Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bottega Louie - Downtown LA

Bottega Louie. With a name like a well-oiled Italian handbag, it’s exterior also has the aura of a Louis Vuitton store. With tall open windows, bold crown molding and white with gold accented faux-euro architecture reminiscent of ancient east coast banks, it’s no wonder the bakery restaurant (or as some call it, gourmet market) captures your attention. Standing like a lioness on the corner of 7th and Grand in Downtown Los Angeles, it has a reputation for good dinners, pricey but delicious desserts and a loud andcrowded youthful atmosphere after work hours. Luckily for K and myself, we had Columbus Day off and indulged ourselves by traveling to this recommendation from M. Parking in downtown is always a pain just two levels short of pulling teeth, but thank God fthe parking lot located just behind the restaurant on Grand has $3 parking after 4PM on weekdays. Win.

We sauntered over to the restaurant and immediately the bright boxes and culinary equipments in the open bakery (the restaurant also has an open kitchen and pizza bar) excited us. (Or me. If you want to excite K, just hand him a bottle of Peruvian aji sauce to eat with anything and you’ll see excitement.) Ahem. Anyways, there’s a side door to go to the bakery and a small opencooler area with premade foods, not unlike at Fanima or 7-11, probably for the grab-n-go lunch crowds. We went around to the front of the restaurant, in through the large heavy double doors, ready to be awed. The interiors were very nice, high super-vaulted ceilings, a lounge/bar area and behind that, the main restaurant. We’d arrive at 4:40 and were informed that due to Colombus Day, they were on a limited café style lunch menu and the dinner menu would not be available till 5. Boo. On the other hand, our suave good looking waiter did mention that the much heralded Portobello Mushroom Fries were off the menu but available. Yeeeeees. [insert fistpump here]

We peeked through the regular menu but were relatively hungry enough that we decided to try their lunch one and then add on more if still hungry. We had the Club Sandwich and a wood fired pizza. I wanted to try more than one flavor for the pizza so went half and half with Burrata, which included burrata, proscuitto, rapini and granna parmesan. The other half was Sausage, fennel sausage, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. We also clung onto the dinner menu is anticipation of the so-close-yet-so-far 5 o'clock.

After getting a nice glass bottle of chilled tap water which the water left with us after serving our glasses, we sat looking outside the restaurant. This is in the heart of downtown and it shows. Security kept walking by our window seating along with businessmen, the homeless, and the "casual crowd". Our mushroom fries came before long and boy, were they delicious just like we'd heard. Thickly sliced portabello mushroom dipped in a light batter and fried, I could see the mushroom through the fried outerskin and also the salt and seasoning dashed on lovingly. Served in paper in a metal cuplike container, what made it just right was the aioli dip served with it. Creamy with the flavour of classy mayo, it gave the light salted batter exterior and the meaty tender interior of the mushroom a nice pair of handcuffs to tie together and swim straight into my tummy. Not too greasy at all for a fried dish, this is a must order uniqueness at Bottega Louie.

After gobbling up our fries and making a crumbling embarrassing mess on the table paper, our water informed us the kitchen was ready for dinner orders so I added on a French Onion soup. (I adore soup.)

Our pizza holder was delivered with standard cheese and pepper bottles. (Oh, how I miss the fried garlic bottles of Il Chianti.) When the pizza was served, it looked yummy and Italian and not unlike Italian style pizza I've had before. The sausage pizza was my first taste and it had a nice meaty flavour, a good pairing with the mozzarella although I felt they could have put a little more cheese. In major chunks of slices, there was just marinara with a dash of spices-no meat or cheese. Maybe it's the style, but if you're eating the combination of sausage, cheese and sauce, you should be able to taste all three in every bite. The prosciutto burratta was good too, K liked this one more although I found the rapini to be a tiny overpowering and the arrangement only one slice of prosciutto for each slice to be disappointing. As Oliver Twist said, "Might I have some more, sir?"

All in all, true to the taste of Italian pizza making although not my favorite rendition. The crust was a bit thick and neither of us ate more than a bite of it, leaving a sad little mountain of discarded crusts sitting on our plates.

Next was the club sandwich with French ham, turkey, tomato, gruyere, avocade, watercress and slices of hardboiled egg. Apple smoked bacon hide out somewhere between all that, somewhere between all the healthy stuff. Served with a side of thick cut potato chips, the chips werely inedible in my view. Flavourless, dry with a oily touch, I recommend asking if you can substitute for something else. The sandwich, which comes crustless and quartered was Meh. Not mindblowing considering the ingredients had given it at least a decent palatte to work with, it is nothing more or less than an okay club.

By now we were full so the soup was a good ending. Served with a square of bread and cheese baked over, it looked really really good.

It wasn't. It was on the bland side, the simple onion soup just a little too late, the cheese not able to bring out it's flavour fully with it's onion soup partner floundering in the tastes department. The bread, which looked really pretty actually hurt the soup. Because it took up such a large space in the soup, there wa not too much soup to begin with. And because slices bread suck up liquid much the way my Dyson sucks up cookie crumbs, what was limited became less. Hardly $8 worth of soup in my opinion.

We were full and not thrilled but surely Bottega Louis could not let us down in their speciality, desserts. The waiter recommended the Le Grande Macaroon, two large Italian macaroon cookies with ice cream sandwiched between and fresh berries. The macaroon was very hard, the taste sweet but the consistency of hard cookie cake, the bite sticky as if there were jam mixed into the cookie. I admit, I'm not familiar with much macaroons but this was not my idea of a to-die-for dessert. Nevertheless, the fruit was fresh and the ice cream at least was good.

I hear their dinner menu is good but to be honest, I have yet to see any example of exemplerary cuisine. However, a large variety of desserts still await testing along with a reasonably sized lounge area, not too expensive pricing (except for the disappointing soup) and a late closing time. If I'm feeling snacky for mushroom fries while in downtown LA, I just might come back.

Bottega Louie
700 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(866) 418-9162

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Nobu - West Hollywood

Our dineLA pick of the year to try was the well-known, celebrity owned (Robert DeNiro is co-owner) and applauded, Nobu. Located in West Hollywood, it’s directly across from a Domino’s pizza and a 24 hour dry cleaning. Hm. Very LA indeed. We saw it but the street and even valet area was so packed there was no real way to stop without blocking traffic so we proceeded to pull a left. And then a right because it’s impossible to pull another left. And then a very smooth, fast U-turn (thanks to the polished asian driving skills of K, honed through his years of driving around UCLA and the SGV) landed us in front of a debonair white building with an understated NOBU scripted along the left side of the wall. Hello sushi.

Now for those that may not understand the way that dineLA works, a prix fixe menu (a set number of pre-arranged courses) is available at a number of participating restaurants, a lure to natives to venture out and try what restaurants tout as their classy equivalent of a Costco tasting stand (albeit for money). The nice part of course is the price. With three price tiers for the restaurants (fine dining, family dining, and more casual in my eyes), it gives a nice chance for simple commoners as myself and co. to have a taste of these uber expensive high-end culinary fixtures the media raves about. At a much more mid-level price.

Nobu was rated at the highest tier, $44 per a person. Not too bad considering the median price of an entrée is about $25 and up. Anyways, onto the food. My fellow foodies K, M and I chose the recommended Family Style prix fixe consisting of 5 courses, including a dessert. Not bad for $44. Checking the menu and seeing that the 4th course was a meat course (Black Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Truffle Teriyaki) I requested a change to the Black Cod instead, a dish I’d heard was pretty good. (Plus this is a sushi restaurant. I would much prefer to eat my beef elsewhere.) The waiter suggested the Seabass instead. No problems there.

Before the food came, water and alchy. Now I don’t see the point of ordering anything but tap usually but this night I was so entranced by menu-reading, I didn’t realize the server heard “Flat” instead of “Tap” and we wound up with a bottle of Fiji poured into our glasses before I noticed. Don’t get me wrong, I like Fiji water. Just not at $9 a pop. Ow. At least they didn’t automatically bring another bottle when we finished and I politely requested refills of “Tap” in a much clearer voice this time.

As for alchy, M and I decided to try two cocktails, an Acai cocktail and a Pina Martini. ($14 each) The Acai (which tasted almost with a hint of ...guava?) was served with a flower and the Pina with a slice of starfruit. Both drinks were relatively light and fresh with a nice clean presentation and flavor. For a trendy seen and be seen place, the price was steep but passable. I’m not a heavy drinker though and I can imagine for those that may down more than just one cocktail at dinner, be prepared to pay for your alchy, especially since the drink itself, though flavourful, didn’t seem very strong.

About now the first dish arrived. A long plate of 9 translucently thin Yellowtail Sashimi with a circlet of jalapeno on top, the lemony taste of the ponzu sauce was clean and flavourful, not too strong but with just enough of jalapeno tickle on your tongue when you ate the whole piece. However, it was hardly amazing, just good.

The second appetizer was the Salmon New Style Sashimi. Thicker than the yellowtail but not by much slices of salmon were again plated, this time with a sesame seeds and a light oil and yuzu sauce. The fish was warm, lightly seared on one side and raw on the other. Interesting concept but I’ve been taught to distrust the taste of warm sashimi so it was bit…disconcerting. Good fish quality but not my favorite dish for personal reasons.

At this point a bowl of rice arrived mysteriously at our table. One bowl. For the three of us. We inspected the rice with the confused yet good humour of a school teacher at a homework excuse. Why was there only one bowl? Why was there rice, period? Personally, I’d rather have received soup. Upon glancing around, there was only one other table with rice- a table where an asian couple was seated. K jokingly claimed that it was because we looked so asian, they assumed we needed to eat Chinese-style. I tasted the rice out of curiousity but it was exactly that. Boring, white rice and not particularly the best cooked.

The third that arrived was Peruvian Lantern Scallops Tempura with Yuzu Koshio and Roasted Garlic Aioli. M immediately said the aioli was a very nice complement and I agree. The scallops were not overly fried and the quantity was ample enough that we all got some and more. The slightest hint of spiciness only made it better.

Chilean Seabass with Japanese Miso was the star of the night and probably the saving grace of Nobu for us. Served with 5 good portioned slices on spinach and sliced mushrooms sprinkled with bold fried onions. I love well-cooked mushrooms and these were wonderful- tender and flavourful, yet with enough snap in them to break apart cleanly when you bit them. Delicious. The fish was good, very good and the miso glaze was an excellent fool-proof complement. M & K gobbled this up in no time.

Onto desserts! Because of the prix fixe, we had a nice trio to sample from.

Banana Caramel Soy Tabanyaki, cooked with roasted peanuts in a round clay pot. A small scoop of Malaga ice cream was scooped in when the dish was un-lidded. Presentation here was definitely nice although taste fell a little short with M and me. Too sweet and might I say, too banana-y? (Is that a word?) K on the otherhand, really liked the peanuts and finished this one off. The ice cream was quite good though.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Green Tea Ice Cream was simple and yet very yummy. I like simple, not too sweet things and the warm melting chocolate that oozed out of its soft exterior paired with cold mellow green tea ice cream made me a happy eater. M made a face at some decorative crumblings on the side of the plate. Dark chocolate? Espresso? No idea, but she says they were very bitter and not complimentary in taste at all.

The last dessert was a simple Froyo with small black sesame garapinado clusters, tiny fresh strawberry pieces and a bit of blueberry coulis. The Froyo was just that, frozen yogurt, but to be honest, it tasted like perfectly good ice cream to me. (Possibly because every other dessert dish had ice cream too). K, the ice cream junkie had no complaints on this.

All in all, final total for 3 people, 2 cocktails, 1 bottle water, 3 appetizers, 1 entrée, and 3 desserts to share? $222 including tip. (plus valet parking which is $8 +tip)

Nobu is pretty but not extravagant to the point of ooing and ahhing, tasty but not to where you would rave about the exquisiteness of the dishes. Call my taste buds spoiled but I’d rather treat this as more of a trendy, hip lounge (and get a 30% off discount if you’re a Facebook fan) than come and throw down all that money for their regular menu prices. The food just wasn’t off the wall. Even the star dish, the Miso Seabass didn’t taste all that exceptionally different from the Miso Black Cod recipe by Iron Chef Morimoto- which you can cook at home for a fraction of the cost. (Although I had the occasion to eat their miso-marinated Black Cod with butter lettuce at PbB's Food and Wine Tasting and I thought it was really great.) Fantastic? No. Interesting and worth a try? If there’s a special menu such as dineLA, yes. Plus it’s a nice excuse to dress up in WeHo (West Hollywood's moniker, so M tells me). Otherwise, I’d rather take my money and go eat Spago’s delicious tasting menu again. Mmm…truffles.

903 N La Cienega Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046
(310) 657-5711

[Additionally, due to the super dim lighting, none of my food shots came out very nice. An iPhone only food blog is going to be harder than I thought. :/]