Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Half and Half- Monterey Park

Half and Half.

Milk. Delish cold (occasionally foamy or warm) goodness from our moo cow friends, it can be flavoured or drunk straight, even added to other liquid goodness like tea or coffee. But the moo cow delight we speak of today is not actually half and half (the American name for half milk, half cream coffee creamer used to take that burnt taste off work coffee) but the name of an Chinese drink place that had just recently propagated their 3rd location in Rowland Heights, CA. (Recently named as one of the top places to live in the US for median household incomes. Go figure.)

It’s original two locations are both in more central SGV, the yellow tinted San Gabriel Valley. Both original locations are small, elongated in a strange long sideways hurdle. Trafficked by the young and trendy, with no less namebrand bags, cute flats and Ugg boots than a stroll through Bloomingdales, two things had been advised to us before we went to try the place. Skip the tea, (supposedly the origin of the name is the way their milk tea is created- half tea, half milk) it tasted not much more special than any other chain location. And beware the wait.

And boy was there a wait. Our first trek to H&H was at 8:30 at night, where we pulled up in front of the San Gabriel location. Snugged in a the middle of a tetris game shaped plaza with minimal parking, we hadn’t even made it all the way into the plaza before we noticed the packed crowd, blocking any view into the café. Time to try location number two. Located in a slightly bigger plaza in Monterey Park, which at least had subterranean parking, we hadn’t noticed a huge crowd from the front and were excited, that is up until we opened the door and walked in. It turns out the restaurant was long and skinny and completely packed with people all the way front and back, the ones towards the front all holding receipt tickets waiting for their order and the back line, which stretched to the back door, waiting to order and get a ticket. We joined the line, behind a group of identical Asian barbies with Channel bags, full make-up and who looked like they would have been more in place at a club than at a drink place. Was this place only a hyped up expensive hangout?

Deftly getting a menu from the front, we examined the options. There were blended drinks, teas and milks, even some small snacks, much the same offerings of drink places of the type. What was different was a section titled “Ice Milk”. Add-ins differentiated the milk drinks, with options like coffee jelly, egg pudding, strawberry and caramel flavouring, and honey flavoured boba. We decided to order three different drinks and take it back home to try, seeing as there were two tiny tables only and even had we gotten a seat, it would have been impossible to hold a conversation or drink without touching shoulders and elbows to others.

Milk with Caramel, Pudding and Honey Boba was my personal favourite for the day. The pudding was fresh and firm, not underdone. The caramel gave the strong enough flavor you need to keep the milk from becoming just …well, milk. The honey boba was delicious, squishy and bouncy, not old and hard in anyway, and sweet with the more aromatic sweet of honey rather than just normal boba. Wonderfully light but flavourful.

Milk with Caramel, Coffee Jelly and Honey Boba was a bit sharper with Coffee Jelly (which looks like a dark, semi-opaque pudding). It was good as well and for those who enjoy the taste of coffee, it gives enough, especially with the caramel adding the near-burnt hit of sweetness that was a bit more…masculine?

Milk with Strawberry, Pudding and Honey Boba is great for anyone who wants something more light hearted and sweet. Playfully sweet with its strawberry milk flavor and creamy pink colour, the pudding and boba just made it more rounded. It was the sweetest of the three drinks.

Priced at about $4 for a regular cup, which I found was an excellent size or you can upgrade to a huge large cup for 98 cents more, a good deal if you’re sharing. The drinks come uniquely served in a wide fat cup and a boba straw. The wait for the drink was nearly unbearable though. After standing in line for 10 minutes to order, we then sat about waiting another 20 minutes for the drinks to be made. All in all, 30 minutes for three drinks that required no heating or extensive processing. The good news though was we saw that they have a To-Go menu and took phone orders. You would still have to line up to pay but saved on the rest of the wait. Definitely a recommended course of action.

On a side note, we tried the newest location in Rowland Heights as well. It’s parking lot was strangely located, behind the café and hard to turn into from the main street Colima, but its location was a tad bit wider than the other two. Still a trendy young crowd, but the line and the wait was considerably shorter by about 10 minutes total. The taste was pretty similar although I thought it was a little lighter in taste than the first time I got it. Perhaps it was my imagination. Regardless, you’ll definitely see me back to order again and perhaps next time I’ll try the milk teas that give the place its name.

Tip to the wise, all three locations are cash only and if you wish to use the restroom, there’s a key to ask for from the staff. Enjoy!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bouchon - Beverly Hills

Bouchon, don’t ever leave me.

Those were the only words I could think of after I finished eating Bouchon’s, the glorious Keller rendition of a homestyle classy Lyonnaise restaurant café. But I’m skipping to the very end of the post already. Let me start at the beginning.Seperated from the Mandala hotel by a café tables sprinkled park, the Bouchon is the closest thing that So Cal will have to a French Laundry. Unlike say, Wolfgang Puck who believes expanding restaurants is like buying a new pair of shoes, Thomas Keller invests his restaurants in new locations like a starving college student with his last dollar- with caution, with great thought, and to get the most out of every venture (or $1 burrito). But back to the restaurant.

My co-horts and I booked for a reservation for Saturday brunch at 12:15 through OpenTable (which is so convenient by the way). The restaurant called, apologizing because a private event had the place monopolized on that date and would we mind changing to the following weekend? Sure, I thought. I’ve waited this long, what’s another 7 days? Parking in the convenient Beverly Hills lots just diagonally across from famous names like Spago’s and Maestro’s (free for the first 2 hours yay but they’ll bleed you if you park for longer than that, sob). We took the exit after we got off the elevator and wound up walking in a circle around but managed to find our way past the Bouchon Bar with cute young couples, their cute babies and their cute $600 strollers. Taking the stairs rather than the elevator to lose weight (haha, the irony) we let the hostess know we were here for our reservation. They were very polite and cheerful and the horrors of Bouchon’s reputation for being crowded and crazy with people were nowhere in sight. Yay.
Beautiful Saturday sunlight streamed in through large French pane windows and we were seated. Cursive specials were written on two big boards on either side of the room and a clean and bright seafood bar was attached to a regular bar, tempting our eyes. We glanced through a fantastic looking brunch menu with classics like Croque Monsieur, a French open faced ham sandwich and of course the specials’ board had Quiche. But armed with an iPhone and the wonders of online reviewing we knew there were certain things that came well recommended.
The Eggs Benedict, titled Le Pouche Royale here were famous, a replicate from Keller’s culinary headliner in Napa Valley, the French Laundry, the waiter informed us. The Beef Short Ribs Hash and a recommended Roast Chicken were our other two entrees. We moved off the regular menu and into the specials. Our server, Todd, had this flair for stating descriptions, making me ready to order just about everything he said. (My enabler foodie companions were no help in holding me back.) In the end we had a Dungeness Crab Salad, Toad in the Hole, and Prince Albert Mussels. Greedy? Maybe. Justified? Completely.

First came the Prince Albert Mussels in a wine broth with “more fries than you can possibly eat” and what can only be described as a stick of mini bread loaves baked together.

The broth was too flavourful to be called light and the mussels were delightful. We had fun pushing the shells open and getting into the quarter sized morsels of mussel inbetween bits of lightly salted fries and dips of bread into the broth. 1 pound is a lot of mussels though, so beware if you’re dining along or with only one other person. It’d be a shame to waste.The next two appetizers came together.

The Dungeness Crab Salad was plated artistically, with baby shallots and a creamy avocado sauce that was as far from guacemole as a smart car is from an Maserati. Light, fresh, an uplifting and light mix of seafood salad, the sauce, and the baked crisps that stuck out from the salad like the Kraken’s last attempt at stopping us from devouring the dish. As if it could. The other dish, Toad in the Hole, is actually a Toasted Brioche with what I think is hen or quail egg, I can’t remember. Light and wonderfully warm, with a consistency lighter than bread pudding, I wasn’t paying attention when the description came but I can tell you I was all tongues with taste.

Onto entrees! K’s chicken addiction called for of course, the chicken. A glistening half chicken perched in an au jus pond, steamed corn and herbs forming a pretty little bed.

The Roast Chicken with Chicken Jus was tender, the deliciously dark brown of the roasted skin of chicken balanced against the white meat underneath, not dry in anyway. It was followed by the Short Rib Hash.

It was served in a shallow saucepan with double handles, carrots, potatos mixed in with what looked like moist, falling apart generous pieces of meat. A perfectly circular hen egg, made with a mold no doubt, sat on top, flakes of parsley decorating the top. It looked like it was made for a warm winter dinner at some ancient inn on the borders of Bordeaux perhaps. It tasted wonderful, the rib meat cooked soft, the fat having half melted into the meat and flavouring all the vegetables it was mixed in with. Accompanying it were two slices of multigrain toast which tasted fresh and healthy. I loved it. The only thing that could have made it better would probably have been a glass of red wine to go with the slightly heavier entrée. I think I’d have preferred to order this for dinner next time, if only to keep from falling into a happy food coma afterwards. And the last but by far not the least…

This is the Pouche Royale, the crowning breakfast dish of eggs benedict smothered with hollandaise sauce from Keller’s own French Laundry, smoked salmon slices peeking out teasingly from underneath all atop a Bouchon baked english muffin. The hen egg was perfected poached, the yolk just runny enough to soak into the toasted muffin as you cut through the grapefruit sized Pouche Royale, fresh parsley and the salmon adding a smoked savoury flavour. Excuse me for a second as I wipe the drool off my touchscreen. Did I mention it came with two eggs benedicts? Both sides of my muffin perhaps?

Ahh…my stomach was full and happy but a trip here would not be complete without dessert as the tables that neighbored us throughout our meal suggested. We received a metal dessert menu holder, the Bouchon name engraved in its back and a straight forward paper menu slid into the front.
A list of desserts ranging from Lemon Tart to Dark Chocolate Mousse was followed by a small collection of Fromages, dessert cheeses on the bottom. We decided to follow our quite large meal with a shared dessert though, perhaps hoping sheepishly to not seem so…overindulgent. (We seem to get this reaction a lot. The waiter actually agreed when we joked about this. Sadness.)The dessert was delicious and light, three chocolate cake shaped like cartoonishly overlarge winecorks from which the restaurant took its name, topped with a ball of malt ice cream and a large piece of malt chocolate, dark on one side and off white on the other standing between the trio of les bouchon.

The taste of malt was obviously prevalent, a little too strong for me since I would have preferred to enjoy the balance of the malt chocolate with vanilla ice cream instead but it was still delicious. I wouldn’t mind stopping by the Bouchon café/bakery downstairs if I were in the area to have the dessert by itself.
All in all, Bouchon has more than satisfied whatever expectations and indecisiveness I’ve had about trying a Thomas Keller establishment. The price was justified by the quality, the dishes were not pretentiously tiny as some places (Ortalon, its Beverly Hills neighbor comes to mind) and I felt relaxed and well taken care of there. I would definietly go back and in fact hope to make a return trip…just after I make a much anticipated trip to the Providence for New Years.
235 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, California 90210
(310) 271-9910