February 16, 2015

Locanda del Lago

As a food enthusiast, I am always on the lookout for our city's newest and raved about restaurants. Undoubtedly it's a daunting task, especially when multiple hotspots seem to be appearing every week.  For every five new restaurants, however, there seems to one long-standing place that continues to mature in the same way you want your favorite wine to age.

Locanda del Lago has been serving Santa Monica since 1991.  Located in one of the busiest streets of Santa Monica (Third Street Promenade), it probably receives more foot traffic than any major bridge in the US.  And best of all, they support local farmers by showcasing fruit and product from the famous Santa Monica Farmer's Market.  A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to Lago for dineLA. After a meal that filled both my stomach and heart, I was left wondering why and how I had overlooked the Third Street establishment.

Inside, the lights are dim and the ambience is cozy and inviting.

I was also delighted to see that many, if not most, of the items on the dineLA menu were also listed on their regular dinner menu.

Complimentary frico and bread & butter.
J. Lohr is just one of the many wines on their extensive wine list.

Amuse boucheSmoked trout spread with toasted bread

Vitello Tonnato -- Roasted & chilled veal carpaccio, Genoa tuna caper aioli, rainbow greens, shaved parm

Insalata di Barbabietole -- Weiser Farms red and gold cubed beets, navel orange wedges, tomato-caraway vinaigrette.

Raviolini de Pesce -- housemade halibut raviolini with tiger shrimp Maine lobster bisque (dineLA menu only)

Filetto de Bue w/ porcini -- all-natural Creekstone filet mignon, porcini mushroom sauce, sauteed broccolini.

Tiramisu -- lady fingers, espresso, marscarpone cream and cappuccino sauce.

Panna Cotta -- vanilla custard with strawberry sauce.

Semifreddo agli Amaretti -- housemade semi-frozen Italian meringue cake, amaretti cookies, apricot sauce.

Lighting the grolla to begin an unforgettable post-dinner experience 

The entire meal was delightful, but if I had to choose highlights, they are as follows: (1) the beet salad was the winning appetizer with hearty beets and a refreshing citrus flair; (2) filet mignon could be a disaster if overdone, but it was cooked to perfection with all of its flavorful juices retained; (3) oh, the desserts! I loved them all, but the standout (just by a (not literal) hair) was the semi-freddo meringue with amaretto -- light and strangely addicting.  Quite possibly the best part was the grand finale of the night -- the grolla which can be passed around the table for everyone to take a sip (or two... or three).  Grolla, aka - "friendship cup," is a wine goblet usually with four spouts.  Inside our grolla there was some coffee, grappa (wine), lemon zest, brandy, and sugar. A greatest of all night caps.

There is no doubt that Chef Gianfranco Minuz cares a great deal about the high quality of his food.  The service was prompt, attentive, and respectful and the experience (grolla!) was memorable.  Locanda del Lago is a great spot for your next night out with your loved one, a celebration with friends, a power lunch, or a quick break from retail therapy.  Thank you for your passion and dedication, Chef Gianfranco!  See you again soon.

Locanda Del Lago on Urbanspoon

cuisine: Italian with specific focus on cuisine of Bellagio, Lombardy Italy (Lake Como)
location: Santa Monica
websites: { facebook | yelp | twitter }
hours: M-Thu: 11:30am-10pm; Fri-Sat: 11:30am-11pm; Sun: 10:30am-10pm
parking: Nearby parking garages (1st 90 min. free)
attire: Casual
reservations: Yes
notes: All pasta is made in-house, daily.

November 02, 2014

Cookies & Cream

Pasadena is home to many delicious ice cream/ frozen yogurt places.  There's 21 Choices, Carmela, and classic Fosselman's.  Then, there's Cookies & Cream, which not only churns its own ice cream, but bakes some of the most delicate, delicious cookies that your inner fatty could imagine.  Similar to CoolHaus and Diddy Riese, but in my opinion, better than them both, we have a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop called Cookies & Cream.  You must go.

For under $5, you will get generous scoops of your choice ice cream -- you can choose from many interesting flavors such as: earl mango amaretto, lychee green apple, minty thai tea, taro nutella, honeydew green tea, amongst other conventional flavors -- with a chewy, homemade cookie.  YUM.

Taro Nutella Ice Cream with Lemon Bar cookie -- $3.25

You can opt to get a made-to-order ice cream sandwich or an open-faced sandwich like I did (see above).  They are also very generous with their ice cream sampling (I think I tried them all) and there's usually a tray for cookie samples, too.  Also, not only is service ultra friendly, but flavors change on a weekly basis, so go, and go often.  When you do go, say hi to owner, Mr. Cheng Liu for me!

Cookies & Cream on Urbanspoon

cuisine: Ice Cream
location: Pasadena
hours: Mon: 1:30pm-10pm; Tue-Thur, Sun: 1:30pm-10:30pm; Fri-Sat: 1:30pm-11pm
websites: { yelp | facebook |
attire: Casual
parking: Street meters
price range: $3.25/scoop
notes: Cash only!
other review: { hometownpas }

November 01, 2014

Emporium Thai

For the first time in the history of Doah's Hungry (i.e., a ripe four years), this review is co-written with the help of a fellow food enthusiast.  Meet Alexander, a British bloke who despite his "functional eating" habits, loves eating food almost as much as me.  He also has a pretty high tolerance for spicy foods for... well, a white guy. ;)  And with that intro, we present to you, a Thai restaurant in Westwood that is worth your time, money, and attention.


Emporium Thai is owned by John Sungkamee.  If that name doesn't ring a bell, maybe its sister restaurant called named Jitlada will.  Yes, the Sungkamee family is behind serving traditional and authentic food from Southern Thailand in LA for years, and in so doing, have collected quite a few accolades along the way.  

Located just south of Wilshire on Westwood Blvd, EmporiumThai is unassuming and quiet despite being located on a busy street.  The atmosphere inside is inviting and the gentle music playing in the background serves to mask conversation creating an intimate ambience.  One feature that sets Emporium Thai apart from other restaurants is a brand new spiciness scale that has just been perfected by John and Executive Chef and sister, Gina Sungkamee.  Most dishes can be ordered with a specified amount of spice (on a scale of 1-10).  Our server recommended a 3 as a good place to start and described this as a medium amount of spice.  Even a 3 had us frequently grabbing for our waters and Thai iced teas, so we can't even imagine the spiciness of a 7+ rating.

Simple and inviting interior decor.

Hor Mok -- fish mousse flavoured with curry paste and coconut cream.

Delicious appetizer, mild in spice, but full of flavour and served in small bites.

The presentation is unique and fun.

CoCo Mango Salad -- sweet mango, red chili spice, and peanuts meet for a sweet dish with a spicy kick -- $12.95
Pairs nicely with Crying Tiger Beef (see below).  

Crying Tiger Beef -- Thai-style chargrilled beef, served with homemade green and red sauces -- $12.95
One of Emporium Thai's and Jitlada's most popular dishes and a Chef specialty.  Not overly spicy on its own, but can be enhanced with a red or green sauce.  The spiciness of this dish pairs beautifully with the sweet/ spicy mango salad.

Southern Curry -- chicken, jicama, basil, bell pepper, with various South Thai spices, with jasmine rice -- $11.95
This is originally from a recipe that has been in the family for 30 years!

Our personal favourite from the evening.  Seasoned with traditional South Thai flavours, this curry is complex and more than an average yellow curry.  We tried a level 3 on spiciness. 

Thai doughnuts with coconut ice cream -- $6.00
Save room for these warm little doughnuts (like a cronut, but lighter) and coconut ice cream.

Thai iced tea (not pictured) is definitely worth ordering, just be careful not to drink it all during dinner or else you might feel overly full.

One last note about portions… we ate all of this and were very full.  However, portions are on the small side, so I would recommend ordering a three course meal (ex. appetizer or salad, entrĂ©e, and dessert).

If you haven't checked this place out, it's about time that you do.  Like Jitlada, there are over two hundred items on the menu (?!), but do not worry.  The menu points you to crowd-favorites and the servers will talk with you to help you determine the appropriate spicyness level.  Whether you love Thai food or not, a visit to Emporium Thai would be an interesting and delightful food adventure.

Emporium Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

cuisine: Thai
location: Westwood, Los Angeles
hours: Mon-Thurs, Sun: 11:00am-10:30pm; Fri-Sat: 11:00am-11:00pm
websites: { ET | yelp | facebook | twitter }
attire: Casual
parking: Street meters
price: Expect to pay about $40 for for two dinner.
notes: This was a hosted meal.  Free delivery within a 3-mile radius from the restaurant.