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California: The Hungry Cat

One of the benefits of knowing locals where you travel is that first hand recommendations on places to eat.  The Hungry Cat was one of them, a restaurant recommended by my friend’s cousin J.  There are a few different locations of Hungry Cat but we went to the Santa Monica locale.  Known for the seafood and located right across from the beach and ocean, the vibe was coastal casual, almost a homey feel.  We started the night with a serving of peel and eat shrimp, jumbo-sized and sweet tasting.  I ordered the braised mussels made with a spicy broth as opposed to the traditional white wine version – these were just as delicious!  Although an east coast thing, the lobster roll looked yummy stuffed in a toasted challah bun.  Desserts were just as great but the seafood is why you want to come and eat here.

Cocktails to start the night.

Cocktails to start the night.

Appetizer - peel n' eat shrimp.

Appetizer – peel n’ eat shrimp.

Braised mussels with fried potatoes.

Braised mussels with fried potatoes.

Pork tenderloin.

Pork tenderloin.

Maine lobster roll with fried potatoes.

Maine lobster roll with fried potatoes.

Hungry cat's version of cheese cake.

Hungry cat’s version of cheese cake – panna cotta style.

Hungry cat's bread pudding with caramel, roasted peanuts and ice cream.

Hungry cat’s bread pudding with caramel, roasted peanuts and ice cream.

The Hungry Cat - Santa Monica.

The Hungry Cat – Santa Monica.

Inside the Hungry Cat.

Inside the Hungry Cat.

California: Taco Loco

Of course, going to California means tacos!  Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway in search of dinner, we found a total dive.  Seriously, it was attached to a parking garage and because the space is so small its divided into two separate storefronts, one on the right side of the garage entrance (photographed below) and one on the left side.  The menu, posted on a white board hanging on the door as you walk in.  And pure kitsch on the inside.  Being located in Laguna and on the PCH, its all about seafood.  I decided to order blackened swordfish and blackened mahi mahi tacos.  With the fresh guacamole, spicy salsa, cilantro and the grilled fish, the tacos were delicious with strong, bright flavours. And at $5 each, a pretty good deal too!

The tiny Taco Loco joint.

The tiny Taco Loco joint.

The kitchy interior.

The kitchy interior.

Thursday's menu.

Thursday’s menu.

My order of blackened swordfish taco and blackened mahi mahi taco.

My order of blackened swordfish taco and blackened mahi mahi taco.

Fresh guacamole, spicy homemade salsa and cilantro topped tacos.

Fresh guacamole, spicy homemade salsa and cilantro topped tacos.

DSC_5851

California: Pizzeria Luigi

Next stop on my Southern California trip was a pizza joint that I saw a couple of years ago on an episode of Triple D (Diners, Drive-ins and Dives).  Sad I know, that it took me so long to finally visit the west coast but alas, I made it.  And boy was it worth it.  Pizzeria Luigi is not like the think crust pizza franchises I’m used to – and don’t get me wrong, everyone now and then I like a good Pizza Nova slice but the pizza at Pizzeria Luigi is tasty!  Typical flavours are available but the unique topping combinations and thin crust really make this pizza for me.  Normally, I hate pineapple on pizza (I can’t get my head around the sweetness of the pineapple mixed in with the salty pepperoni) but I’m glad I took the server’s recommendation to get the Spicy Kevo.  The hot jalapenos cut through the sweetness of the pineapple and combining it with mild taste of ricotta and salty pepperoni – it was delicious. Definitely worth the stop.

Pizza window.

Pizza window.

You know Guy Fieri's been here.

You know Guy Fieri’s been here.

Spicy Kevo and Capone slices.

Spicy Kevo and Capone slices.

My favourite slice, the Capone!

My two favourite flavours.

BBQ chicken and Leonardo pizzas.

BBQ chicken and Leonardo pizzas.

Pizzeria Luigi.

Pizzeria Luigi.

Inside Pizzeria Luigi.

Inside Pizzeria Luigi.

California: In & Out Burger

Looking outside my window and watching the snow come down, I really wish I was back on vacation in California.  This was my first trip to the west coast of the US and having landed at 9pm, my colleague (I was here for a conference) and I were feeling pretty peckish.  So you know it was the perfect opportunity to make a pit stop at California’s famous In & Out Burger.  We were in a cab so drive-thru was the only option and its a good thing we did, when we pulled up to the window, our cab driver suggested I order “animal style fries”, a not-so-secret menu item.  As soon as I hear non-menu well, that was it, I was going to order to it.  Animal style fries are composed of classic fries topped with cheese sauce and sauce – kind of like a version of poutine (which is better).  Surprisingly, the burger was delicious! Topped with fresh lettuce, a thick slice of tomato, their “secret sauce” and what made it over the top was the toasted bun!  Yes, the toasted bun!  My guess is the bun is toasted with butter which gave the bun a crisp outer crust.  A fast food joint definitely worth making a stop!

The 24hr drive-thru.

The 24hr drive-thru.

In & Out menu.

In & Out menu.

Our order of regular hamburgers and animal fries.

Our order of regular hamburgers and animal fries.

The infamous In & Out hamburger.

The infamous In & Out hamburger.

The off-the-menu "animal fries".

The off-the-menu “animal fries”.

Japan: My Favourite Things

When my older brother returned home from a month’s vacation in the Phillipines and Japan, he brought home a package of goodies containing some of my favourite things!  If you’ve been to Japan, you will know that they love making KitKat using different flavours.  The flavours are usually available during their corresponding peak season – strawberry is one of the most popular.  He also brought back green tea and chilli (which was pretty spicy).  Another food trend in Japan is the use of milk.  In chocolate or milk chewy candy – think sweetened condensed milk, but my favourite of all-time has to be Calpis,  a milk base concentrate…delicious!  I was first introduced to Calpis as a child when I would visit my grandparents in Japan during the summers.  Thinned with water (or vodka for an adult version) and made with a variety of flavours (strawberry, grape, etc.) – if you find it at an asian store, give it a try!

Sample of goodies from Japan - chocolate and candies.

Sample of goodies from Japan – chocolate and candies.

Calpis concentrate - my childhood favourite drink!

Calpis concentrate – my childhood favourite drink!

Carbon Bar

This past weekend I had dinner at a new restaurant, Carbon Bar, sister restaurant to Nota Bene located seven blocks west on the same street.  The occasion: a long overdue girls night out and somewhat a reminder of our night out to Stanton Social in Lower East Side in NYC two years ago.  Located in an old building with exposed brick/concrete walls, high ceilings and large round booths, it was very much a New York City vibe.  The menu is very much pit-fire inspired with a number of platters and snacking plates to encourage sharing.  A very interesting item to be found – crispy fried chicken skins and of course, I had to try it!  Great in theory, you really can only have a small piece without getting the feeling that you’re eating pure oil and salt.  I ordered the pit fired pork tacos which were chock full of pulled pork so much so that you really don’t need to order sides especially if you’re going to be having dessert :) The cheddar ice cream sandwich with maple syrup was delicious – I loved the tuile cookies, it was just enough cookie to satisfy you.

Carbon - cocktails

Two of Carbon Bar signature cocktails – the Nota Bene (Absolut, Lillet Blanc, ginger beer and spiced cherry) and Carbon Bar Julep (Bourbon, lime, mint and simple syrup).

Carbon - chicken skins

Crisp chicken skins.

Carbon - fritters

Split pea fritters.

Carbon - shishito

Shishito peppers with pit fired eggplant dip.

Carbon - raw salad

Carbon’s raw salad made with bibb lettuce, avocado, pear, shaved coconut, coriander and a lime vinaigrette.

Carbon - brisket

Prime beef brisket.

Carbon - ribs

St. Louis cut pork ribs.

Carbon - grits

Mushroom & grits with hen eggs, kale and quebec fontina cheese.

Carbon - sides

Two of Carbon’s sides – collard greens and delicious shoestring fries.

Carbon - tacos

Pit fired pork tacos with charred salsa, mango crema, coriander, chili and lime.

Carbon - banana pie

Banana toffee cream pie made with a graham cracker pie crust, a dulce de leche-like filling, sliced bananas topped with whip cream and chunks of bittersweet chocolate.

Carbon - chocolate bar

The Carbon chocolate bar – pecan ganache and bourbon caramel sandwiched between two thin bittersweet chocolate wafers.

Carbon - ice cream sandwich

Cheddar ice cream sandwich with shredded coconut sitting in a pool of maple syrup.

Carbon - inside

Inside Carbon Bar.

Carbon

Carbon Bar

Birthday Lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar

For my birthday, one of my closest friends J took me to Momofuku Noodle Bar Toronto!  I was so excited because it has been on my list of restaurants since it opened….and I have to admit, I have huge crush on David Chang!!!  Although I’ve eaten at Nikai, which is located on the 2nd floor above the noodle bar, the menu is completely different.  The noodle bar has a simple menu of 5 to 6 appetizers, noodle dishes and snacks.  Famous for his steamed buns, we order the crispy chicken buns which was delicious!  So crunchy but light.  Then it was time for the classic Momofuku ramen.  And to be honest, I’ve had better.  Don’t get me wrong, it was good…..but it wasn’t the best I’ve had and I know what you’re going to say, “of course it isn’t, you’ve been to Japan”.  However, I’ve had better in Toronto, yes Toronto!  At Kinton – the broth just had so much more flavour.  But the most unique part of the meal had to be the soft serve!  And after months of drooling over instagram pics posted by Momofuku, I was finally able to try their soft serve.  Both the cereal milk and coffee flavour soft serves were good but what made it unique was the cornflake crunch – it was salty not sweet.  And combined with the a “not so sweet” soft serve, the meal didn’t have that typical sweet ending.  Nevertheless, had a great time catching up with J!

Noodle bar - dan dan mein

Dan Dan Mein – drier noodle dish with pork, dried scallop and peanut.

Noodle bar - chicken buns

Crispy Chicken Buns – with pickled pineapple, lettuce, bacon and chilli.

Noodle bar - ramen

Momofuku ramen – with pork belly, pork shoulder, fish cake, egg and seaweed.

Noodle bar - close up

A closer look at the classic Momofuku ramen bowl.

Noodle bar - soft serve

Soft serve – combination twist of cereal milk and coffee soft serve with cornflake crunch.

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