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Friday, July 31, 2009

Tasty Garden

288 W Valley Blvd
Ste 110

Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 300-8262

Tasty Garden was a pleasant reminder of why I resorted to eating fast food while vacationing in Beijing. Why would you name a place Tasty Garden, it just builds expectations that obvious will never be met. If I opened a restaurant with Tasty Garden's menu, I would call it dog shit. At least that way, you've guaranteed my satisfaction and it can only go upward from there. This is easily the worst of my Cheap Eats journey thus far. I'm just appeased by the meal's conclusion.

$2.95 Fresh Cantaloupe Juice (6)
This is the first time I've tried cantaloupe juice and found quite enjoyable. The only downside was it seemed the juice was sitting out for a while from the taste of the fibers in the drink.

$5.50 Marinated Duck Tongue and Peanut (3)
The South has pig feet, Mexican have cabeza, and the Chinese have the remaining 90 strange animal body parts including duck tongue. The weirdest part was that duck tongue actually has a bone, so you spit it out similar to a chicken wing, the only difference is that I've been eating chicken wings since I was 12. The sauce can only be described as musky and somber and do nothing but create gelatinous peanuts.

$7.50 Preserved Meat with Rice in Hot Pot (0)
A combination of preserved chicken, pork, and duck served over steaming hot rice. This is up..down there among the worst dishes I have ever had. I even had to keep on eating it as I couldn't believe I was being charged for something that bad. Albeit, I was gravely cautioned by the waitress that it was an acquired taste.

$9.25 Baked Seafood Rice with Portuguese Sauce (7)
If it wasn't for this dish, we would have had to make a run for the border on the way home. The sauce was harmonious blend of curry and coconut milk incorporating shrimp and fresh fish. And in regards to its origin, it's actually from Macau, China that was a Portuguese colony until 1999.

Needless to say, I won't be returning any lifetime soon.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Umami Burger

850 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 931-3000

Umami Burger, named after the umami seasoning indigenous to Northern Japan. The restaurant actually imports their umami directly from Japan on a weekly basis and they sprinkle a little on each burger similar to the use of Fleur de Sel in French cuisine. Yep.

$4 Pickles (4)
From top to bottom, hearts of palm, haricots vert, tomato, peaches, cucumber (traditional American pickle), relish.
I wouldn't call it a bad dish, just different. I'm not sure how appetizing it is to start off a meal with a bunch of pickles. The best ones were the peaches and the relish. The others were unambitious.

$9 Umami Burger (10)
Their signature burger topped with oven dried tomatoes, a parmesan crisp, caramelized onions, and shitake mushrooms. The burger was so juicy and tender. Compounded with the attention to detail of the other components, it was truly an amazing creation. It blows 8 oz. away and probably slightly edges out a rare burger at 25 degrees. The juice even oozes into the bun, which some people might find unappealing, I'm not one of those people. And they're right, as I look at the picture, I do crave it.

$3 Side of Fries (2)
How can a place get the burger so right and fail so bad on the fries. It was only good if the comparison is local high school cafeterias. A fry should have an extra crisp texture and these fries were too wide to achieve that desired texture. Plus I'm not a fan of the log cabin replica presentation, I feel like I'm getting ripped off. Most things are better homemade, ketchup is not one of them. I made it at home once and had the same experience, it's too watery. Unfortunately, Heinz has a monopoly on good ketchup.

$1 Side of Sauces (5)
(Clockwise, starting at 1 o'clock) new diablo sauce, thousand island dressing, dijon mustard, roasted garlic aioli, relish
All are homemade except for the dijon. All around nothing special. If I had to choose one, I would go with the aioli.

$4 Peanut Butter Cakewich (7)
The dessert is sourced from Cake Monkey a bakery in Burbank with no storefront as of yet. A yellow cake sandwich with marshmallow & peanut butter cream dipped in milk chocolate. Hard to go wrong with peanut butter, but it didn't taste that much fresher than a store bought ding dong.

I wish them well and continued success with the planned opening of their second location. Because the truth is
I don't plan on going back to try the other burgers, I don't want to ruin the memory I have of this experience. I just can't take that chance.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Park

1400 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles
, CA 90026
(213) 482-9209

In its quest to become the next Silver Lake, Echo Park's dining scene is evolving and taking a no frills approach to gastronomy. The Park opened in 2008 fetching some surprising, yet needed attention to the area. The L.A. Times reported that it only cost $100K to open, that being on the very low end to start a restaurant with chef Joshua Siegel and manager Ruth Kim doing most of the opening renovations. As I contemplated appetizers and surveying the dining room, I couldn’t help but wonder where the other $80,000 went. The facade had a single coat of paint, the furniture was old, and the interior walls were merely stenciled with trees. They couldn’t even invest in pictures for the frames. At the end of the day, I could care less as long as the food is good, but you can easily see why ‘taco’ trucks are sprouting throughout the country.

$4 Sautéed Sugar Snap Peas (6)
I’ve been eating grilled vegetables at home since screening Food Inc., so I can appreciate a simple sauté with a finish of salt and lemon. Butter was used instead of olive oil; I do find butter tends to mask the flavor of fresh vegatables and I’m still getting accustomed to snap peas. Even cooked; it has a raw taste that I find unappealing.

$8 Fried Green Tomatoes (4)
Sitting on a bed of greens, it comes topped o
ff with cheddar gougères and Creole buttermilk dressing. To my recollection, this is the first time I’ve tried the Southern dish and I’ll wait until I visit the South to try it again. These were made in the traditional fashion with cornmeal sin egg or alternatively a flour coating. The dish was slightly bland and with the fancy ranch dressing, it reminded me of the fried zucchini fries at Carl’s Jr.

$12 Grilled Polenta & Asparagus (3)
tomato sauce, gorgonzola cream, & crispy onion garnish
With a menu that caters to vegans and future heart attack patients alike, we decided to give a veggie option a chance. I’m still having trouble coming to terms that polenta can be the central focus of a dish. Had they switch the amount of polenta with the amount of gorgonzola cream on the plate, this may have hit the spot.

$15 Albacore “Abruzzi” pan-seared Albacore (2)
white wine-rosemary sauce, warm orecchiette salad, with pine nuts, tomato & arugula
I expected more out of this dish; it came lightly seared and the sauce did not have a definitive flavor. I wanted a strong sear on the tuna, this resembled an almost poached preparation and I hate poached meats. The orecchiette salad was ok, slightly better than what you could toss together at home.

Based on the dishes I had, I’m still baffled at how LA Times gave it a 1.5 stars, maybe price was the only consideration given. In defense of the restaurant, the chicken and the hanger steak came recommended, and I made the ill-advised decision to pass on the two.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Various locations
Downtown to the Westside
(310) 634-2999
The recent surge in non-traditional 'taco' trucks has brought forth Korean tacos, Kung Pao burritos, and even sugar cookie ice cream sandwiches Dave Chappelle would be proud of. Add fresh sushi balls to the amalgamation. Fishlips is betting that their basic versions of the traditional Kyoto style sushi call temari, ornamental ball sushi”, will be their claim to fame.

I caught the truck on a Friday morning outside PAFCO in Vernon. I've seen pictures and read reviews, so I wasn't skeptical about ordering sushi from this 'roach coach' . The truck was fairly clean, as clean as a truck can be. With about 4 or so people in from of me, it took 15 minutes to get my order. I was even offered a piece of spicy salmon roll while I waited.

$7 Small Spicy Set (7)
A four piece spicy tuna roll with five of his addorable temari friends. The morning's picks were tuna, eel, yellowtail, salmon, and shrimp. The taste isn't going to mesmerize you; it's basic sushi at an affordable price. What did surprise me was the sweetness of the rice, more so than the standard, and so much fresher than what is piling up at Ralphs as we speak. I was a fan of the sweetness and definitely the freshness.

Because it's shaped into a ball, they are hoping you won't notice the smaller fish portion. I did, but the entire set portion is appropriate.

Fishlips has some staying power. I'm not sure temari is their competitive advantage, but fish and, more particularly, rice that is fresher than a supermarket at comparable cost gives them an edge. The cool looking truck doesn't hurt either.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cafe Brasil

10831 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 837-8957

Café Brasil is tucked away in a corner of Culver City and embraces the calm atmosphere ideal for a relaxing Sunday meal. And for $15 a person, it’s an apt alternative to booking a flight to Ipanema.

I came hungry and while waiting for my food, I decided to bite on the complimentary blend of marinated carrots and peppers. I had trouble reaching the carrots with the tongs and settled on mostly peppers. Bad idea, as an accent to the steaks, it adds a welcomed kick. As an amuse bouche, it will have you walking down Venice Boulevard trying to return your heart rate back to normal. Looking back, I wish I would have put more effort into reaching for the carrots.

$3 Fried Yuca (6)
$4.50 Fried Polenta (3)
These arrived on the same plate and at first sight are difficult to distinguish; the yucca is up top and the domino shaped polenta towards the bottom. I’ve had yuca fries before and these were a decent example, crisp on the outside and that earthy, rustic familiar center. The polenta on the other hand, was a bit limp and lacked a sharp flavor, more on the mushy side.
Both were sprinkled with parmesan and cilantro.

$2 Empadinha (2)
We had the option of a chicken or heart of palm filling in the petite 'pot pie', we went with the road less traveled and we found out why it’s less traveled. In regards to fat, it was a 10, but the flavor was closer to a zero. Every component was bland; it tasted of something only worthy of a Costco cocktail party.

$3 Pasteis (3)
A Brazilain style empanada filled with a soft white cheese and accompanied by a pico de gallo style salsa. It had a very simple flavor that would have benefited from some seasonings or a sauce.
Just a crispy exterior, cheese, and salsa, that's it.

$16 Churrasco: Choice Picahna Steak , side of plantains , rice, and black bean soup (7)
A respectable steak for the price, lightly seasoned and fairly tender for a cheap eats.
Most places I’ve tried, do plantains well. The breaking point is the freshness, with likes of Versailles preparing theirs a week in advance and left to sit. Here, they come hot, profoundly sweet, and perhaps the best dish of the meal. The black bean soup was homemade, but the lack of seasoning theme was consistent with this preparation. The portion is enough to share and it was.

I enjoyed my meal at Café Brasil, even despite some of its shortcomings. My one piece of advice would be to order only what they prepare to order. Adeus para agora!