Sometimes I crave beef….and since I like my beef grilled (who doesn’t?) I’m always looking for a place that serves up either perfectly grilled rare meat, or which provides the ingredients and utensils for me to grill it myself. Hikari was so perfect that I was hesitant to try another Japanese BBQ place. Whereas Hikari is the old school Japanese style, Tamaen BBQ is the modern US influenced style. Different flavors fit different people, so depending on your taste and budget you might opt for one over the other. The service at Tamaen was excellent, as in keeping with the American style of fast, efficient, and friendly; my waiter had worked there for 10 years and was an expert in both service and knowledge. They even have take away meals for those who wish to grill at home!

They have built in table grills and use the good (expensive) charcoal, added with gas underneath.

I got there early, but by the time I left, the place was packed.

Since many of their choices were for 2+ people I chose the beef heart small portion to grill. The also offer grass fed beef versions of some cuts of beef for slightly more $. They offer American Waygu and some offals like liver, as well as sushi and Korean pickles, so you can create the fusion meal you desire here. Their drink selection is very diverse as well, offering an entire menu of drinks from different countries and grades. I chose the beef heart  with salt instead of  miso based on my server’s recommendation, but it didn’t have enough salt for me (I really should carry my own in my purse), so I asked for more and they obliged with a small plateful. The heart was tender, but the flame was a bit too low, so my server adjusted it to give it the perfect sear. The small order was about 100 grams and just enough to be an appetizer to my oxtail ramen.

The oxtail ramen was the reason I came in because it was a special and I love oxtails. The soup was full of vegetables, and the oxtail was very tender. A good portion for the small price under $10, but I would have preferred a larger price with a larger portion. The flavor was well rounded, but I would have appreciated a bit more oomph of seasoning or spice, but that is me, I know many people who would love this soup the way it is.

I loved this logo (also on the server’s hats) and that their tables all had bibs/aprons (I thought it was a napkin at first until I saw the napkins on the table). so that you don’t splatter your clothes! Even walking in, you can check in electronically, and every table has the call waitstaff button so you don’t have to try to flag someone for a condiment or your bill. For service and variety alone, I would recommend this place!

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Sausal means Willow in old Spanish (before this area became part of the US, this was Alta California, as opposed to Baja California which is still part of Mexico). The old styles of ranch cooking over flames and wood are now used with fresh local ingredients to create the cuisine that epitomizes the best blending of the old and new world sensibilities.

Since The Yelp Elite event, Experience El Segundo, I’ve been wanting to come back and enjoy the small town hospitality and flavors. As fate would have it, I am moving here! I will now be a local in a town that is literally midway between my South Bay friends and my Valley friends! While I was sitting in both Sausal the the local cafe, Blue Butterfly, the people who walked in were ALL greeted by name (none of them were named Norm)! I am very much looking forward to becoming part of this community 🙂

Happy Hour at Sausal is EVERYDAY from 3-6pm and their margarita was one of the tastiest and strongest I’ve ever imbibed for only $6. It was brilliant to serve it with a half salt rim because drinking from the midway point gave me just enough salt!

One of the Happy Hour Specials was the batter fried shrimp taco for $4 that was piled high with crunchy slaw. I had to cut it in half to get a bite into my mouth!

Since I had not eaten lunch, I ordered the chorizo quesadilla for $7, that was big enough to share.

Did I mention, I had not eaten lunch? I also ordered the short rib empanada, perhaps my favorite $4 happy hour bite, filled with tender tasty beef, and surrounded by a perfect crunchy pastry.

My first Happy Hour experience was so good, I had to repeat it a week later, with a beef mole tostada, loaded with so much tender, delectable chunks of shredded beef that every mouthful made me smile:) Even more amazing than the flavor was the quality and quantity of the serving at Happy Hour of only $4.

I could have easily stopped eating after the beef tostada, but I wanted just one more bite, so I chose the wild caught crispy ling cod fish taco off the regular menu for $6.50. Served on a blue corn tortilla, with charred tomato crema, and lots of grape tomatoes, this may be one of be best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten!

For vegetarians or vegans they offer a cauliflower taco $6

The margarita was so strong, that I stopped by Blue Butterfly for an Americano before driving away. I think I’ve found two places where I will become one of the regulars they know by name:)

Does anyone know what this is?

Are any of you fans of the TV series M*A*S*H*? Klinger’s favorite diner Tony Packo’s is famous for this! I was asked all those questions and didn’t know…so I will tell you the answer: a fried dill pickle! It was delicious! Sour, crunchy, salty, and you will definitely want more than one slice! Friends who live in the area near Old Town Torrance know this place well and had almost polished off the entire plate of ale battered fried pickles ($6.95) before I got there! They saved me one just because they love me:)

It was my first fried pickle, my first visit to Red Car Brewery, and my first Impossible Burger, a trifecta of winning experiences!

One of my friends ordered the Cobb Salad ($13.95) with balsamic and no bacon….I don’t share my friend’s palate, but the dish looked fresh. She didn’t care for the balsamic so asked for some ranch which she added to the salad…it didn’t seem to help her opinion of her meal.

Another friend ordered the grilled salmon ($17.95) with fresh vegetables which he demolished with relish.

I have been wanting to try the impossible burger, so when I saw it on the menu I had to order it! It came with coleslaw and either a salad or fries, so I opted for fries.

It was a very decent vegan burger with good taste and honestly with all the other components of the burger, it could have passed for meat. My friends thought the texture was a bit odd but they enjoyed it nonetheless.

I’m sure there will be return visits, but next time I will get there early and grab at least TWO slices of the fried pickle!

My brother from another mother, Bob, is as much of a food lover and cuisinier as I am, so when he said, let’s go to to Restoration Kitchen, I simply asked him to send me the address 🙂 Restoration kitchen opened as a wine bar, but they got so well known for their food that they are now more of a restaurant than wine bar. The owners know their wine, and when they asked me what I liked, they regretfully said, they used to stock Old World Bordeaux but it did not sell so they offered me tastes of three that they thought I might enjoy with similar flavors. They picked three nice possibilities, and I chose the last offering of a 2014 Colome Argentinian Malbec for $14. They offer flights of red or whites for $12.50-$16.50 of any wine offered by the glass. Their bottle prices are very reasonable for the quality, a 2014 Duckhorn Merlot was only $63 which is only slightly more than if you were to buy the bottle in a wine shop.

I had never been to Old Town Torrance before and I loved the small town feel with all the small businesses on walkable streets. It felt like an old town, with many places to eat, shop, and hang out within a few blocks.

Bob suggested we start with the wild mushroom flatbread, topped with arugula, fontina, mozzarella, lemon zest, and thyme for $12.50. It was a generous appetizer, shareable by more than than two, or easily a meal for one.

I chose the lamb lollipops with a basil pesto, hummus, cherry tomatoes, and flatbread for $12.50 as my main dish. They did not ask me how I wanted my lamb, but it came out a perfectly nice medium rare. I found the meat needed more sear and char, but I like the basil pesto. The hummus and flatbread were uninspired versions, but not bad either.

The hit of the evening was the crispy confit chicken leg with farro and mushrooms for $12.50, which was Bob’s favorite, but he generously shared 🙂

It was a great balance of textures, flavors, and aromas. If you only order one dish here, this should be it!

I usually don’t eat sweet desserts, but Bob could not resist the the chocolate pot de creme with toasted Swiss meringue, olive oil, and sea salt for $6.50 There was also a secret ingredient that added texture and crunch.Bob did some sleuthing with the chef and found out what it is but he was sworn to secrecy!

I think Old Town Torrance will become a regular stop on my eating and shopping itinerary:)

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!

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)!

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