365: Day 176 – La Bodega in Ojai

365: Day 176 – La Bodega in Ojai

This was our first time eating at this restaurant, but our second time visiting. A few weeks ago we drove for over an hour just to find that the restaurant was closed. The reviews were good enough that we decided to come back and try again.

We showed up on a Sunday morning about 40 minutes before their opening time of 11am. While we awaited their opening we went to plug the car in for about 15 minutes at the Tesla superchargers just outside of downtown Ojai and then returned to the restaurant and walked to the front of the building to check out a store on the corner.

It is one of those typical artsy stores you find in California small towns with lots of interesting and unique items to browse, photograph, and purchase is you’re so inclined. I was content with just a few pictures as we only had a few minutes before the restaurant, La Bodega, opened.

We walked towards the back where the patio at La Bodega is located and saw the screens inside were tuned to soccer games, but no sign of any employees. Just a few minutes past the hour and a young man came to open up the tapas bar and sat us on a table in the Patio. The menu was sampling of typical Spanish tapas and a few wine options.

From the top left corner and continuing clockwise, we ordered:

  • Pescaditos fritos – These little fried fish were our second favorite dish. The seafood/ocean taste was strong but not overpowering and the coarse ground sea salt was just right. The smell and taste reminded me to times I’ve had very fresh seafood alongside the shore. I would definitely order this dish again. I even try making this myself and buying the small fish from one of the many Asian or Mexican supermarket chains in Los Angeles.
  • Bombas – These were balls of potato, meet, and some veggies coated in a batter and fried and served with a spicy sauce that tasted a bit of vinegar. I found the sauce similar in taste to Cholula or Tabasco, but without being as spicy as those sauces. These were good, but I probably would not order these again in favor of trying something new.
  • Tortilla Española – This was quite delicious but not the best example I’ve had. The Spanish tortilla doesn’t have to be freshly made, but it is so delicious when it is. This tasted like it was made ahead of time (I’m not faulting them on that at all). It’s quite a simple dish and very common in Spain so my primary impetus for ordering this was pure nostalgia. You can’t go wrong if you order this, but next time I would also replace this with something else on the menu that I haven’t tried.
  • Pulpo – This octopus dish was the best dish we had. The octopus was very fresh, the texture was tender, and the flavor absolutely delicious. It was perfectly salted and seasons with a dusting of paprika and served on a bed of potato slices that seamed to have been baked in the oven. I would highly recommend this dish and will probably order it in every future trip to this restaurant.

Now with the food out of the way, we really enjoyed our time at this restaurant. The outdoor patio was very quiet on a small town street, the weather was pleasant, and the luckily we were the only patrons. This being a tapas bar, I imagine it is far busier during evenings and especially while sporting events are being televised. Although being the only patrons is ideal for us and will certainly be looking to coming around the same time of day again.

We then went to Downtown Ojai to walk off the meal. I love the artsy feel of this town with the mission style architecture of the buildings in the downtown area. We explored a few shops looking for that one piece that just has to come home with us. We walked past a store with many Tiffany style lamps but we figures we’d wait until we find one of those Turkish lamps. A couple of storefronts down and lo and behold we find ourselves looking into a store with Turkish lamps and rugs. We ended up walking out with a beautiful blue swan neck Turkish lamp.

I don’t have an in depth description of the town or places to see as we were only briefly there before we had to head back home and do some work before the end of the weekend.

365: Day 161 – Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta in Ojai

365: Day 161 – Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta in Ojai

We wanted to do something out of our normal routine so we headed up to Ojai for an early dinner. It’s a nice drive out of the city about 65 miles north. The weather was pleasantly warm and we were of course on the lookout for restaurant with mainly outdoor seating. We were initially headed to a tapas restaurant but it was closed when we arrived despite them being listed as open on Google Maps.

I felt a little guilty driving through Ojai without my mom because I know she loves this place, but I did not go to Suzanne’s—a lovely restaurant to have one of those fancy 3 hour dinners. Today, it was just something spontaneous and casual. So the alternate we found was this pizza and pasta place on the town’s outskirts. We saw quite a bit of cars when we arrived and were a little concerned but this restaurant only has outdoor seating and all the tables were quite far apart. So we felt quite comfortable being able to remove out masks while we ate.

The Garlic Bread was good but nothing particularly remarkable about it. The Sautéed Zucchini in Garlic Butter was very delicious and the Zucchini’s were very picked from this restaurant’s garden that same day. It’s hard to ask for veggies fresher than that. The Shrimp Scampi was also very delicious with more of our that fresh zucchini a shrimp that was quite fresh as well. This dish was also prepared in that garlic butter and was quite saucy at the bottom of the dish. At this restaurant you can build your own pizza but I decided order the Boccali’s Combo Pizza which was loaded with pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, olive, bell pepper, and red onion. This was probably my favorite of all the items we ordered, The only thing I would change is to make the pepperoni be cooked longer. I tend love the charred flavor of ingredients, but I do realize it’s not the healthiest thing to eat—we have to watch out for those carcinogens.

I would highly recommend this place if you’re looking to make a quick trip outside of Los Angeles. I hope to bring my mom to this casual spot sometime soon and perhaps Suzanne’s when the weather is colder.

365: Day 72 – Basilic

365: Day 72 – Basilic

Our reservation was 5:30 pm, the restaurant’s opening time and we were eagerly awaiting on a bench outside the restaurant. I love walking into a restaurant as soon as it opens because you get to see all the empty tables set and ready to welcome guests and it feels a little exclusive when you are seated before anyone else is. The restaurant has only eight or nine tables so it feels very cozy and intimate. You can fantasize about being transported to your favorite French or Swiss town, or you can be happy and content that you are on this charming little island in Orang County called Balboa Island.

The restaurant opened punctually and all the staff seemed friendly and polite from the start. The table was set beautifully and I loved the napkin rings with their little fork, knife, and spoon. We were brought our menus and without skipping a beat asked what we would like to drink and soon thereafter brought out the amuse bouche and with that began this wonderful French-Swiss culinary adventure.

Amuse bouche – Feta Toast: The wonderfully crispy toast with the feta and briny olives had me salivating while hearing the crunchiness as I bit into it. Like every good amuse bouche, it was a tease and had me wishing for more.

Soup Du JourMushroom asparagus: The soup of the day was a creamy mushroom asparagus with a very well-balanced flavor. Nothing was overpowering and it was not as salty as a lot of creamy soups out there.

Soupe A L’Oignon Swiss onion soup gratinée with gruyère toast: The onion soup was one of the best I’ve had. It was also great on the salt and the bread in the soup gave it a great texture.

Sea Bass: This was the fish of the day and it was cooked perfectly where the fish feels almost buttery and the creamy sauce was light enough to not overpower the fish.

Steak Au PoivreGrilled New York steak, black peppercorn sauce and baby vegetables: The steak had a goo flavor on its own, but the black peppercorn sauce is what really brought this dish to life. The vegetables were very flavorful as well. Often these are relegated to just being some extra fluff next to a juicy piece of meat, but this was not the case here: these veggies were great. The mashed potatoes on the dish were good, but I could have used about another bowl or two of these: they were quite good, and I liked that they seemed to have been squeezed out of some nozzle and topped with basil flowers.

Coq Au Vinmarinated, braised chicken, egg noodle and burgundy wine: I heard the name of this dish once when I was a child and I felt so fancy telling anyone about it. In the many years since I had a few versions of this dish and even cooked it myself (thank to Julia Child). I am therefore quite inclined to opt for this dish when I see it on the menu and this particular on was no disappointment and quite interesting. I’ve never had it with egg noodles before and it ended up being a very delicious addition. This too was also decorated with basil flowers.

Crème brûlée – This is a pretty standard dessert and one of my favorites. No matter how many times I’ve had it, I still get a tremendous joy out of breaking through that burnt sugar and digging out a spoonful of delicious creaminess with some bits of broken sugar and brining it to my mouth. This dessert here did not disappoint, but there was nothing unique or remarkable about this particular version. It was pretty standard and I am grateful for that.

Meringue with strawberry ice cream – This dessert was definitely more unique and I would highly recommend it! Given the choice between the two, I would still choose my beloved crème brûlée over this, no matter how standard and boring.

Once you’re done with your lovely meal, just enjoy the atmosphere of this cozy little restaurant and walk off your meal through the cute streets of this lovely Balboa Island.

Daikokuya – Los Angeles

Daikokuya – Los Angeles

If you’ve walked along first street in Little Tokyo, your attention has undoubtedly been drawn to the yellow awning of this Ramen joint by either the delicious smell emanating from it or the cluster of people waiting for their turn to indulge in this restaurant.

img_5315I am admittedly addicted to tonkotsu ramen and I tend to like comparing ramen by their plain ramen with no added spice. At Daikokuya I usually have the Daikoku ramen and request the richer kotteri flavor. It is a broth rich in flavor and creamy in texture.

img_5316No self-respecting ramen restaurant should leave gyoza off the menu. I would advise you not to miss the gyoza here because they are among the best I’ve tasted. However, I would wait a minute or two before biting into them because they are served extremely hot. So take your time, find your favorite angle, and take your photograph!

My final comment will be to order yourself a sake or a refreshing can of Calpico to wash down all the deliciousness!

Le Petit Paris – Los Angeles

Le Petit Paris – Los Angeles

Step into a little bit France in Downtown Los Angeles and take in this beautiful multi-level space complete with a lovely grand staircase. This restaurant feels decidedly French without trying to hard…just ignore the Eiffel Tower motifs. Despite the huge dining space,  there is enough intimacy at each table appropriate for a date.   velvet chairs at these small round tables–reminiscent of a lounge or café in Paris–and adorned with a single long-stemmed rose lit by candle light. The music was refreshingly not Edith Piaf–I love her, but it would have been too cliché.  I wasn’t paying attention to the music at first, to be honest, but then I heard the wonderful piano melody from Yann Tiersen’s Comptine d`un autre ete – l`apres-midi. It pulled me away from the food and conversation and then I noticed the DJ responsible for the music selection. My mind was transported and just wanted to sit there and people watch.

If the music and space prove insufficient to transport you to France, I assure you the food will. Excited for the meal, I started with their Lanson Black Label N/V Champagne as they brought the amuse bouche. The next item were wild Burgundy escargots dressed in garlic, parsley, and butter. The texture of the escargot was great and the butter mixture was pure heaven. I couldn’t help but use the bread to soak up the remaining butter after all the escargots were gone. These were beautifully paired with a 2015 Domaine des Brousses Sancerre

With no more bread or buttery deliciousness left to soak up, it was time to order a a 2013 Jean Royer, Chateauneuf du Pape–a nice wine in expectation of what was to come. We ordered the roasted beef prime rib and bone marrow medium because my friend won’t indulge in my rare preferences; however, our prime rib was brought tableside to be sliced and it was delightfully undercooked (so French!). Our server took my friend’s portion back to the kitchen to cook it just a little longer, so it worked out for both of us. To accompany the meet, three sauces were brought out: pepper, bearnaise, and blue cheese. All were good, but I will always have a preference for anything pepper and this sauce was pure deliciousness. Potato gratin and green beans were served as sides.

Desserts were the molten chocolate lava cake with salted butter caramel sauce and the crepes Suzzette flambéd with Grand-Marnier. Both desserts were delicious, but if I had to pick one I would go for the flambéed crepes as they had the more unique and delicious flavor. The only drawback is that they were the least photogenic of the two.

After concluding our dinner we were invited to explore the upstairs areas. These areas are utilized for busier weekend nights and are also available for special occasions. All in all, this was a wonderful dinner experience and I hope to return soon to see what their menus and ambience are like during the earlier hours of the day. For now, I know were to find a little bit of Paris next time I suffer from a small case of wanderlust.

Sora – Los Angeles

Sora – Los Angeles

A wonderful sushi-dining experience on the sixty-ninth floor of Los Angeles’ newest and tallest building offering spectacular views of the City of Angels. This restaurant is part of the Intercontinental Hotel portion of this LA tower that opened in late June 2017. Dining spaces include the Sushi bar; along the sushi conveyor belt with views of the city; and more intimate semi-private booths that also offer great views. Unless you’re on a romantic special occasion, I would recommend sitting at the conveyor belt since you are facing the windows: it offers the best views of the city.

The sushi was quite delicious and I don’t think anyone can come away disappointed–unless you’re trying to be a snob and compare this with authentic sushi bars in Japan or other highly reputable ones. If you compare it to other conveyor belt sushi places, I think you’ll find this to be among the best.  The prices are comparable to other sushi places in the area and you’ll find you won’t be breaking the bank. The staff was very friendly and went out of their way to make our night special as we were celebrating two birthdays: they brought us each a glass of champagne to celebrate.

For the best experience, I would recommend going about forty-five to thirty minutes before sunset to enjoy the view of the city as it transitions from day to shimmering night. To go to the restaurant you’ll have to go to the Intercontinental Hotel’s lobby on the seventieth floor and from there descend to the sixty-ninth floor. Reservations are available on OpenTable.

Of other note, there are lovely private dining rooms available in case you’re entertaining the idea of hosting larger groups (see photos below). I haven’t the occasion in mind yet, but I’m tempted to make one in order to wow a few people with a private dining experience framed by spectacular views.

Tim Ho Wan – Hong Kong

Tim Ho Wan – Hong Kong

I’ve been told that there is no Dim Sum like that of Hong Kong, and that among the best here is the Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan. It has now expanded to multiple locations within the city and is opening locations around the world. In 2009, chef Mak Kwai-pui (former chef at three-Michelin-starred Lung King Heen) opened its first location in Mongkok. This location in 2013 was moved to Olympian City which is where indulged in this wonderful meal. If you’re price-conscious, don’t let the Michelin-star scare you away as it is billed as the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world.

My experience of dim sum prior to Hong Kong has been limited to Los Angeles, but given the great dim sum found in Los Angeles I consider myself qualified enough to weigh in on the quality of this type of food. Tim Ho Wan is undoubtedly the best I’ve had anywhere and I hope they open a location soon in my hometown. There was nothing we ordered that I wouldn’t have again, and my favorites were the Baked Bun with BBQ Pork (do not miss this one), vermicelli roll stuffed with BBQ pork, and the glutinous rice dumpling.

The ambiance of this restaurant is casual and relaxed. This is the place I would want to go to first after getting off a sixteen-hour flight from Los Angeles. However, no reservations are accepted here, so you will have to put your name down and wait for about 20-30 minutes to be seated (depending on party size). I had trouble knowing when I was being called due to the language barrier, but you’ll be happy to know the menus are available in English.  Check off the items you want to order and flag down a waiter: we spend about 10 minutes waiting for a waiter to approach us before we realized how the locals were doing it.