Takao Top Omakase

Restaurant: Takao [123, 4, 5]

Location: 11656 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049. (310) 207-8636

Date: October 16, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: 9/10 creative “new style” sushi

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I’ve already covered Takao in some detail HERE and then separately herehere and here. The full menu and some information on the history of the place can be found through the first link. This particular meal covers a full $120 Omakase, which actually is a very good value compared to ordering ala carte.


We started off with a lovely “shaved rice” style cold sake. I’ve become increasingly fond of this old-school premium form of sake.


Ankimo (Monk Fish Liver) with ponzu, scallions, and slightly spiced daikkon radish. An excellent example of this classic dish.


White fish with a bit of micro greens, citrus zest, and red peppercorns. A very light and delicious “sashimi salad.”


Toro tartar with caviar. A takao (and Nobu) classic.


Baracuda with ginger, scallions, in a light ponzu. This is not normally my favorite fish, but this preparation was very nice, with a light hint of char on the partially cooked fish.


Grilled Alaskan king crab legs. A sprig of pickled ginger. Very fresh and not frozen tasting, but the sweet vinegar sauce (in the back) totally made the dish.


A classic Japanese style unami flavor. A autumn broth of three kinds of mushrooms and some kind of light fish. The two sauces were a sour plum sauce (I think traditional with this fish) and a really tasty vinegary ponzu.


Sweet Santa Barabara prawn and asparagus tempura. The batter had little crispy riceballs in it which gave the whole thing a different texture. Plus there was both curry salt and sea salt and the traditional tempura sauce for dipping.


Salmon slices, marinated in a miso broth, served sizzling hot in this cast iron pan. You could cook as little or much as you liked. The sweet miso sauce was very tasty too.


A sushi flight. Starting at the left: red snapper, gizzard shad, blue fin tuna, toro, and in front, Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin).


Clam miso. Like regular miso, but with an extra hint of brine.


And for dessert, green tea creme brule with strawberries. It’s very green, with a fairly intense creamy tea flavor.

This was probably my best official omakase at Takao yet (and it’s always good). A very nice meal.

Check out other Takao reviews:  [1234, 5]

For more LA area sushi, see here.

Bouchon Beverly Hills

Restaurant: Bouchon Beverly Hills

Location: 11712 San Vicente Blvd.Brentwood, CA 90049 310.826.9222

Date: October 15, 2011

Cuisine: French Bistro

Rating: Good, but expensive

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In the last three-four years there’s been a bit of a French Food revival in Southern California, but the emphasis has been on Bistro fare. Of course this is consistent with the post-recession trend toward less formal restaurants anyway. Bouchon is the small-chain spawn for Thomas Keller, the highly acclaimed chef of The French Laundry.


Here is the brunch menu. My snapshot is still at the doctors (Canon service center) so this is a test run for the new iPhone4S camera. Better than its predecessor, but no match for either of my real cameras. The Photostream sync to the desktop is however, pretty sweet.


My obligatory cappuccino.


The Beverly Hills space is very pretty. Check out the bar (both raw and booze). Lobsters oversee the diners.


The elegant dining room has a very spacious, even Parisian feel.


The have good bread here, as well as amusements for the three-year-old set.


Pain Perdu” (i.e. french toast). Brioche toast with macerated strawberries, creme Chantilly & vermont maple syrup. I’m slightly confused about the strawberries, as these sure looked and tasted like apple. But it was good nonetheless.


“Chicken & Waffles. roasted chicken on a bacon & chive waffle with Tahitian vanilla bean butter and sauce chasseur.” The chicken was a nice bit of roast chicken. If the waffles had bacon and chive in them, I couldn’t tell.


It came with the butter, the gravy, and good maple syrup. I ended up shredding the chicken, cutting the waffles, and adding syrup. It was good, but not quite Roscoes.


Downstairs is the much anticipated takeout bakery.


Not a huge space.


Serving various classic pastries and some salads and sandwiches.


Salads, sandwiches, macarons, cookies, etc.


The breakfast pastries, like croissant and coffee cake. The chocolate croissant was good. The coffee cake and banana nut muffin were a bit dry. Really I expected more. I’ll have to try a lemon tart at some point.


A closeup of the macarons. I had one (passionfruit) and while large, and pretty good, it wasn’t as good as the divine Paulette Macarons (reviewed here).


Good luck trying to read this blurry iPhone photo.

Overall, while Bouchon and bakery were fine, they are very expensive and failed to wow me. The chicken and waffles was $27! This is almost triple Roscoes! I would have forgiven the prices if the food were superlative, but it was just good. Sorry Mr. Keller, you’re rep sets a higher bar.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Manpuku – Not so Secret Beef

Restaurant: Manpuku

Location: 2125 Sawtelle Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025. (310) 473-0580

Date: October 14, 2011

Cuisine: Yakinaku

Rating: Tasty BBQ, good value

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Manpuku is a Yakinaku (Japanese style Korean BBQ) joint in the heart of the Sawtelle little-Tokyo area (just a few stores down from awesome Kiriko Sushi). It’s been a lunch favorite of mine for years because it offers really good BBQ at value prices. It isn’t the ultimate Yakinaku, a title reserved for the amazing Totoraku, but it is about 10% of the price!


This mini-mall is packed with delicious Asian lunch spots.


Just in case you wondered what you might find inside.


Every table comes equipped with it’s own BBQ. I apologize for the mediocre pictures. My snapshot camera is in the shop and so I had only the iPhone4 (I wasn’t going to lug the big camera). On the plus side, the photos did magically sync to my Mac via photostream, which is pretty sexy. Canon needs to add at least Wifi to their regular cameras. I’m sick of pulling out that card.


The lunch menu.


Kimchee on the left, the delicious sweet sauce (for use on the meat after cooking) on the right.


I ordered the “prime rib lunch set” ($15, and sometimes on sale!) and it comes with all you can eat Japanese salad.


And miso soup.

And rice.


Plus one of these plates of marinated prime short rib and a few vegetables.


The meal is simple. You BBQ to taste (rare in my case), dip in the sweet sauce, let cool on the rice, then eat!

There is nothing to complain about here. The beef is fresh, tender, and tasty. If you enjoy this, and are want to really max out on the variety this cuisine offers (every cut of cow) then check out Totoraku.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Go Sushi Goes To Lunch

Restaurant: Go’s Mart [1, 2]

Location: 22330 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, CA 91303  818.704.1459

Date: October 11, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Sushi

Rating: Possibly LA’s best sushi!

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This is my second visit to the unassuming Canoga Park sushi temple that is Go’s Mart. You can check out the Foodie Club mega tasting meal I had previously. This time I just dropped by for lunch and had a more “modest” little lunch omakase.


The plate of ginger and wasabi gets the saliva flowing.


Marinated toro collar. In some ways like a really nice marinated tuna fish.


Homemade Ikura (salmon roe). As good as that gets.


Go has the interesting format of serving fish in related flights. This is a foursome of whitefish. All are prepared with variations of wasabi, rock salt, truffle oil, and kelp. Some also have shiso and or yuzu pepper. All four are fairly similar with a nice light bright flavor.


Kue I think, which is a kind of grouper.


John Dory.


Red snapper.


Kelp bass.


Sweet shrimp roe marinated in a mirin (rice wine) based sauce.


It looked pretty cool even after I got most of them out.


A flight of shellfish. Dusted with hibiscus salt.


Japanese snow crab with gold.


Some very fine Alaskan king crab.


Japanese scallop. Yum.


And sweet shrimp (body) with caviar.


The heads came back to us fried. Which are also great.


We ate everything but the eyeballs and beaks.


A flight of tunas.


Blue fin tuna with garlic chip.


Albacore tuna with garlic.


Chu-toro (medium tuna belly) with radish and caviar.


O-toro (extra fatty toro), seared, with gold and a slightly sweet sauce.


A tro of squirmies.


Live octopus, cooked. It was alive a few minutes before we ate it. This was good, but I probably prefer it less cooked.


Fresh abalone. As good as the chewy creature gets.


Baby squid, with a bit of squid guts. Very soft for squid.


Both kinds of eel, sea and freshwater.


The sea eel, with kelp.


And the river eel.


Two kinds of halibut. Both with hibiscus salt, micro greens, and yuzu pepper.


Kelp halibut.


Halibut fluke.


A blue crab handroll with a bit of truffle oil.


Go finishes up with a bit of fruit drizzled in sweetened condensed milk. Very nice finisher. There are rasberries, figs, melon, golden-berries, mulberries and blueberries.

Go-san continues to impress with some really scrumptious sushi. He has his own take on the art and not only is the fish impeccable but the flavor combos very refined and interesting. Given the ultra high end nature of the food (and standard sushi pricing), it isn’t even that badly priced either. Much more reasonable than Mori Sushi for example. Go to it!

For more LA Sushi, click here.

Breakfast = Carbs + Salt

The best part about the 26 hour fast of Yom Kippur is breaking it!

Best to start with some wine on a really empty stomach.

Parker 91. “Bottled the week before I visited, his 2005 Morey-St.-Denis en la Rue de Vergy displays aromas of fresh, ripe plum, black cherry, bitter herbs and toasted nuts. Ripe plum and black cherry along with deep rich meatiness mingle in the mouth with notes of mineral salt and iodine and sweet nut oil nuances. Creamy in texture and boasting remarkably fine tannins for a village wine and no hint of its 50% new wood, this finishes with a flattering persistence of crisp, subtly-bitter fresh fruit skin and fascinating mineral suggestions. It should drink fabulously over at least a 5-7 year period.”


Traditional, of course, is deli (i.e. bagels and lox etc.). We get ours from Brent’s Deli, which is my favorite for dairy and fish.


The bagels.


Rye bread of course.


A variety of cream cheeses, old school, new whipped, veggie, and my personal favorite, honey almond (I like the whole sweet and salty thing).


The all important “monster cheese” (what my three year-old calls it).


Various bagel toppings: lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber.


Brent’s lox is so thick 18 of us toasted 3-4 pounds of it.


Chopped marinated herring. An acquired taste, but I spent too much time in the mid east not to.


Tuna salad (this is homemade by my sister-in-law Wendy).


My personal favorite, whitefish salad. Oh so good.


Salted cod, another classic.


Brent’s slightly sweet cucumber salad (like that) and cole slaw.


And old school pickles.


And fruit.

Plus a bit of homemade chinese chicken-less salad.


Parker 90. “The 2009 Rosso di Montalcino is totally beautiful and elegant in its expressive bouquet, silky fruit and understated, harmonious personality. This is a wonderful, impeccable Rosso from Le Potazzine. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2017.”


And my plate of gluttony. Four bagel halves. I even had another afterward.


The dessert spread is even more deadly.


Parker 99! “A monumental effort, the 2001 Rieussec boasts a light to medium gold color in addition to a fabulous perfume of honeysuckle, smoky oak, caramelized tropical fruits, creme brulee, and Grand Marnier. The wine is massive and full-bodied yet neither over the top nor heavy because of good acidity. With intense botrytis as well as a 70-75-second finish, this amazing Sauternes will be its apogee between 2010-2035.”

It was that good too!


Most of the desserts come from Viktor Benes, an old school Czech bakery with really good Eastern European baked goods. This is a chocolate fudge cake. My in-laws are chocoholics.


Apple pie. Halfway between American style and strudel.


Same with the cherry.


And an assortment of decadent baked goodies. Cookies, macaroons, apple fritters, rugelach, almond strudel-like things etc.

Afterward I stumbled upstairs in a pleasant salt and carb coma. I still felt bloated the next morning too.

Foodie Photography 101

As is fairly obvious from my umpteen food reviews, I take a lot of pictures of food. For such a static target, for a number of reasons, the plate isn’t so easy to photograph. Mostly this comes down to light and distance. Restaurants are often dark and food is fairly small and right in front of you. This distance factor throws it into the realm of macro photography (subjects at very near distances).

I use three different cameras. I’ll go over them all here, in ascending order of size, weight, and quality. As a general rule of thumb the bigger and more expensive a camera is, the better the pictures. It’s also worth noting that all food photos below were processed in Adobe Lightroom and are not “as shot”. I’ll discuss this at the bottom of the post.

The cellphone camera is ubiquitous these days, but for me only an option of last resort.


This sushi pic is about as decent as a good (iphone 4) camera will take, and even with post-processing, that isn’t very good.


And in a dark restaurant, you’re stuck with these hideous flash shots. The flash on these tiny camera has a range of about a foot and an ugly falloff. If you have to use the cellphone, try and hold it very steady, and home it’s lunch time and the window is behind you (keep the light behind the lens).


Next up, and pretty acceptable, is a snapshot camera that is good at macro photography. I use a Canon S90. This is older and has been replaced by the S95 and S100. Any of the three are good, the newer ones are better. They are among the only small cameras to shoot in RAW mode and to focus well at short distances. The S90 is small enough to pocket and I use it for casual meals.


A typical flash shot from the S90. It’s not bad. The camera has a small aperture and hence a very large depth of field which makes for easy focusing (but a flat look). It’s very useful to zoom the camera in and pull physically back so the flash doesn’t get too close to the food and easily blow out the image (overexpose).


My third camera is my “real” camera, the amazing Canon EOS 5D Mark II. But any Canon or Nikon DLSR should do fairly well. While the DSLR is much larger and heavier, it takes a MUCH better picture. Not only is the resolution higher but it handles low light far better. Still, shooting food with a SLR isn’t easy.


This is a typical bad result. A normal lens can’t focus on something less than two feet away and so you have to step way back. Without a flash (and a normal flash doesn’t work well on food) you can easily end up with a soft image like above.


The solution to this distance problem is a macro lens. I usually use the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro. This is a very sharp prime lens (on a full frame camera 50mm is good for food, it might be even better on the more common crop sensor cameras, but you might have to pull back a bit). This lens is even cheap for a macro at $284, as many of Canon’s macro lens are two or four times that. It’s only problem is the non-USM focusing that’s slow as a dog. Food, fortunately doesn’t move.


But in a very dark restaurant (and despite the appearance of this color and exposure corrected photo, Pizzeria Mozza is very dark) one ends up at f2.5 and a high ISO. Combine that with the very short distance to the plate and you get an incredibly small depth of field. Hence, crust in focus, pizza blurry.


This and the light problem are nicely solved by the bulky Canon MR-14EX Macro Ring. Ideally, you’d want a light box (a big soft glowing box) but this is not practical in restaurants :-), but the white LED light from the flash ring is less directed than a regular flash (which will also do in a pinch).


It makes for a honking big rig, but with the macro lens and the TTL flash exposure adjustment it takes great close up pictures in a pitch black room (the flash can be used as a focus light too).


Hence this lovely photo, with just enough depth of field to give the dish some character and depth. Still, you have to watch the distance and f-stop, even with the flash, but you don’t have to pump the ISO up as high as without it.

Which finally brings me to Lightroom. Significant discussion of post processing is outside the scope of this post. Photoshop and many other products can allow you to clean up your images, but none do it as easily and quickly as Lightroom. Going through a 60 photo meal can be tedious, but with Lightroom you can do a decent job in five minutes, then quickly batch upload via a vast array of plugins.


To give you an idea how important this is. Check out this image right out of the camera, taken using the 5D and the macro lens, but no flash.


With light three clicks I fix the white balance, the exposure, and correct for lens aberrations. I see so many food bloggers uploading dim orange photos. There’s just no need.

Hopefully this quick little tutorial helps you get the most out of your food photos. Even if you don’t have a big fancy camera, the trick of pulling back and zooming in with a snapshot flash helps both exposure and dealing with the “too close to focus” problem.

Find all of my food reviews here.

Saam – José Andrés Squared

Restaurant: Saam [1, 2]

Location: 465 S La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048. 310.246.5555

Date: October 1, 2011

Cuisine: Spanish influenced Molecular Gastronomy

Rating: Awesome, even better than The Bazaar.

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I’m a bit of a Jose Andres groupie as not only have I been many times to the The Bazaar (REVIEW HERE), but also to brunch at Trés, and just last week to é by José Andrés and Jaleo in Vegas.

For those who don’t know, José Andrés is perhaps America’s leading practitioner of  my favorite culinary style: Spanish Molecular Gastronomy. This school of cooking, a radical interpretation of the preparation of food, was begun at El Bulli outside of Barcellona. Andrés cooked and studied there with master chef Ferran Adrià. I first encountered Andrés’s cooking in Washington DC at Cafe Atlantico, and it’s own restaurant within a restaurant, Minibar.

I’ve eaten molecular a number of times in Spain, for example at Calima and La Terraza. The Bazaar and Saam brought molecular style to LA.

Saam is the “secret” prix fixe only room within the Bazaar, open Thurs-Sat.


This is the normal menu for the night. If you let them know they do however adapt very adeptly to dietary restrictions.


Tonight begins with a “Kaviar Kir Royale” which is a deconstructed cocktail consisting of cava.


And miniature “kaviar” (spheres of kir).


You can see them more clearly here, looking every bit like fish eggs. Basically it’s mostly cava, but at your whim you can bit into the little balls of flavor for bits of kir flavor blast.


Then “Lotus Root Chips” with anise powder, making them taste like licorice Pringles.


Then “Tuna Handroll 2009” which are crispy cones stuffed with very fresh tuna, a bit of wasabi, and a caviar ring in the middle. Nice mix of textures and flavors.


It came time to decide on the beverages. Above is the pairing menu ($100 a person). We didn’t opt for this but I’m sure it’s good. Being as we are talking beverages I’ll mention briefly the water trap. We were five people, and this is a long meal. We ordered bottled water. As usual with nice restaurants they just served it. And served it. Fine, but it added up to $180 of water! This was the only thing on the bill that offended me — but it was mighty offensive. $30-40 would have been sufficient tariff, but $36 a person for water?


We did order cocktails individually, which were both yummy and reasonable enough for such things. “Passion Fruit Up! Orange rum, passion fruit and ginger-laurel syrup, topped with passion fruit foam.” Yum!


“Oyster and Jamon.” A little spoonful of oyster with some ham powder and a crispy crouton. It tasted exactly like it sounds. Like intense oyster and a good dollop of HAM!


“Black Olives Ferran Adria.” Instructions on how to make these can be found here. The pureed juice of the olives is coated in a thin gel. They are colored black with squid ink. There is one green olive that is vegetarian. In general, the olives bursts easily in the mouth, exploding intense oliveness.


A signature “Nitro Caprina” which is the classic brazilian drink, frozen with liquid nitrogen. It tastes like a sherbet, with a highly unusual smooth texture, but it’s intensely potent (in terms of proof). Goes down all too easy.


“Jicama wrapped Guacamole.” Micro cilantro, corn chips. The vegetarian substitution for the ham.


Watermelon and tomato with a bit of a kick (some chili or another).


A traditional mojito. Even way back in the Cafe Atlantico days Andrés always served a great mojito.


“Jose’s Combination.” Jamón Ibérico de Bellota with a blob of real caviar. This ham is regarded as the best in Spain, and among the best in the world. They are fed on acorns. Salt on salt here. A very savory combination.


Deconstructed “patatas bravas.” In spain this is a common dish basically being roasted chopped potatoes with a cayenne mayo. This preserves the flavor, but changes up the texture into a little fried cigar. The inside was fluffy and soft. Quite tasty.


“Ottoman Carrot fritter.” Apricots, pistachio sauce. Vegetarian substitute for the chicken below. A deep fried ball of flavor, with a very exotic taste.


“Buffalo Wing.” Looks like fried chicken (and it is), but Wow. Boneless, with a dab of spicy sauce and a blue cheese aioli. An explosion of flavor.


“Not Your Everyday Caprese.” The mozzarella has been through the same sphere process as the olives above, then we have a peeled cherry tomato, tomato seeds, a bit of basil, sea salt, little crackers, and a very fine house made pesto genovese (with extra virgin olive oil). I’m not even a raw tomato fan and this is delectable. The pesto cheese combo really makes it. This pesto is as good as mine (recipe here).


I’m a big fan of priorat and so we chose this wine off the list. Besides the great food and crazy water prices Saam has an annoying high corkage ($50 and one bottle more or less!).


“White truffle risotto.” Instead of the normal Italian risotto rice it used a premium Spanish one, calasparra bomba, and extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. Very tasty.


A fantastic special risotto also using bomba rice, with a chunk of fresh santa barbara uni, some black garlic paste, and a bit of bbq eel. It was tremendously good.


“Crispy Nigiri.” A bit of red snapper on a blob of crispy Spanish rice.


“Chipirones en su Tinta.” More or less a classic Spanish dish, octopus in it’s own ink. Plus some squid ink chips. Very soft and tender meat, complemented by the sweetness of the ink.


A non-shellfish variant containing a bit of bbq fish.


“Banh Mi.” A brioche bun with wagyu beef, tofu, cilantro, pickles, pickled carrots, and a kind of mayo. Tasty tasty sandwich. A mix of soft and crunchy too, but the pickles give it a very distinct tang.


“Banh Mi, vegetarian.”


“Carrot gnocchi.” The broth had a vaguely thai curry flavor. The gnocchi are actually cylinders of sphereized carrots, so they burst in the mouth.


“Brussel sprouts, lemon puree, apricots, grapes, lemon air.” This was a big hit, the sprouts aren’t bitter at all, and have a light cabbage-like texture. The lemon air is the best part, adding a nice zing.


“Mirugai.” A bit of geoduck giant clam, radish, and a watercress puree. This wasn’t my favorite dish, being a bit “clammy.”


“Kurobuta Pork Belly.” Massively flavorful bacon chunk, with a spanish cheese infused turnip mouse and little carrots. Yum yum, heart stop heart stop.


Replacing the pork for the vegetarian was a pomegranate cous cous.


With a poured in broth.


“Philly Cheese Steak.” Air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef. This is on the Bazaar menu, but it’s so damn good. The crispy bread is filled with liquid cheddar goodness.


“Hilly Cheese Steak.” Air bread, cheddar, mushrooms. The vegetarian version of above. Monkey man will get you!


For the dessert courses we ordered some classes of this fine cream sherry.


A very nice sherry, not quite as thick and syrupy as the PX by the same maker (which I love), but still very fine.


“Japanese Baby Peaches.” Burrata, hazelnuts, arugula.Really interesting. The peaches were so tart off the trees that they were soaked in simple syrup. Paired with the blobs of burrata (a favorite of mine), the nuts, and arugala it was pretty divine.


“Dragon’s breath popcorn.” The pre dessert. A gimmick, but neat.

Carmel corn “boiled” in liquid nitrogen.


Breath on a spoon.

It tastes like… carmel corn, but you can exhale it through your nose for a dragon-like effect.


Smaug, eat your scaly heart out.


They call this “saam buca.” It was apple balls with a nice soft creamy custard — good stuff.


“Chocolate rock.” A nitro frozen chocolate foam/mousse with some citrus foam. This was very reminiscent of the chocolate/cream pairings at  é by José Andrés and Jaleo.


Chamomile tea.


The usual Bazaar “sexy little sweets,” a number of flavored chocolates (flat and in domes) and very good pate de fruits. One of the great things about the brunch at Trés is that they have an all you can eat tower of containing all of these!


A little chocolate hazelnut cube and the menu as a “parting gift.”

Overall, Saam is a tremendous meal, even if not every dish is successful (geoduck!). Since I was at cousin restaurant é by José Andrés a week before I can do a head to head comparison. Saam was slightly disadvantaged by the fact that perhaps 40-50% of the dishes hadn’t changed from my previous visit (making them less novel). I’d say that the food at é is perhaps 5% better, really quite close. The format in Vegas is, however, more fun and intimate. Getting to witness the plating and creation of each and every dish is really interesting.

And the $180 for water was really offensive. I really should have taken the manager to task on it. The stuff costs less than a dollar a bottle in bulk. Pure profit center. Otherwise the meal is fairly reasonable given the extremely high level of production. And it is very very good.

For a previous Saam meal, click here.

For a meal and The Bazaar proper, click here.