March 30, 2014

Willie Jane

There are two ingredients to every successful brunch: (1) good food and (2) good company.  Most of the time, the latter is easily satisfied, but the former can be so elusive.  Once in awhile, though, you'll be lucky to stumble across a place that brings that welcomed smile to your face.  

Hello, Willie Jane.

People rave about the biscuits. If you're a biscuit person, you may hold them to higher scrutiny, but if you're like me and just love a buttery, flaky biscuit without feeling like you're eating straight lard, WJ's biscuits will make your heart skip a beat (in only the good way).  The buttermilk biscuits are fabulous accompanied by the homemade honey butter or eaten as is.  

Hello, biscuit. So nice to have met you.

Slathered with burnt orange honey butter.

Mimosa - me gusta. (Go Bottomless for $15).

Smoked Salmon with Poached Eggs-- with lightly roasted potatoes and garden greens -- $14

Top view.

Vegan Soyrizo & Eggs with Corn Tortillas and Hot Sauce -- $12

Shrimp & Grits with a side of soft-scrambled eggs and bacon and slices of red bell pepper -- $17

Top view.

Mary's Fried Chicken & Waffles -- with spicy slaw and chile maple syrup --$16

Top view.

This ain't Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles, but boy, do they cook up a mighty good chicken & waffles dish. And whoever Mary is, God bless her.  Unlike Roscoe's, however, the chicken is in the form of chicken tenders (no bones).  The batter has the just the right amount of salt and spice.  The sweetness from the syrup pairs so well with the savory flavors of the chicken and the slaw.  The waffles, cut into quarters, contain the right amount of crisp and chewiness.  It's a bit pricey, but I was thoroughly impressed with the taste, and sometimes, it's worth shelling out extra cash for great quality.

Other notes: Great interior design, but the back patio is where you want to sit.  With natural sunlight (without needing to squint through your meal), the patio provides a nice "bungalow," beachy vibe.  I'm sure Willie Jean transforms into a more trendy spot for dinner, but during the day on Sundays, it's casual without pretension.

Get: Fried Chicken & Waffles; Shrimp & Grits; BISCUITS.

Willie Jane on Urbanspoon

cuisine: American
location: Venice, CA
hours: T-Sat: 4pm - midnight; Sun: 11:30am - 9pm.
websites: { WJ | yelp | facebook | twitter | instagram }
attire: Casual
parking: Street meters or nearby free street parking (read the signs!).
other reviews: { J. Gold }

March 22, 2014

Justice Urban Tavern

Feeling justice wasn't served [in the courtroom]?  That's okay, because now we have Justice Urban Tavern.

This new gastropub, located next to the DoubleTree Hilton in Little Tokyo, aims to provide "high quality, fresh, wholesome dishes with a California sensibility and seasonal awareness."  Sounds like a lovely mission statement, but will it follow through?  It's tough to tell this early on, but from what I saw and tasted at a private event, I can say it is very promising.

Pro: Plenty of natural light.

Pro: Plenty of choice beer and cocktails for your midday or happy hour pleasure.



Fun "Justice"-style names that I found amusing.

Part of the Beer List.

Starter: Mushroom Flatbread-- Mozzarella, goat cheese, arugula, and truffle salt -- $10

The flatbread is simple: mushrooms, cheese, and arugula topped on a buttered/ toasted piece of bread.  And yet, whether it's the truffle salt or goat cheese pieces, something sets this flatbread apart from other flatbreads.  This is a great way to start your meal!

Starter: Parmesan & Cornmeal-dusted Fried Calamari with lemon slices and spicy marinara -- $9

The calamari is presented in a small basket, but once you open it, there're more pieces of calamari than you'd expect!  I loved the texture and flavor to this.  Dip this in the spicy marinara and you have another great starter.

Side: Mac N Cheese topped with barbecue chips -- $5

Oh yes, classic Mac N Cheese!  The barbecue chips were a nice touch, though the chips had lots most of its crunchiness by the time the dish reached the table.

Starter: Big Spiced Shrimp with chorizo and Tillamook cheddar grits -- $12

This isn't a light starter, but I loved the flavors.  I couldn't put my spoon down; cheesy grits you're fantastic!  The jumbo shrimp (three pieces) was good and nicely spiced, too.

Starter: Black Mussels -- steamed in Blue Moon ale with roasted garlic, sweet onion, tomato, and saffron -- $10

The mussels were smaller than usual and the sauce was not as rich as I would have liked, but the Blue Moon addition was a nice touch.  It'd be nice if this came with a slice of bread so that the broth could be better enjoyed.

Ahi Tuna Salad -- not on menu.

Fried Chicken Po'Boy -- fried chicken, smashed avocado, corn relish, lettuce, smoked jalapeno mayo, with a side of fries -- $9

The Barrister Burger -- Medium-done meat patty with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles on a warm brioche bun -- $12

I ordered the burger, especially because it had two stars next to it on the menu.  For a burger priced at over $10, it's good, but not extraordinary.

Chocolate Ice Box Cake (only in shape/ not temperature) with vanilla ice cream (half portion) -- $5.

I'm not even a fan of chocolate cake, but the cake is moist and icing is not overly sweet or dense.  I loved this!

Sticky Toffee Pudding with vanilla ice cream (half portion) -- $5.

I was less impressed with the sticky toffee pudding because it wasn't sticky, I couldn't really taste the toffee, and the whiskey sauce purported to be used with it, was hardly noticeable.  That said, after the bread was soft and fluffy.  Not a bad dessert; it just wasn't what I was expecting.

Overall, the meal was fantastic.  The portions (even for appetizers) are reasonable and easily shareable. The decor is contemporary without being too weird.  The natural light that fills the room during the day creates an airy, relaxed vibe.  I'm sure the indoor lighting at night will be just as nice.  There's an outdoor patio with shaded seating, perfect for those warm days or beloved summer nights.

The service was attentive, but based on the newness of the restaurants/ servers, it could be improved.  Also, for some reason, we were given four different menus, so we can to play a game of figuring out all of the menu items.  Consolidating the menus would be greatly helpful, to create uniformity and avoid confusion.  Lastly, the entrance from the front (Los Angeles & 1st) is tough to locate.  If the patio gate is not open, look for a single glass door between the doors to the hotel and the patio.

Who's ready to check Justice out for happy hour?  Let's go!

Justice - Urban Tavern on Urbanspoon

cuisine: American
location: Little Tokyo
hours: Sun-Th: 6am-10pm; Fri-Sat: 6am-11pm; Happy Hour: M-Fri: 3-7pm
websites: { JT | yelp | facebook | twitter }
attire: Casual
parking: Self-parking at the hotel ($8); street meters; or nearby lots.

Wood Ranch BBQ

Happy American Chocolate Week, everyone!  (Well, what's left of it).

Whether you choose to celebrate this special week once a week or every week, I promise American Chocolate Week is a real thing.  Even though the week is nearly over, here are a few fun chocolate facts to enjoy:
  • The English chocolate company, Cadbury, made the world's first chocolate bar in 1842.
  • U.S. chocolate manufacturers use about 3.5 million pounds of whole milk every day to make milk chocolate.
  • Hershey's kisses were originally shaped like squares.
  • Wood Ranch is celebrating chocolate by infusing it in alcohol and blending it in BBQ which can later be slathered on slabs of juicy meat.  Wait, what?  Yes.  Leave it to Wood Ranch to bring you the best of both worlds.

S'mores Margarita -- chocolate syrup, cream, graham cracker-crusted rim, and TEQUILA!

One BBQ sauce has honeyed; the other is chocolafied -- can you guess which is which?

Co-partner and Executive Chef Alex Benes explaining the wonders of BBQ.

Grilled Veggie Salad (new) -- grilled sweet potato, asparagus, corn, tomato, cabbage, and avocado on a bed of lettuce.

Tuscan Kale Salad -- thinly-sliced watermelon radishes, cauliflower, toasted pumpkin seeds, chives, shaved Parm, kale.

The contraption that injects marinade into big hunks of meat -- scary-lookin'!

Pulled Pork Sliders -- topped with Carolina slaw and on toasted sesame buns.

Tri Tip Sliders with caramelized BBQ sauce.

Spinach-Artichoke Dip

Tortilla Chips with Salsa and Housemade Guacamole

Garlic Rolls... 

... that I think is infused with crack-like substances.  Seriously, it's that addictive!

Signature Sides: Peanut Coleslaw; Steamed Broccoli; Mashed Potatoes.

Meat Platter (for event), in all of its meaty glory. Top to bottom: St. Louis Dry-Rub Ribs over All-American Baby Back Ribs over BBQ Half Chicken with a side of Texas-Style Brisket and WR Tri-Tip.
The back view.

Another angle.

The real impressive winner of the night was this: The Giant Short Rib.

Green Beans sauteed and lightly tossed in a fiery Thai-style sweet/sour sauce.

Another winner: Brisket Burger 2.0 -- juice brisket, pickles, tomatoes, fried onions, lettuce, cherry-chipotle BBQ sauce on a toasted sesame brioche bun.

Large enough to share, but good enough to not want to.

Chocolate Week Special: Black & White Cheesecake with 70% Guittard dark cacao.

Flourless Guittard Chocolate Cake with candied pecans, whipped cream, and fresh vanilla ice cream.

Feasting like kings.

Many have told me that if I haven't had barbecue in any of the Southern states, I haven't experienced barbecue at all.  Well, since I haven't visited the South (yet), I may be an ignoramus when it comes to the art of preparing and grilling barbecue, but I can say I've had some mighty good barbecue right here in California, mainly via Texan influence (i.e. Bludso's; Adam Perry Lang; Rudy's by delivery from my Liam).

While I can't say Wood Ranch is my favourite BBQ in LA, Chef Alex Benes delivers solid traditional barbecue while experimenting with innovative options (chocolate-infused BBQ sauce, anyone?)  Undoubtedly, good food will big smiles all around the table.  Another plus about Wood Ranch is that with 14 locations throughout Southern California and with plans to expand, it's a very accessible way of getting your fill of delicious BBQ among many other choice items.

Check out the new chocolate-flavors, but try the St. Louis dry-rub ribs, Brisket Burger 2.0, and/or the short rib.  Delicious!

Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill on Urbanspoon

cuisine: American BBQ
location: multiple, including The Grove
hours: (Grove) 11:30am - 10pm, Daily
websites: { WR | yelp | facebook | twitter | instagram }
parking: Valet (validated); Grove parking, Farmer's Market parking (unvalidated)
attire: Casual
reservations: Yes
notes: The Grove LA location is spacious with both indoor and outdoor patio seating -- great for big groups!