[Los Angeles/Koreatown] Commissary

Ever since I watched the movie Chef, I’ve been interested in trying out one of Roy Choi’s restaurants and/or food trucks. For one reason or another, though, we never had the chance to stop by the Kogi taco truck yet on our LA visits… But we did get to have brunch at Commissary, another one of his restaurants. Actually, the intended plan was to have lunch at POT, but once we arrived we discovered that it was no longer serving lunch (*sob*) and we decided to check out Commissary instead since they are both located inside the Line Hotel (another one of Roy Choi’s projects).

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Commissary is basically a greenhouse, and it was pretty hot on the day that we visited so it definitely wasn’t super comfortable. But the concept of the restaurant is pretty cool – a focus on fruits and vegetables and farm-to-table dining.

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Their water glasses are so pretty! I have a mug/cup obsession and our cabinet is filled to the brim with different mugs, cups, glasses, etc. We’re pretty much out of space for them, but I don’t know if I’d be able to resist if I saw these glasses for sale somewhere.

Cocktail menu

Cocktail menu

Our friend A was intrigued by the “Asian Pear” cocktail and decided to try one. Don’t judge us for day drinking… It was a weekend getaway, so basically vacation. 

Asian Pear cocktail [$14]

Asian Pear cocktail [$14]

To our surprise, the drink arrived in a to-go soup container. A was really put off by this, but I actually thought that it was kind of cute. The drink itself was quite refreshing, with the subtle ginger flavor coming through. The mochi ball on the toothpick was interesting, but A said that it had hardened by the end when she ate it.

Deviled Eggs [$8]

Deviled Eggs [$8]

We decided to share several items. S really likes deviled eggs, so we ordered them (even though I felt they were overpriced). They were pretty good, though – I liked the flavor of the dill and chives mixed in with the egg yolks.

OUR Eggs [$14]

OUR Eggs [$14]

Commissary calls this dish “OUR Eggs” – it’s their standard breakfast plate with two eggs any style (we chose over-well), hash browns,  choice of sausage or bacon, and toast (not pictured). The hash browns were actually pretty good, although they were not super crispy, it reminded me more of a potato pancake rather than hash browns. The sausage was very flavorful – not as good as a sausage patty, but still, pretty good.

Brioche Eggs Benedict [$17]

Brioche Eggs Benedict [$17]

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Koon Thai Kitchen revisits

Koon Thai Kitchen is one of our favorite Thai restaurants in San Diego, and I’ve posted a couple of times about it already. We recently tried a few new items (and something from their new menu), so I thought I’d share what I tried. 

Photo of the new menu items:

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The Thai pepper steak definitely caught my eye…

Thai Pepper Steak [$12.95]

Thai Pepper Steak [$12.95] 

Unfortunately, the steak was pretty dry. While I enjoyed the lime chili vinaigrette flavor, it didn’t make up for the dry and chewy steak. I was pretty disappointed since this dish sounded so good.

Eggplant Stir-Fry w/ Pork [$9.95]

Eggplant Stir-Fry w/ Pork [$9.95]

I’ve been really into eggplant lately and decided to try this dish. The eggplant was cooked perfectly. This dish was quite simple and reminded me of a quick Chinese stir-fry, but it really hit the spot for me.

Pumpkin Curry

Pumpkin Curry with Pork [$9.95]

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Venga Venga

Venga Venga, one of celebrity chef Richard Sandoval’s restaurants, recently launched a Destination menu series – every 6 months, the restaurant will offer dishes inspired by a certain region of Mexico. From March through September, the featured region is Guadalajara, and last month, S and I were invited to sample some of the dishes.

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Venga Venga is located in Otay Ranch, which was a bit of a drive for us, but ended up being kind of nice. We’ve been pretty busy lately, and it was good to spend some nice catching up during the car ride.

Chef Paulo came out to chat with us about the restaurant and its concept. Basically, Venga Venga’s goal is not to compete with all the great mom-and-pops taco shops in Chula Vista, nor is it meant to be reminiscent of Mexican home-style cuisine. Rather, he strives to put a new spin on familiar dishes to create a “fusion” flavor profile with Latin, Californian, and even Asian influences, since he has a background in Asian cooking.

Heirloom Tomato Salad [$12.95]

Heirloom Tomato Salad [$12.95]

Our first dish was an heirloom tomato salad – basically, their own version of the caprese salad, but with pickled corn, fried goat cheese, salsa fresca, avocados, and of course heirloom tomatoes and a charred tomato vinaigrette. I’m not normally a fan of vinaigrettes, but this one had a rich and hearty flavor profile. I especially loved the corn, although I bet that this would be even better later in the summer, at the peak of corn season.

Flautas w/ Braised Beef Cheeks

Flautas w/ Braised Beef Cheeks

I don’t see this on the menu anymore, but this actually was one of S and my favorite dishes of the evening. Flautas are basically rolled tacos, and these were filled with amazingly tender braised beef cheeks. The corn tortillas are made in-house and fried to a light crisp, soft yet didn’t get soggy. The sauce was a black bean purée that paired quite nicely with the beef. Chef Paulo told us that he initially wanted to use cabeza but wasn’t sure how well that would sell, so he used beef cheeks instead. I told him that I would have really wanted to try the cabeza version!

Pulpa Tostada [$6.95]

Pulpa Tostada [$6.95]

Ahi Tuna Tostada [$6.95]

Ahi Tuna Tostada [$6.95]

Up next were a couple of tostadas. The perfectly-grilled octopus had a nice smoky flavor, and paired with citrus pico de gallo, orange zest, oregano pesto, refried garbanzo beans, and chile-infused olive oil. The ahi tuna was marinated with chipotle ponzu, soy sauce, sesame seeds, watermelon, and avocados. This is where the Asian influence really started to show, and we loved it.

Infused Tequilas

Infused Tequilas

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Stella Italian Fare (UTC)

S and I were craving Italian food the other night and decided to check out Stella Italian Fare, located in the Renaissance Center in UTC. It actually took over the location of Villa Capri Italian Kitchen, which we really liked. I was sad that Villa Capri closed but looking forward to checking out the new restaurant.

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We were actually standing outside the restaurant, checking out the menu, when the owner came out to chat with us. He said that he’d offer us a $25 gift card for our next visit if we wanted to try out the restaurant that night – we couldn’t really turn down that offer now, could we? Haha.

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The interior was pretty much unchanged from Villa Capri… although if I recall correctly, it’s a bit brighter and seemed more lively. 

The owner came over and introduced the restaurant and menu to us. This is Stella’s second location in San Diego, their first being in downtown La Jolla. The chef is from Central Italy, and many of the items on the menu feature seafood. 

We were dining with our friend A and decided to share two entrées and an appetizer. It was really difficult to decide between the filet mignon carpaccio and one of their “vasetti” spreads. In the end, we decided on the vasetti.

Mushroom, Parmigiano, Truffle Infusion Vasetti [$15]

Mushroom, Parmigiano, Truffle Infusion Vasetti [$15]

This reminded me of the “vasi” spreads at Cucina Urbana. The one we ordered had mushrooms, shaved Parmigiano cheese, and truffle – it smelled heavenly and was earthy, creamy, and rich. I really loved this and definitely want to try more of their spreads next time.

The owner told us about a couple of their specials that day – a saffron risotto with seafood, and a spaghetti carbonara with pork cheeks. Well, both sounded amazing, so we decided to try one of each. I believe there was another special, a fancied-up version of bolognese. 

Saffron Risotto with Seafood Mix

Saffron Risotto with Seafood Mix

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[Los Angeles] Lady M Confections

On one of our LA trips, my friend A suggested that we check out Lady M – I’ve heard of their famous mille-crêpes cakes, layers of paper-thin crêpes with pastry cream in between – and have been wanting to try it for a while. So, I jumped at the suggestion and we headed to the Beverly Hills location.

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The shop was quite small and tucked away in a neighborhood-y area. There were only about 3 small tables inside, and several outside on the patio.

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Sorry for the poor picture quality – there’s the menu for the café. Since we were still pretty full from lunch, we chose to just share 1 slice of the original flavor cake.

Signature Mille-Crêpe [$7.50]

Signature Mille-Crêpes [$7.50]

At $7.50 per slice, this was quite pricey – but it was so delicious. The crêpes were soft and slightly chewy, and the cream inside had a rich vanilla flavor. And there 20 layers in this cake, which was quite impressive. The amount of work that it must take to perfect these cakes justifies the price for me (especially since this would be such a rare indulgence!).

We also brought home a couple of slices to enjoy later. If you order their cakes to-go, you can purchase an ice pack and reusable thermos bag. I forgot how much it cost, though.

Green Tea Mille-Crêpe [$8]

Green Tea Mille-Crêpes [$8]

The green tea version of the mille-crêpes was just as good – my friend A likes the green tea more. It has a nice matcha flavor that adds just a hint of bitterness – the good kind of bitterness that’s associated with tea, of course!

Strawberry Mille-Feuilles [$8]

Strawberry Mille-Feuilles [$8]

I wanted to try the mille-feuilles, which is layers of puff pastry and sponge cake filled with pastry cream and strawberries. Unfortunately by the time we ate this, the puff pastry was already slightly softened, but it was still quite delicious. The sponge cake was moist and fluffy.

Since their cakes are so beautiful, I also took some photos of the ones in their display case:

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake

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Table No. 10 revisit

Table No. 10 is one of S and my favorite “fine-dining” restaurants in San Diego, with its creative menu and lively atmosphere. So, when our friends visited from out of town, we decided to treat them to a dinner there!

I sort of wanted to sit at the Chef’s Table, but I thought that a regular table would be better for conversation. By the way, I forgot to take a photo of the menu so I can’t quite remember the exact names for all the dishes, but luckily I still remember most of the details.

Flux Capacitor

Flux Capacitor

We started out with a Flux Capacitor cocktail, made with gin, rosewater, violet liquor, lemon, honey, maraschino, and lavender, and it’s served with dry ice to create a “steamy”, bubbly effect. It was lightly sweet and quite tasty.

Deviled Eggs

Deviled Eggs

S and I liked the deviled eggs a lot last time, so we ordered it again. It was mixed with Dijon mustard and tarragon for a slightly minty taste. This time, though, I felt like while these were good, I didn’t feel like they were special enough to try at a restaurant.

Parker House Rolls w/ Bone Marrow Butter

Parker House Rolls w/ Bone Marrow Butter

I usually get a bit miffed when restaurants don’t offer complimentary bread – I believe this was $4, but my goodness, it was quite worthwhile. The bone marrow butter was so good – it was full of the rich, meaty flavor of marrow but didn’t taste too greasy. It’s funny how impressed I was just by butter! Haha.

Beet Salad

Beet Salad

I love golden beets, and this little salad really brought out the best of them. This was served with cranberries, microbasil, whipped crème fraîche, and a honey vinaigrette. All of the flavors were quite nicely balanced, and this was a really nice and refreshing dish.

Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus

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Dumpling Inn

Dumpling Inn, a popular Chinese restaurant specializing in Shanghai cuisine, recently underwent a large expansion and renovation. In addition, the restaurant space will also house Shanghai Saloon, a new concept that features craft beer, a whiskey lounge, and an Asian fusion menu. I’ve never been to the old Dumpling Inn because of the long wait times, but after the new space opened, S and I went to check it out with some friends.

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I really liked the old Chinese village-style decor! It definitely gave the place an old-school feel.

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There were these signs to “separate” Shanghai Saloon and Dumpling Inn. But I don’t really think the seating sections were very clearly separated. Also, I think a lot of customers for Dumpling Inn were confused why they couldn’t be seated at the nearly-empty Shanghai Saloon sections. Clearly, some kinks still needed to be worked out.

We visited Dumpling Inn for a “test visit” and just tried a couple of items…

Pork Potsticker [$8]

Pork Potsticker [$8]

The pork potstickers were decent, although I didn’t really like the wrapper. The pan-fried side could have been crispier, and I thought that the wrapper was overall too thick and dough-y.

Pork Xiaolongbao [$8]

Pork Xiaolongbao [$8]

The pork XLB (soup dumplings) were slightly disappointing to me – but then, it could be because I had visited Din Tai Fung recently. The filling was juicy enough, but the wrappers were too thick… Sounds like a recurring theme, huh.

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The pork filling was pretty good, though, and I did get a decent amount of soup (although fellow blogger Lynn didn’t quite have the same experience).

We left feeling a bit disappointed… but undeterred. I attributed the less-than-impressive food to the fact that they were still adjusting to their new space. So we returned, just a few days later, with a larger group.

Pork Dumplings (boiled) [$8]

Pork Dumplings (boiled) [$8]

This time, instead of the potstickers, we opted for the boiled dumplings. To my surprise, these were much better – the wrapper was about the right thickness, and the filling was quite flavorful.

Garlic Baked Seabass Filet [$12.95]

Garlic Baked Seabass Filet (鍋塌魚片) [$12.95]

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[Pasadena] Gus’s BBQ

On one of our LA food trips, we decided to venture away from our standard Asian food routine and try out a BBQ joint close to where we were staying, in Pasadena. Gus’s menu looked pretty intriguing to us, and we had been craving BBQ and missing the South for quite some time…

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The place was pretty busy for Sunday lunch, but luckily we were able to get a table with just a few minutes of waiting. We studied the menu while waiting and were pretty much ready to order by the time we sat down. 

Ribs & Two Meat Combo w/ Southern Fried Chicken & Carolina-Style Pulled Pork [$23.95]

Ribs & Two Meat Combo w/ Southern Fried Chicken & Carolina-Style Pulled Pork [$23.95]

When we were ordering, the waiter explained to us that they had two different styles of ribs – St. Louis spare ribs, and Memphis baby back ribs. We opted for the St. Louis-style, which is a fattier cut and basted with sauce while it finishes up cooking, to give it a slightly deeper flavor. So, we chose the Ribs & Two-Meat Combo with fried chicken (another one of Gus’s specialties) and Carolina-style pulled pork. 

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The ribs were quite good – plenty smoky, and the sauce (Gus’s original BBQ sauce) was a good balance between sweet, sour, and salty. The fried chicken was decent, but it was chicken breast, and I wish that it was chicken thigh. It was served with an apple cider gravy, which was quite interesting – the tart apple cider vinegar definitely cut some of the “heaviness” of the gravy. 

Our favorite, though, was the Carolina-style pulled pork. Gus’s actually provides a Carolina vinegar-based BBQ sauce that was almost exactly like what we had in NC! 

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Sabor de Vida Brazilian Grill

I’m not familiar at all with Brazilian food, but our friend A recently purchased a Groupon to Sabor de Vida Brazilian Grill in Encinitas and asked if S and I wanted to try it out together. Of course, we happily obliged.

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The place seems like a family-owned business and was quiet for Saturday lunch. There were soccer photos all over the walls, and cute paper decor hanging from the ceilings.

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Looking at the menu, we decided to share two entrées and an order of pao de queijo, a chewy Brazilian cheese bread.

Pao de Queijo [$5]

Pao de Queijo [$5]

Each order comes with five pieces, served piping hot. These mini-buns are made with tapioca flour, giving them a slightly chewy texture, and they’re light, airy, and cheesy. I would have eaten all five of them myself, but I had to share, hehe.

Picanha Plate [$16]

Picanha Plate [$16]

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[Costa Mesa] Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung, a popular Taiwanese chain that specializes in soup dumplings (aka xiaolongbao, or XLB), opened its first Orange County location last year inside South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. S and I are huge fans of DTF, and we actually visited shortly after their grand opening last year (complete with a 3-hour wait for a table, yikes!). Unfortunately, the photos from the initial visit got lost, and even though we’ve been back several times already on various LA/OC trips, I’ve only gotten around to posting about it now…

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As I just mentioned, when DTF first opened in the mall, the waits were 3-4 hours for dinner (on weekends, at least). However, on our most recent visit, the wait times were much more reasonable – about 30 minutes for Saturday dinner. Luckily, it’s located in the mall so we always do some shopping while waiting, and the restaurant will send you a text message when your table is almost ready.

The restaurant is quite modern and even has a full bar. FYI, if you don’t want to wait for a text, you can also wait for a table in the bar area which supposedly has a shorter waiting period. However, most bar area tables seat just two.

Cucumber Salad [$4.3]

Cucumber Salad [$4.3]

The cucumber salad is one of our favorite appetizers – crisp and refreshing, the cukes are served with a sesame oil/soy sauce mix.

Pork Xiaolongbao [$9.5]

Pork Xiaolongbao [$9.5]

Of course, the standard pork XLB (S doesn’t eat shrimp, and I’m allergic to crab, so no seafood allowed in our XLB). One thing that has always impressed me about DTF is their consistent quality. The chain is famous for their precision, of course, in that the wrapper is the same thickness, the filling is the same, and every dumpling has exactly 18 pleats. Somehow, they manage to keep the wrappers thin and elastic, without breaking (usually). The XLB here were really tasty as always, and I love the juicy, flavorful pork filling, especially when mixed with a bit of black vinegar and ginger slice.

Rice & Pork Shao Mai [$10]

Rice & Pork Shao Mai [$10]

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