Monday, July 30, 2012

Salt Creek Grille-- El Segundo, CA

Salt Creek Grille has several locations in CA and NJ. We went to the one in El Segundo, California, which has a gorgeous outdoor patio area. They have a fireplace, heaters, and beautiful draped lights. It's a very romantic setting, and I enjoyed sitting and talking out there. It was a chilly night but the artificial heat was just enough to keep me comfortable. It's really pretty!

Salt Creek Grille (Google Images)

The food and drinks were awesome. Bobby and I both had their Hendricks cucumber collins; essentially a Tom Collins with muddled cucumber. It was on their Happy Hour menu, so only $6, compared to around $12 for many of their other drinks. I really enjoyed it.
Turkey Burger (photo taken by me)

For dinner, I had the Grilled Natural Turkey Burger: feta cheese, cucumbers, sweet peppers, butter lettuce, sweet heirloom tomato marmalade on a whole wheat bun. It was very, very good-- especially the tomato spread on there-- and tasted very healthy. I got a side of sweet potato fries with mine which I loved. They were thinly sliced, wonderfully crunchy and perfectly salted.

Bobby got the Stuffed Blues burger, which is gorgonzola stuffed, arugula, fried onions and blue cheese aioli. It was very good as well; they certainly did not skimp on their cheese! Bobby got the garlic fries that come standard with the burger. I loved those as well; they had parmesan on them and a light garlic flavor.

We loved our food and drinks, but the service was a little off. We had two different servers ask for our drinks, and had no clue which one was "ours". It was a long wait before we even got the Happy Hour menu, and then a long wait for the check. The girl who dropped off our food, not one of the original servers, asked if we needed anything else. Bobby asked for a side of ranch, which he never got. It was an inordinately long wait to have our food picked up after we finished. We were a little annoyed, but the food was good and the servers were polite and professional, so it wasn't a huge deal. Plus, it was so lovely to sit outside on a nice night and enjoy each other's company. 

I'm curious if the spotty service was due to the servers having obligations both indoors and outdoors. They seemed to be running around a lot, and inside was quite a bit busier. Regardless, I was happy with my meal at Salt Creek Grille!

Salt Creek Grille is located at:
760 S Sepulveda Blvd
El SegundoCA 90245

Friday, July 27, 2012

halibut salad on ciabatta/ Quality Seafood Redondo Beach

Sandwich Master Bobby! (Photo taken by me)

After work last night, Bobby and I had a great cheese platter and did a little exploring on the internet to find the perfect recipe. He bought this gorgeous, soft ciabatta bread from Whole Foods so we thought doing a sandwich would be great. We found this great recipe for a Halibut Salad Sandwich on Epicurious and were very excited to try it!

INGREDIENTS: (adjusted to serve two)

  • 1 8-ounce halibut steak or fillet (3/4 inch thick)

  • 1/8 cup regular or reduced-calorie mayonnaise
  • 1/8 cup finely chopped red onion (we used chopped green onion instead and it was FANTASTIC)
  • 1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard (we didn't have dijon, but had a Trader Joe's garlic aioli mustard which was perfect)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel

  • we used our own ciabatta and store bought romaine lettuce

Read More

We walked down to the pier to get some fresh fish from Quality Seafood. We've walked around in there quite a bit, but never actually purchased fish from there. We bought the locally caught halibut, and it was a really lovely filet.

Bobby was responsible for the filet, I was in charge of the mayo. He broiled the filet in the oven for a few minutes each side with salt and pepper and it looked STUNNING; simply flaked apart when we were getting it ready to combine with the sauce. Along with the substitutions listed above (chopped green onion instead of red onion, garlic aioli mustard instead of dijon mustard), we also put some sliced tomato and avocado on our sandwiches.

The sandwich was fantastic! The halibut salad went great with the tomato and avocado.

Let me know if you try it!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kincaids- Redondo, CA

Now, at this point you are all probably thinking I'm this total softy who seems to love everything about every restaurant I visit. To be fair, I wanted to kick off my new blogging adventures on a positive note before I delve into some more critical reviews.

The exterior of Kincaids... very pretty (via Google Images)

What better restaurant to critique than Kincaids? It's a staple on the Redondo pier, and has fairly decent reviews across the board on Yelp and Urban Spoon. Bobby and I found it while exploring the pier on my first day in town, and were immediately excited about the brunch menu-- crab cake benedict and a bloody mary bar? Plus, the building and the view are gorgeous.

We were sold.

We went with our friends, Johnson and Lauren, Saturday morning shortly after the restaurant opened (around 11:15 AM, and they open at 11). We figured out from a poster up front there was a baby shower going on outside. Not an issue, we thought; the rest of the restaurant was empty, and service should be fine.

The first red flag was the hostess working the phones and "seating people". She did not so much as acknowledge at us for the first five minutes we were standing in the restaurant and the phone was ringing off the hook. She did not answer, and it was loud and irritating.  My friends and I were joking that one of us should go ahead and help her out, because she seemed to be either confused, inexperienced, or contemptuous of her customers. I believe it was a combination of the three. She seemed to be tooling around on her computer, as if figuring out were to seat people. There were only 4 parties waiting, and we were the only 4top; the rest were couples.

In my dining experiences, I have never been made to wait more than 3 or so minutes to be seated at a table in an empty restaurant. I understand the need to clear tables or figure out seating areas for each server. But that did not seem to be the case. We had to wait 15 minutes. We probably would have left, except after I asked the hostess how much longer the wait would be. She said "just a few moments", and looked at me as though she was appalled I had the audacity to ask such a question.

We were finally seated, and saw the size of the baby shower seated on the patio. It looked like about 30-40 people. Sure, a large group, but Kincaids is quite a large restaurant, so I didn't imagine it would be an issue.

After a few minutes, our waiter came over to take our drink orders. Bloody mary's all around! He wasn't certain about Bobby's Colorado ID, as he had just gone through the process to get his California ID after the move, so it was hole punched. The server asked his manager, who glanced at our table, and immediately declined.

After a little research on the internet, I couldn't come up with a conclusive answer on whether it was appropriate to deny him the right to drink. His ID was still valid, and the gent is 24 years old. Regardless, I understand a restaurant's liquor license is very important and that they did not want to mess with it. Understandable. He admitted he was new, and didn't want to mess up quite yet. We understood.

After breaking the bad news about Bobby's ID, the waiter took our orders. Bobby and I choose the crab cake benedict, Johnson got the "Monte Cristo", and Lauren asked for an omelette, which was not on the menu. First, the waiter started asking Johnson if he was "sure he wanted the Monte Cristo". It's apparently a fried monolith of a sandwich crusted in cornflakes and powdered sugar, served with a fruit compote. He spent a good minute warning Johnson about the sandwich, and we all laughed about it. He did try very hard to talk Johnson out of it, and Johnson assured him he wanted the sandwich. What was incredibly strange was the waiter wasn't sure if the kitchen could make Lauren's omelette. We thought that was bizarre for a brunch place... an omelette is about as basic as it gets!

It was 10 minutes before the waiter brought us our glasses with vodka and tomato juice to head over to the bloody mary bar. He was dripping sweat-- it looks like they may have been understaffed because of the baby shower. The poor guy was really doing his best. We went over and made our bloody mary's and came back to the table. They had a great variety of hot sauces, olives, pickled veggies, and even salami. It was quite fun to do! After we returned to our table, two gentlemen and a small child came over and were seated behind us (so roughly 25 minutes after we were seated), and a woman and a man were seated on the other side of us.

Both tables' food was brought about 20 minutes later, and ours was still nowhere in sight. The waiter came over to apologize, saying the kitchen was held up with the baby shower party. I mentioned that the baby shower had actually ordered about 30 minutes after we did, and their menus were still out there. He didn't know what to say, but continued to apologize profusely. Both tables on either side of us  had eaten, paid, and left long before our food even arrived.

The waiter came back another 15 minutes later (so 1:15 in), and apologized again, asking if we wanted soups or salads. Lauren ordered a salad, which mysteriously came right out. It was served with delicious crispy egg roll things filled with some sort of cream cheese which Bobby and I enjoyed. Our server mentioned the manager would be over to talk to us shortly.

After an hour and 40 minutes, our food arrived, and the server had brought a normal benedict for me instead of the crab cake benedict. After the plate was placed, the manager arrived with the crab cake benedict and offered to leave both on the table for us, and when we politely declined that we just wanted our what we ordered, replied sarcastically "oh, not that hungry?" We stared at him, waiting for him to say anything about the service or tremendous delay. "Is there anything else?" He asked, blank faced. We just shook our heads.

Johnson's sandwich monolith was quite good, actually. Lauren's bacon was undercooked, so she asked for it to return to the kitchen. The crab cake benedict's were surprisingly small, maybe 2.5 inches in diameter. The potatoes were wrinkly and lukewarm. My serving of potatoes was half that of Bobby's It appeared and tasted as though our food had been left standing on the counter for quite some time.

The waiter returned to check on our food, and we told him everything was fine. He continued to apologize, and mentioned they would try to discount our purchase, for the wait was so long. I asked if this sort of experience was normal, and he said no, that it was just the additional pressure on the kitchen from the baby shower. I mentioned that the tables on both sides of us had arrived after us and had been served, eaten, and left before our food had even arrived. He had no response, but seemed quite worried.

We asked for the check, and waited another 15 minutes for that. Our server eventually came over, apologized again, and let us know that "he" would be picking up the bill for our entire meal, food and drinks. We thanked him, left him a tip, and left.

What I cannot comprehend is that Kincaid's has mostly positive reviews across the board online, and we had an absolutely appalling experience. The bloody mary's were good, the food was decent (I bet quite good had it been served fresh), and the decor and atmosphere were lovely. More often than not, restaurants will put their new servers with younger kids who tend to be more forgiving with mistakes. Yet I didn't feel that the errors were on the end of our server, who was very sweet and trying his absolute best. I was appalled at the rudeness of both the hostess, and the coldness of the manager. It was surprising that the manager did not say a word about the service or the wait, and that after all of that time, Lauren's bacon was undercooked and they had brought the wrong meal for me.

I would say it was "nice of them" to have picked up the check for us, but it was simply the right thing to do. I would have been furious to pay $30 for a bloody mary and crab benedict after spending over two hours at Kincaids.

I wonder if there was something we did upon entering the restaurant that rubbed the hostess the wrong way? Perhaps it was vengeful for having asked when we'd been seated? Maybe she overheard us wondering why she was not picking up the ringing phone? In any instance, restaurants are about service and giving someone a culinary experience they cannot create for themselves.

 If I wanted to wait for two hours for crappy service, I would have gone to the DMV.

Yanagi Japanese Bistro- Redondo Beach, CA

Now, I have been a sushi addict pretty much since I could chew, so finding a sushi restaurant for date night was no easy task. To whet Bobby's appetite while I went through Yelp and Urban Spoon to find just the right place, I made him some edamame with a home made sauce: soy sauce, rice vinegar, minced ginger, green onions, lime, and a bit of honey... oishii!

I finally decided on Yanagi Japanese Bistro, and could not have made a better choice. The restaurant is family owned and operated, and you can definitely feel that. The sushi chefs all greet you when you enter the small (but lovely!) space. Everyone was incredibly friendly. Our server was a younger guy who was very patient with us when choosing our sake; helped explain the points rating (for sweet vs. dry) and gave his recommendation for what he thinks we'd enjoy. He was right. 

Sake it to me, baby (Photo taken by me)

This was only the third or fourth time I have had sake, and I absolutely loved it. This bottle is the Kikusui Junmai Ginjo. It was very mild but still flavorful, and accompanied  our sushi perfectly. The 300 mL was perfect for two people, too.

The restaurant is fairly dark, but nicely decorated. There was great music playing, good remixes that I was familiar with, but I acknowledge it might not be for everyone. It was pretty busy, but still quiet enough to not have to yell over everyone to talk, which happens a lot at some restaurants. Bobby and I had lots of great conversation and laughs throughout our dinner!

We had the "yummy crispy" appetizer to start. It was tuna, albacore, red onion, tomato, masago, mixed with spicy mayo and garnished with avocado and cilantro served on top of a crispy, flat wonton. It was quite good, though the mayo kind of overwhelmed the fish. They could honestly just do a little ponzo and it would be just as perfect. I put soy sauce on mine. It was kind of tough to eat because the wonton would crack and spill precious fish, but so darn delicious I didn't care.

We ordered the maguro, hamachi, and sake (tuna, yellowtail and salmon) sushi. The cuts of fish were huge, fresh, and downright delicious. The highlight for me was definitely the yellowtail. It was stunning. Buttery and fantastic. 

We devoured the whole roll before we could even get a photo. Dragon Roll. (Photo taken by me)

The dragon roll consisted of crab, avocado, and cucumber, topped with eel, avocado, and eel sauce. I've had dragon rolls before, and what was standout for me was the amount of eel they used to top it. You'll note in the photo only the two roll slices... that's because Bobby and I enjoyed the rest before I could remember to take a photo! There was a TON of eel on there, which is easy to skimp on and simply do avocado. There was a cut easily bigger than your average sashimi piece covering the end piece, which just goes to show they really want to feed their customers well. There was also a light eel sauce across the top, but plenty on the plate for dipping. Eel sauce is my favorite, so I was excited they didn't skimp on that either. Really, really good.

We then had the calamari tempura roll: calamari tempura, crab, avocado, cucumber, with a crunchy outside and eel sauce. I really, really regret not taking a picture of this. The entire roll was topped with calamari tempura, the size of about a small appetizer's worth. The calamari was light, fresh, and perfectly fried. This was one of my favorite rolls I've ever had.

The Playboy Roll. Bobby's favorite! (Photo taken by me)

After we finished our sushi and rolls, we decided to go for just one more. This one was Bobby's find: The Playboy Roll. The Playboy Roll is shrimp tempura, cream cheese, and cucumber, topped with salmon, avocado, and mustard sauce. The salmon, as you can see in the photo, wasn't skimped on either. This roll was much more creamy and rich than the others, partially because of the cream cheese, partially because all of the ingredients are richer in nature. I really liked this one too, and the sauce was really interesting... almost citrusy? It's listed as a mustard sauce but it didn't taste super mustardy. The citrus definitely helped balance the richness of the roll. 

At home, in landlocked Colorado, I am lucky enough to have Sushi Den and Izakaya den just a few minutes drive from my home. I am so jealous Bobby has Yanagi just a few minutes drive away here in Redondo. This would (WILL!) absolutely be my go-to spot if I lived (WHEN I EVENTUALLY LIVE!) here in California. 

The service, might I add, was outstanding. Every server was very polite, sweet, and made sure we were satisfied with our food. We didn't get waters right away, but once we did, they were very consistent with refills.

Yanagi is awesome, and I highly recommend it!

Yanagi Japanese Bistro is located at:
2400 Artesia Boulevard  Redondo Beach, CA 90278
(310) 372-6500

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The 21st Amendment- Boston, MA

Exterior of the 21st Amendment-- you can just tell how old this place is! (Google Images)

The 21st Amendment is a fantastic restaurant/bar in the Beacon Hill area, right next to the State House. I stumbled upon 21st Amendment after a recommendation from a Redditor for places to dine alone in Boston, and headed over there for the first time after the Pride Parade (early June).

Interior of 21st Amendment (Google Images)

 The building dates back to 1899, and you can certainly feel the history. I like that it is old without feeling dirty or run down at all; the interior is constructed of dark wood, decorated with vintage posters, and features soft lighting and exposed brick. The bar area and small window area with barstools are very comfortable for the solo diner.

The space was full of people, but there was still room at the bar. I ordered a Whale's Tail Pale Ale (one of my favorites during my time in Boston) and the 21st Burger. The ladies tending bar were very sweet, and chit chatted with me a bit.

The 21st Burger-- ONION RINGS! (Google Images)

The 21st Burger was outstanding. The onion rings are fantastic, and the waitstaff kindly brings an extra plate for easier eating... because the burger is actually so massive, you cannot feasibly fit your mouth around the thing without taking a few of the onion rings off. I had mine with sweet potato fries, which are some of my favorite sweet potato fries of all time. They are sweet and salty, perfectly done.

During my other trips to 21st, I also enjoyed the Southwest Grilled BBQ Chicken Salad. I am a sucker for a good southwestern salad, and this one fit the bill. I really enjoyed the tortilla strips on top for some extra crunch. The veggies all tasted fresh, and the dressing was tangy and delicious. I could have gone with a little less dressing, but that can easily be avoided by ordering dressing on the side.

I spent the afternoon of the 4th of July at 21st Amendment drinking with some regulars, and had a great time. It was one of the only times I had in Boston where I felt at home; the people were friendly, the food was great, and the atmosphere was social and outgoing. For a lot of my time in Boston, I felt people were quite a bit more reserved than those who I know back in CO. The atmosphere of the 21st is so welcoming, friendly, and comfortable. I highly recommend it.

The 21st Amendment is located at:

150 Bowdoin Street  Boston, MA 02108(617) 227-7100 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Standing Room-- Redondo Beach, CA

The pick up window at Standing Room

I'm in Redondo Beach, CA visiting Bobby, and we found this place on Yelp and figured we'd give it a try. Standing Room is truly a hidden gem; you actually have to walk into the liquor store next door to place your order. You order at the small counter, on your right when you walk in, and then pay at the cash register on the opposite side of the store. You need to hang on to both your numbered ticket and the receipt in order to pick up your burger. The liquor store actually has a convenience store air to it too; I was able to pick up some paper towels when I was there, which is great.

The first time we went here was late, 9 PM, and there was very little wait which we later learned was unusual. Bobby and I had the wisdom to call in our lunch order ahead, and while I was waiting to pick up (only about 5 minutes once I was actually there, which was fine), there were people ordering being told it would be around an hour until their food came around.

The one thing I can confirm is that Standing Room is well worth the wait. 

Bobby and I both had the Dressed: ½ Pound Patty, Bacon, Caramelized Onion, Spring Mix, Bleu, Smoked Gouda, Fried Egg, Tomato Jam, & Korean Aioli, and split an order of the parmesan-truffle fries. The burger is just... insane...

Look how lovely and pink and HUGE that patty is!! Cooked to perfection!

My favorite thing about the burger is the gorgeous, unexpected combination of flavors. The gouda is piled on thick, the egg is salty and perfectly fried, and the korean aioli provides a sweet tang with every bite. This is a truly gourmet burger that you can buy in a liquor store. 

NOTE: If you are on a diet, Standing Room is not for you. While all of the food is fresh and delicious, it is definitely not for those counting calories! But honestly, who cares? We can all afford to indulge every once in a while.

As another note, I was quite impressed by the three men working the stoves at Standing Room. It's a very small room but they work well together and are quite organized. It was really neat watching them put the burgers together; there is a man who works there with tattoo sleeves on his arm and a hat reading "F*** me I'm famous", who dealt with taking most of the orders in the front and dressing the burgers. He dealt with each burger so delicately, saucing them beautifully and placing each topping on with such care and attention. He's truly a sandwich artist. Another thing that amazed me was his complacent demeanor. With all of the busyness of the kitchen, heat from the stoves, and the influx of inquisitive customers, I would imagine the fellas working there would get overwhelmed. Instead, they were incredibly polite, well-spoken, and friendly to their customers. I was impressed. 

The one caveat to this: it took some people quite a while to get their orders in as the guys were really moving quickly to churn out some beautiful burgers for people. I think a few people were quite taken aback by the wait time, but this is easily avoided by calling ahead. I called at 12:30, was told it would be 30 minutes, and my food was ready exactly at 1. They seem to have this figured out.

My recommendation: call ahead, pick up your burger and a beer, and go enjoy it down on the pier (a 5 minute walk).

The Standing Room is located at:
144 N Catalina Ave
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

Phone: (310) 374-7545

Sazza Pizza- Greenwood Village, Colorado

For my first post, I thought it would be appropriate to review something close to home. Sazza is a wonderful restaurant that specializes in organic salads and pizzas. The owners (Jenni and Jeff Rogoff) and management of Sazza really care about the food, and it shows; (most of) the food is certified organic, and in the 8 years I have eaten at Sazza regularly (yep, I was there days after it opened in 2006), I have never had anything but a spectacular experience. Jenni and Jeff are in the restaurant regularly, and will come and chat with the diners to make sure their experience exceeds their expectations. I like that. As a young restaurant frequenter, I find that I am occasionally overlooked or maltreated in restaurants-- perhaps out of expectation that younger foodies don't tip, perhaps for another reason-- so I really value that Jenni and Jeff have always treated my friends and I as, well, friends.

You place your order and pay for your meal at the cashier, and are then given a cute table marker of some sort of vegetable on a metal stand so the servers know where to take your food. Even when the restaurant is crowded, you will get your food in 10-20 minutes, so it's a great place to go when you're in a rush. They also have takeout and delivery, making it even easier to get your fix.

A few of my favorites on the menu:

barbecue chicken pizza- a little tangy, a little spicy, a lot of delicious. It's full of flavor, yet still so simple

french onion pizza- this is definitely quite a bit more complex than the barbecue chicken, simply because the flavors are so magnificently intense. The gruyere cheese is fantastic and the carmelized onions are perfectly sweet and fresh.

chicken cobb- simply the perfect cobb. There's a lot going on in there; bacon, eggs, avocado, tomatoes and an awesome gorgonzola dressing; but it's not overwhelming and still tastes light and fresh. I also love the gorgeous long flatbread-ish cheesy "crouton" that accompanies the salad. It's crunchy with the perfect tang of cheese.

vegetarian red chili- I live for this chili. I am not a vegetarian, but my veggie friends say this is the best vegetarian chili they've ever had. Like all of Sazza's food, it just tastes healthy and fresh, which is important in a chili. It's hearty without being heavy.  I dress mine in onions, cheese, and sour cream.

If you're feeling up for it, make sure you try a dessert pizza.

Sazza is located in the Cherry Hills Market Place.
2500 East Orchard Rd. Greenwood Village, CO 80121
Phone: 303.797.2992

Dear readers,

Growing up in a family of cooks and foodies, I have always been passionate about what I eat, and excited about new culinary experiences.  I look forward to sharing my adventures in gastronomy and life with you!