm service makes up for the cold interior.

Afternoon happy hour also helps to warm up your spirits. The cocktail list is great, but tends to lean towards sweeter drinks.

The Luke's Lemonade was a nice mix of lemonade, mint, and vodka. I could see this drink being a bestseller on hotter summer days. The Greyhound featured a strong dose of grapefruit. I love the sour sweetness of grapefruit, and this cocktail does those flavors justice. Overall, however, I felt like the grapefruit was trying to hide the alcohol, rather than balance it.

The Sleepy Jean was like nectar, complete with chamomile, honey, and tequila. This was probably one of the more subtle drinks I had that day, and I would definitely get this drink again. My favorite was a special they were making that day, which was essentially a Manhattan mixed with some muddled tangerines. While the tangerines covered any trace of bitters, the drink was still deliciously refreshing.

Enough with the booze.

First up was the Clam Chowder with Manila Clams, Bacon, and Rustic Croutons. The chowder was sweet, hearty, and comforting. There were just enough clams to balance out the heavier bacon, and the croutons added a nice crunch to the dish. Overall, the dish kept my attention, but was more or less straightforward.

The Oyster and Pork Belly Beignets with Celery Root Remoulade was heavy. The greens didn't do much to contribute to the plate, but the addictive celery root remoulade helped to lighten things up.

The actual beignets were basically a fried, juicier version of the clam chowder. The flavors were similar, with the batter, oyster, and pork belly mirroring the chowder, clams, and bacon.

Each entrée I had came with a generous portion of fries. While unassuming, the fries were actually really good in that class, perfectly fried way.

The Pug Burger with Bacon, Avocado, and Blue Cheese was our first main. Suzanne Goin takes the classic pub burger to a new level with perfectly fatty and crispy bacon, traditional beef, light avocado, and intense blue cheese.

The bread is the star: cloud-like on the inside and crispy on the outside. Notice how the bottom bun's interior gets compressed by the burger's weight and juices. While there was plenty of runoff from the beef, the actually patty itself tasted a bit brittle and dry. The avocado and blue cheese are a great combination and do nothing to make you feel like you're eating something healthy. Though this isn't the best burger I've ever had, it's a great piece of grub to have with a beer.

One of the specials that day was a Crab Cake Sandwich Bacon. This was basically identical in value with the pug burger. The sandwich, or burger really, had equally great bread and bacon. The sauce was tartar-like and heavy, much like the crab cake it sat on top of. The cake was crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside, with a generous amount of crab meat. While the beignets and crab cake feature different proteins, they tasted similarly flavorful, but overbearing.

The best dish of the day was by far the Maine Lobster Roll on a Butter Toasted Bun with French Fries. The humungous pieces of lobster were perfect. While the mayo grew dangerously close to overpowering the natural deliciousness of the lobster meat, the roll was a perfect combination of textures and flavors: crispy bread, scrumptiously soft lobster, soothing mayo, and a light twist of lemon. The impressively buttery bun is something I wish I could eat every day with every meal. The only thing I'd want next time is probably a heavier spritz of lemon. By the end of the meal, I felt spoiled by the amount of lobster I'd eaten on the lobster roll, but still found myself craving more.

Next time I find myself hungry and feeling like an alley cat, I'll probably pounce my way over to The Hungry Cat to snatch up another lobster roll. I'll probably make it a point to get something from the raw bar, too.

The Hungry Cat
1535 N. Vine St.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 462-2155

GET: Maine Lobster Roll on a Butter Toasted Bun with French Fries.
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