Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cafe Hiro - Cypress, CA

CaféHiro sits in an unassuming little strip mall in the city of Cypress.  It is conveniently located next to the Hyatt House for those lucky enough to be staying there, as this little gem surely shouldn’t be missed.

Hiro Ohiwa does have his culinary chops as he did previously work for Nobu Matsuhisa.

BBQ Beef Salad
The BB Beef Salad contains perfectly grilled medium rare short ribs atop a mix of mesclun greens adorned with a sesame miso dressing.  The salad is not overdressed and the peppery kick and freshness of the greens come to life.  Somewhat oddly, there is a dollop of potato salad in the middle of the plate.  This is a textural contrast as the creaminess of the potato salad compliments the crunch of the leafy greens.

Minestrone Soup
Dinner came with a cup of minestrone soup with a fried basil leaf.  Something you wouldn’t expect to find in a Japanese restaurant.  The soup is simple with a vegetable stock and large pieces of firm vegetables.
Uni Spaghetti
The Sea Urchin “Uni” Spaghetti is their signature dish.  A generous portion of perfectly al dente noodles is mixed with fresh, briny sea urchin along with strips of seaweed and a small mountain of freshly grated wasabi.  Once all ingredients are incorporated, a medly of flavors burst in your mouth.  There is the sweet, briny sea urchin, and the slight kick from the wasabi.

Beef Tongue

The Beef Tongue was a special for the night and was braised perfectly.  It fell apart with the nudge of your fork.  If you’ve never had beef tongue before it has a slightly more intense flavor without being gamey.  The sauce was so good it was almost worth licking the plate.

Seared Ahi
The Seared Ahi with Eggplant was a special.  There large pieces of sesame seared ahi sat atop a bed of baby bok choy and intermingled with Japanese eggplant.  The ahi was cooked perfectly but there were a few pieces of sinew in the fish.  Other than that a clear winner.

Bread Pudding
The bread pudding was both dense and light at the same time.  It sat in a large pool or slightly burnt caramel sauce, which added a unique bitterness to the dish.  The bread pudding was the way I like it, rather soggy but full of flavor.

Pot de Creme Au Chocolat
The Pot De Crème au Chocolat is a thick chocolate type pudding but more dense.  If you are a chocoholic this is a must.  This dessert was not too sweet as the slight bitterness of the chocolate was allowed to shine through.

Green Tea Blanc Manger
The Green Tea Blanc-Manger is their signature dessert and upon first glance looks very intimidating.  The dark green pool of liquid looks menacing like the home of Monster from the Black Lagoon, but is nothing but.  At the bottom of the cup are azuki beans with a green tea custard on top.  The glistening pool of a macha type reduction sits on top.  The dessert is very light, with just a faint hint of sweetness and bitterness.  The azuki beans do add a bit of a textural contrast.

Café Hiro a well-kept secret for many, but those who come here are likely to return again, and again, and again…

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sup Noodle Bar - Buena Park, CA

Sup Noodle Bar recently opened in the city of Buena Park.  Unlike most Vietnamese Pho places, this one is different.  A little more upscale with some unusual menu items for a Vietnamese restaurant such as truffle fries, crab cakes, Brussels sprouts and crème brulee.  They also have Northern and Southern style pho.  Before coming here, I didn’t know such a thing existed.

Open Kitchen

The kitchen is also run a little different than most pho places.  There is an open kitchen, and orders are called like a fine dining establishment.

Chef and owner Viet Nguyen has had some tutelage from Gordon Ramsay, but how much and to what extent is unknown to me.  This helps to explain the precision in which the kitchen is run.

The menu is diverse and eclectic, but does focus on the pho.

House Truffle Fries
The House Truffle Fries ($6) comes with many accolades.  Sprinkled with crushed garlic, truffle oil, parmesan cheese and tarragon the fries came out extra crispy as ordered.  The garlic was both pungent and added a little kick, but the parmesan and tarragon were rather miniscule and couldn’t be identified.  Although nice and crispy, I would pass on them the next time.

Bacon Brussels Sprouts
The Bacon Brussels Sprouts ($6) are sauteed small and tender little “baby cabbages” with crispy bits of maple pork belly topped with a souse vide egg.  There is a bit of funk to the dish with the addition of fish sauce.  I was expecting the yolk from the egg to be runny and add an extra layer of sauce, but sadly this was not to be.  This is a very good dish and I wouldn’t hesitate to order this again.

Sous Vide Egg
The Sous Vide Egg with Pho Broth ($2.50) again is a little bit of a disappointment since I was expecting the yolk to run out like a little river of lava.  At 142° the egg white will remain firm but the yolk will remain runny.  Obviously their eggs are cooked at a slightly higher temperature.  Although the egg is nice and velvety the lack of a runny yolk doesn’t meet expectations.

Pho Cu'u

The Pho Cu’u (Lamb Pho $10) comes with the familiar thin, al dente rice noodles.  There are pieces of julienned ginger to add a bit of spice.  The broth is very flavorful with a deep, meaty flavor.  The soup comes with 4 oz. of lamb shoulder.

Lamb Shoulder
An additional order of 4 oz. of lamb shoulder is $4.

Bone Marrow

Ad order of bone marrow ($.50) comes with green onions and adds some flavor and extra fat and richness to the soup.

Pho Bac with Shaken Filet
Wider Northern Style Noodles
The Pho Bac with Shaken Filet ($10) pairs seared filet mignon and melted bone marrow with a deep, beefy pho soup.  This is a northern style pho, so the noodles are wider and softer than the traditional noodles.

Australian Wagyu Style Top Eye Round
An order of Australian Wagyu Style Top Eye Round ($3) is very lean and has a deep beefy, flavor.

Thin Sliced Chuck
The kitchen sent out a complimentary sample of Thin Sliced Chuck ($4) which is rather fatty, and therefore more flavorful.  After all, fat means flavor.

Green Tea Creme Brulee
The kitchen also sent out a complimentary large Green Tea Crème Brulee ($5), which is just heavenly.  This version is not too sweet, and the green tea adds just a hint of bitterness.  What made it even better was that the crème brulee was creamy rather than firm and eggy.  This was so good we decided to order another large one.

Although the prices at Sup Noodle Bar are just a bit higher than normal, for the quality of ingredients, friendliness of staff and food quality and execution, the minimally higher prices are well worth it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Courtyard Cypress Anaheim/Orange County

The Courtyard Cypress Anaheim/Orange County is set among many large corporate offices in the unassuming city of Cypress.

Upon entering the hotel, the front desk is located to the right.  Check-in was friendly and efficient.  My Ritz Carlton Platinum status was recognized.  I was offered 400 bonus points as my amenity, as well as choosing one item from The Market.

Goodie Bag
In addition, I was also presented with a personalized goodie bag that contained Kettle Corn, a granola bar, a Kit Kat and a bottle of water.

Upon entering the room, the bathroom is located to the right.  The bathroom has a spring loaded door that can be somewhat dangerous if not paying attention.

There is a single sink with an enormous amount of counter space.

Shower/Tub Combo
There is a shower/bath combo with lackluster water pressure.  The faucet also had a pretty steady drip, so hundreds of gallons of water were being wasted daily.  I would think that the housekeeping staff would notice this, and inform the maintenance staff in order to correct this.

Coffee Maker
After exiting the bathroom there is a small area for the coffee maker and mini refrigerator.

The bed is comfortable, but there is limited walking space on the side of the bed closest to the wall.

Sofa Bed
There is a large sofa bed that takes up a substantial amount of space.

There is the usual split level desk present in the overwhelming majority of Marriott properties.  Although the desk doubles the size of the desk since you need to pull the lower part of the desk out in order to utilize a computer.  The problem with this is that is separates you from the main part of the desk, and unless you have the wingspan of a condor, it makes the workspace somewhat difficult.

The TV is located in such a way that it makes it very difficult to utilize with the remote.  Since the sensor is on the lower left corner, when pivoting the TV towards the bed you can’t change channels without playing a game of Twister.

The staff is friendly and warm, and the hotel is located close to many great restaurants with easy freeway access.

This is a solid choice if in the area.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

2014 Ramen Yokocho Festival

The 2014 Ramen Yokocho Festival was held on the infield at Santa Anita Park on March 29-30, 2014.  After an estimated crowd of over 30,000 people for the 2013 festival held at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center, in which there were massive lines to buy tickets and people were being turned away due to the sheer number of people trying to get their ramen on.

Although I did not go to last year’s event, having a bigger venue seemed like a good start.

Though last year’s event did not have an admission fee, this year’s event costs $5 per person, along with $4 parking.

Ticket Line

Upon paying your entrance fee, you had to stand in line to buy tickets for ramen, drinks and ice cream (though oddly they were sold out before the doors even opened?).

With ramen tickets in hand, you then had to wait in line for the ramen of your choice.

There were 14 vendors from California, Las Vegas and Japan.  Since I had eaten at some of the places already, and figured getting ramen in the Los Angeles and Las Vegas venues would be easy enough if I wanted it, I set my sights on trying the ramen from the four vendors from Japan, Horaiya, Mattou Seimen, Tatsunoya, and Tsujita Tokyo.

Mattou Seimen
Iron Chef Kenichi
The ramen from Mattou Siemen was a Toyama Black Mapo Ramen.  Iron Chef Kenichi was involved in this dish somehow.

Mattou Seimen
The ramen was a fiery red was a large dollop of chili sauce bubbling like molten lava.  The dish contained baby bok choy, bean sprouts, ground pork, and wood ear mushrooms.  Ironically, the ramen was rather bland and lacking in heat despite its looks. 

The ramen from Tatsunoya, contained unctuous fatty pieces of pork belly, straight noodles and a large piece of seaweed floating like a life raft atop an ocean of porky goodness.  The soup is rich in umami flavor with the fat enveloping your tongue and lips like a warm kiss.

Tsujita Yokyo
The ramen from Tsujita Tokyo was a crowd favorite.  It has been voted the best ramen in Los Angeles.  A generous portion of green onions and wood ear mushrooms adorn the milky broth.  There are several fatty pieces of pork belly to tease your taste buds.  This ramen also contains straight noodles.  Although good, the ramen just seemed to be lacking in something.

The ramen from Horaiya is miso based and contains wontons, something unusual in ramen.  The familiar brown hue from miso encircles the familiar curly noodles that most people are accustomed to.  The curly noodles seem to have more “bite” to them compared to the purveyors of straight noodles.  The ramen is simply adorned with green onions.  There was only one wonton in the soup, but it was tender and juicy.

The ramen from Hiromaru (Las Vegas) is milky white and contains green onions and wood ear mushrooms.  The broth is light and has the right amount of salinity.

Tsujita Line
Although this was a bigger venue compared to last year, lines quickly formed both to buy tickets and to obtain ramen from the more popular stands.  The admission line was over an hour by the time I left, and the line for Tsujita Tokyo was probably close to two hours long.

Ramen Mob
I’m not sure how things could be improved without giving it some thought, but there has to be a better way to run this festival.  I know people were getting agitated with the growing lines, plus it was getting hot as the day wore on.

Not sure if I would go next year, but I’m glad I was able to sample different types and styles of ramen.  For what it’s worth, Tatsunoya was my favorite by far.

Courtyard Los Angeles Pasadena/Monrovia

The CourtyardPasadena/Monrovia is closely situated to Santa Anita Park and the Los Angeles CountyArboretum (made famous by the opening scenes in Fantasy Island).  Pasadena is located about 10-15 minutes away depending on traffic.

The hotel is currently undergoing renovations which should be completed by the end of the year.

Upon entering the hotel, the lobby is very small with only a couple of seats near the elevators.

Front Desk

The front desk is to the right.  Check-in was quick, friendly and efficient.  My Ritz Carlton status was recognized, and I was given bonus points as well as an item in The Market Place.

I was also informed that breakfast would be provided for all guests due to the renovations.  I thought this was a great gesture on the hotels part for any inconvenience that this may have caused any guests.

I was given a choice of being in a renovated room with the only drawback being that I would have a view of the freeway rather than the mountains.  Since I was curious to see how a renovated room looked, I went with that option.

Upon entering the room, the bathroom is located to the right.

Bathroom Sink
Bathroom Sink
There is a single sink with fairly limited counter space.

Shower/Tub Combo
There is a shower/tub combo with good water temperature but rather lackluster water pressure.

The bed is soft and comfortable, with limited walking space on the side closest to the wall.  The nightstands are rather small and can barely fit a phone, a bottle of water and glasses or reading material.

Sofa Bed
The large sofa bed takes up almost half the room.  Being primarily a business hotel, I’m not sure how often the sofa bed actually gets used.  It would be nice if the sofa was smaller to make the appearance of the room seems bigger.

There is a small split level desk, of which I am not a fan.

Coffee Maker
There is also a coffee maker and ice bucket.

There is a mini refrigerator in the room.

The free breakfast provided was rather limited and included scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes, oatmeal, fruit, and breads and pastries.  However I do think it’s a great gesture on the hotels part to offer a free breakfast as a consolation prize for the renovations.  Fortunately, I did not hear any construction noise during my stay.

Although the Monrovia area is not a “destination” city, if you need to be in the surrounding area, the hotel is clean and comfortable, and offers free parking.