I do not have a BBQ, so when I crave grilled meat, I either have to go to a restaurant or convince a friend to fire up their (usually gas) grill. Hikari may be a bit out of the way, but every bite of grilled meat I ate was a mouthwatering morsel of tender juicy happiness.

The grills here are not gas powered, so the flavor of whatever you grill has the added carbon component. If you allow you meats to sit on the grill (they provide metal tongs and scissors) until they are properly seared, you will be rewarded with flavors that will make you smile:)

I chose the thick cut beef tongue for $13, which was scored and marinated before being brought to my table.

Once on the grill, the fat dripped into the coals

and resulted in this gorgeous result.

I was still hungry so asked my waiter whether he suggested the ball tip or the hanger and he said hanger for $10, so that is what I chose for my next course. It was a much larger serving than the tongue and it came with a ginger and scallion sauce for the meat to be put on after grilling. Hanger is one of my favorite cuts of meat, and this was perfectly marbled quality meat that may convert any filet mignon lover into a hanger lover.

Hikari was so good, I had to go back with friends, so that I could taste more of the items on the menu. I went back the next week with two non-Asian friends who are foodies (and not intimidated being the only non-Asians in a restaurant). We started with the fried chicken, a nice rendition, nothing exceptional, nothing amiss.

On my recommendation ,we ordered the thick cut tongue and hanging tender, which they loved 🙂

 We had to order a vegetable, so we chose the stuffed mushrooms, and we were glad we had eaten other items because it took awhile for these to cook….

But they were worth the time to get a burst of cheese, garlic, and mushroom in a juicy bite!

 

So many Yelp reviews raved about the carbonara that we had to try it. With pork belly and watercress, this delectable combo was the epitome of great fusion on a plate:)

The last order of the night took the longest to get to our table, but it was worth the wait for the rib fingers. Rib fingers are the pieces of meat between rib bones, so they are the meat you love usually attached to ribs you gnaw, but at Hikari, you get the meat sans bones in their fatty, wonderful moist pureness with a side of minced garlic to enhance the grilled meat.

 

 

I don’t know how we made it out the door, but after 5 orders and 2 large Sapporos for the adults and a soda for the teen, our bill was only $100 including tax and tip. Our waitress came outside as we walked out to thank us for visiting 🙂 I am sure will will be regular visitors!

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As much as I enjoyed the places up on the hill in my last two posts, I have to drive down the mountain to get to other places. One of my favorite appetizers is fried calamari, or actually any kind of calamari, but here in the US, it tends to only be offered fried. Portions for appetizers in the US also tend to be big enough to make a meal for me, so when a friend came to visit, we went to Avenue Italy, and shared a salad of beets, roasted nuts, and spring greens, with a fried calamari appetizer and left completely sated. The welcome basket of freshly made focaccia came with a nice olive oil herb dipping sauce to entice our appetites to wake up.

The marvelous service at the Mediterranean style eatery split our $15 salad before bringing it to our table because we had said we were sharing:)

The lightly floured crispy calamari for $15 was very well executed, with just enough crunch, while the squid was still tender. The marinara sauce was very good too, adding a nice zest along with the freshly squeezed lemon juice that we added to the plate.

Blue Salt Fish Grill is next to my Optician, Venice Optical (who offer fabulous prices on eye exams, glasses, and lenses). So when I went to pick up my new glasses, I stopped for an appetizer of….yes, fried calamari! This is a fast casual place, so not at all the ambience or prices of a full scale restaurant. Amazingly, they offered me a free appetizer with my order of an appetizer! Yes, ceviche with chips! And wines by the glass start at only $6 for decent quality and go to about $11 for a very nice pour of a good bottle. I almost felt as if I was in France again:)

Their calamari portion was hearty enough to warrant the $7 price, plus the sides would help make this a meal. I didn’t care for either of the sauces, but I loved the crispy calamari with just extra lemon.

I am so happy to have found places that still serve the tentacles (my favorite part) and that have mastered the art of crispy on the outside, yet tender on the inside 🙂

There are very limited choices up here on the hill overlooking the ocean. There are a few fast food chains, or very mediocre expensive places, but a glimmer of good cooking using organic and farm fresh ingredients recently opened in the Promenade Shopping Center called Once Upon A Table. They are so new they don’t even have a Yelp listing yet (but I am sure that they will after this blog post goes live).

Brenda, the owner/chef, is a caterer who decided to open up a brick and mortar location, and although she is still catering, this set-up allows for a source of new clientele and a place that gives her the space to showcase her talents.

The tomato soup was so good that I came back for a bowl after having a cup with a sandwich on my first visit. It is a nice balance of acid and sweet tomato without any need for the addition of cream. It would be a perfect pair with their grilled cheese sandwich on a cold day (yes, they do have a grilled cheese sandwich on their menu).

I chose the pastrami sandwich for my first meal. Served hot on grilled rye bread, with coleslaw and cheese on rye, this was a bastardization of my beloved NY classic, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, which says a lot about the place that even the pickle was excellent:) Everything on the menu is around $10, so the prices are extremely reasonable for the quality of ingredients.

Another day, another sandwich, this time a grilled vegetable sandwich on focaccia. I liked the way the vegetables still had body and some texture, and the flavor of their essence was maintained. A wonderful choice for vegetarians and vegans.

This hearty and wonderful bowl of cobb salad to go was beautiful, and if the romaine had not been so bitter, I would have enjoyed it tremendously. Unfortunately it is not possible to control the bitterness or peppery flavor of certain ingredients, so they get an absolute pass on that because the other ingredients were superb, from the perfect avocado to the crisp bacon, the moist chicken, and the ripe tomatoes.

My favorite choice (so far) is the turkey sandwich, with moist perfectly sliced breast meat so perfectly balanced with ripe tomato, avocado, and a a thin slice of cheese to add a nice mouthfeel on toasted sourdough. It is a very hearty portion for under $10 including tax and tip.

I think I may have found my go to spot up on the hill for lunch 🙂

The best recommendations for food are from fellow foodies, not matter their age or location. I am grateful to have so many friends who live in the vicinity. They  shared some of their favorite spots, and when they said that they drive up the hill where I live to eat at Pho Hana, I went the next day. And the day after that. And I will probably go tomorrow.

Anyone who has a developed palate appreciates the nuances and difference between a good broth and a great broth. The best pho I’ve ever eaten is at Pho Golden Star, but it is in Chino (60 miles away), so although I will travel for food and pho, I won’t make that drive in rush hour midweek traffic…ok, maybe I would, but only once a week:)

Pho Hana has a good clean broth, they use quality ingredients, and their combination #1, with rare flank steak, tendon, and tripe for $10 is a very satisfying bowl.

Of course I added all of the bean sprouts, basil, jalapenos, and lime, along with a generous squeeze of garlic chili sauce:)

                                       This is the bowl after I mixed in the extras

 This is after adding the garlic chili sauce:)

The seafood noodle version was $2 more and included fresh crab! It was a slow tedious process to get the meat out of the claw, but if you have the patience, it is a rewarding workout.

Pho Hana also offer soon tofu or curry soup, so I tried the beef soon tofu medium spicy (next time I’ll try the very spicy, but always better to level up than be in pain and regret your choice) for $14. It was bubbling when they brought it to the table, so be careful when eating, and remember there is a raw egg in the middle of the pot that you may break into the soup so that it cooks in the bubbling broth. A nice selection of sides come along with the soup, and it was exactly the right amount of food for me on a day when I had not eaten for 6 hours….

 

 

The service is very friendly, and the decor ranges from a Christmas tree, a television set to either the Travel Channel or HGTV, and a bookcase full of old LPs, to a various Western artifacts like a tall wooden Indian. This is truly an eclectic place with menu items from Korea, Vietnam, and China, but you can’t go wrong with the pho, and the comfort of finding a place on the hill that serves palate pleasing broth.

Tavern has always been one of my favorite places to eat, and it just happened to be the closest place to go for a bite one afternoon. Luckily it was Happy Hour from 3-7pm, and although the Blue room was noisy and packed with 20 somethings, the former market side is now a bar, and it was much quieter, while offering the entire menu.

The lamb meatballs with currant relish, pine nuts and feta for $13 was hearty enough to share, and filling enough to be a small savory meal for a small appetite. I loved the North African influenced spices in this warmly fragrant dish.

The short rib taco with avocado, red onion, aioli, cilantro and scallions for $8, and the curried cauliflower tahini yogurt, cilantro, and poppy seeds for $6, both had very tasty fillings, but in both cases, the tortillas were COLD! We ended up eating the fillings and leaving the cold wrapping on the plate 😦 The pickled carrot and jalapeno on the side were nice additions to perk up the fillings even more.

The Spanish fried chicken with cumin-chili butter and romesco aioli for $13 was my favorite plate of all. It didn’t need the aioli, but a glass of wine was definitely a nice compliment to the hot, crisp, absolutely perfectly flavored bites. If you only order one thing for happy hour or as an appetizer, order this!

My friend wanted dessert, so she ordered the frozen lemon tart, made with Meyer lemon ice cream and honey lime meringue for $13. The presentation with citrus sections and kumquats was dessert art for my eyes.

I got a snickerdoodle to go, filled with a peanut butter filling that was so big and decadent it took me several days to finish it, but I did 🙂

The Eataly finale ends on a sweet note 🙂

After perusing every sit down or take away option, my friend and I decided to eat lunch elsewhere. We made our decision based on our very picky standards; she has lived in and traveled extensively through Italy, and she has even taken cooking classes in Italy. I am just picky, especially after having eaten incredible meals in Rome for very reasonable prices.

The rotisserie had a lamb special that day, but once we got to the counter, they said, “Sorry, no lamb today, they sold it yesterday by mistake, so we have tri tip today”. Neither one of us wanted to pay over $20 for a small pizza or plate of simple pasta plus another $20 for a decent glass of wine.

Being in the newly remodeled Westfield Century City Mall, there were many other wonderful options, so we went to my old favorite Rock Sugar, and came back for a coffee and pastry.

We looked through all the pastry and dessert cases,

and the candy cases, including the chocolate cases, and gelato stand,

 but we decided on coffee and viennoiseries.

 I chose the raisin twist,

and she chose the almond cream. We tasted both but we each wisely chose our favorite. Because there were no seats, we ended up having our coffee standing up at the coffee bar, just as we would have done in Italy 🙂

Since we were fortified with some sugar and caffeine, we wandered upstairs to shop in the cookware and toys section, where we saw the SMEG500, a Fiat fridge!

For the ultimate Italian wine cooler/conversation piece! As the saying goes if you must ask how much it is, you should not buy it (you must apply to purchase it)!

Eataly Eyfest part 2 🙂

Most of the raw ingredients were fairly priced for the quality.

 

 

 

 A fair price for this quality of canned tuna.

 Olive oil sold by the size/weight.

The most outrageous price of anything I saw in the market; you can buy these salts online nearly anywhere for the same price as 1 OUNCE here, you can buy 2 POUNDS!

 Huge bulk quantities does not mean you get a price break.

 Large selection is nice to peruse…

 

I must confess that I did not like Eataly in Rome. There were beautiful products, from pasta to condiments, many counters serving snacks and sweets, and several options for eating both inside and outside, but it made no sense to me to shop or eat there when I was in ITALY, with authentic local options literally surrounding me. The only people I saw buying and eating anything there were tourists and they were mostly American, seeking perhaps the comfort of a known brand name from the US. The equivalent of this experience would be going to chain lobster restaurant in Maine instead of a local joint, or *shudder* buying a supermarket baguette in France instead of getting one from a boulangerie. WHY?!?!?!?! Just DO NOT do it. Taste at least one peach, ripe, fresh off the tree; you can always open a can of peaches afterwards, if you still prefer them 🙂

Eataly in Los Angeles offers a few products that are a challenge to find here, but those who know good Italian and European markets can easily find most things for for less. Bay Cities in Santa Monica is still my all time favorite place to shop for any Italian ingredient. A1 in San Pedro has a nice selection, and Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and Deli has many great products. I like keeping small businesses alive, and the personal interactions are as important to me as the presentation, so even though I love to peruse the big name financed stores, when it comes to actually buying, I will continue to spend my money with the smaller shops.

If you prefer one stop shopping with gorgeous presentation, then Eataly Los Angeles is your new mecca. Just as Paris has the gorgeous La Grande Epicerie, and tourist centric Lafayette Gourmet, Eataly is a feast for foodie eyes. My next three posts will be mostly photographic, so enjoy the eyefest:)

Since my first visit in 2009, I’ve been enamored with Rock Sugar. (For those of you who missed my previous posts, here are #1#2, and #3) I wrote my first back to back posts on Rock Sugar because I just couldn’t wait to go back to eat more and share the beautiful space and excellent food.

It’s always comforting to go back to a favorite and find that it is still a favorite; as I found with A Food Affair recently 🙂 Even though the Westfield Century City Mall was literally torn to the ground and rebuilt into a completely modern chic mecca of food and shopping (Eataly is now here), some of the older restaurants and stores remain in the same place and still draw their loyal clientele.

This water wall on the patio was a soothing sight on a busy week-end.

The most soothing of all is eating comfort food like Singaporean noodles with shrimp, done so perfectly that you have no desire to even attempt to recreate it at home. The balance of spices, textures, and seasoning was so completely satisfying that somehow we finished the plate even though we said we were full halfway through it.

The short rib banh mi was a nice counterpoint to the noodles, with slightly sweet beef, crunchy pickled vegetables, and a side salad with crispy taro strips.

 Even the bathrooms are every bit as delightful as the food 🙂

The saddest part is leaving, but we must leave in order to return again 🙂

After reading glowing reviews of Rui Ji, I made it a point to try it. On my first trip, I tried a spicy numbing soup that had such complex, spicy and numbing flavors that I couldn’t wait to go back. This spotless, calm, and very hospitable restaurant is a good choice for anyone who wants a nice ambiance with their authentic food. I may not be an authentic Asian, since I never drink tea with my meal….

I enjoyed the beef tendon dry pot very much. It had the perfect amount of heat and a melody of flavors that infused the dried tofu, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots with a savory satisfying melange of textures and spices that intoxicated me.

The roasted duck was a perfect crispy delight of sweet and moist duck on one occasion, and a mediocre barely warmed flaccid plate of poultry, on another. I think the chef de cuisine on Sundays needs a refresher course, or perhaps they lost their great chef from Saturday 😦

 The baby bok choy and mushroom dish was superb.

The spicy shrimp hot pot was both delicious and uneven. The shrimp were slightly overcooked, and the seasoning was uneven, with very salty wood ear mushrooms, and perfectly seasoned vegetables.

The heavy handed salt addition wasn’t a distraction in the spicy beef noodles, which had excellent hand cut rice noodles and bok choy. The very salted beef eaten with the noodles and vegetables was a balanced dish.

The hot and sour noodles were so overly salted that we sent it back. The bits we ate, we had to eat sparingly as if it was a salty condiment instead of a dish.

All in all, I was happy with the flavors and the complexity of the condiments, but depending on the day and the chef, you could either be ecstatic or disappointed by the simple crime off too much salt or not enough heat to make the duck skin crispy.

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