August 24, 2014

Din Tai Fung

I had my first xiao long bao (aka - XLB, soup dumpling) at Din Tai Fung, Arcadia.  While I found my first encounter with XLB to be quite good, I didn't understand why people would wait hours and hours for the lop-sided dumpling that often had more meat filling than soup.  Still, during the early 2000's, whenever my friends and I craved XLB, we trekked to the SGV for XLB at DTF.

Since my early-XLB days, I've sampled the delicate dumplings aplenty from hole-in-the-wall places in NYC, SF, and LA (namely Mama Lu's and ROC Kitchen).  Over time, I began to understand the elements to a perfect dumpling: (1) skin just thick enough to prevent soup spillage, but also have enough pull for slight resilience; (2) hot savory pork broth that doesn't taste MSG-fied; and (3) filling that isn't too gelatinous or mushy, but has just the right amount of fat to retain good flavor.  While I can't say I've found the #1 XLB shop in LA, I have to hand it to Din Tai Fung for expanding its American empire, and readily making available tasty dumplings for diners unfamiliar with Shanghainese cuisine.

Din Tai Fung just opened its doors to the OC community (via South Coast Plaza), but here's a glimpse of Din Tai Fung, Glendale.

Pork & Vegetable Wontons with Spicy Sauce -- (6 for) $8

Shrimp & Pork Wonton with Spicy Sauce -- (6 for) $9

Shrimp & Pork Soup Dumplings -- (10 for) $9.50

Truffle Soup Dumplings -- (5 for) $22.50

Decent Filling-Soup ratio... don't burn you tongue!

I spy...


Strictly out of curiosity, I tried the truffle dumplings.  Priced at a whopping $4.50/ soup dumpling, I am sure I will never order it again.  The truffle flavor is clearly present, but there is nothing to truly write home about this dish.  It's a novelty item that entertains the occasional food blogger or the curious eater.  Stick with the standard shrimp/ pork XLB.

Other dishes to consider are pork/ shrimp shao mai (they look like money bags), minced pork noodles, and Shanghai rice cakes.

There's no doubt that Din Tai Fung is a good place to get introduced to xiao long bao.  There's also no doubt that there will be crowds of people at your nearest Din Tai Fung.  All things considered, it's a place worth putting on and checking of your list.  Bon appetit!

Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

cuisine: Taiwanese
location: Glendale (Arcadia and most recently, Costa Mesa)
hours: M-F: 11am-10pm; Sat: 10am-10pm; Sun: 10am-9pm
websites: { DTF | yelp | facebook | twitter }
parking: Americana parking (first 90 min free) or Valet
attire: Casual
price: ~$10-20
notes: Takes credit cards, but does not take reservations.  Full bar available.  Can order half portions of dumplings.

August 19, 2014

Leo & Lily

photo courtesy of mama's gotta bake

Who are Leo & Lily?  Frankly, it does not matter.  What is more important is that they know how to serve up a delicious brunch.  Consider enjoying a lazy Saturday (or Sunday) with them.

Regular cup of coffee with a mini biscotti -- very European.

Egg White Veggie Frittata -- zucchini, squash, roasted pepper, portobello mushroom, broccolini, topped with avocado and whipped goat cheese -- $11.25

Frittata d'America -- 3 organic eggs, garlic, oven-dried tomato, spinach, red onion, turkey bacon, parsley, cheddar cheese -- $11.25

B.L.T.A.E on a C -- bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, fried egg on a croissant with potatoes -- $10.95

At peak times, the wait may be long, which is a bummer since they don't take reservations.  Still, if you have the patience to stick around and the desire to keep your hunger at bay, you won't be disappointed in both the food and service.  This is a breakfast/ brunch gem of the Valley!

Leo & Lily on Urbanspoon

cuisine: American with Mediterranean flavors
location: Woodland Hills, CA
hours: M-Fri: 7:30am-9pm; Sat-Sun: 8am-9pm
websites: { L&L | yelp | facebook | twitter }
parking: Valet or Street
attire: Casual
avg. price: $10-$15 (for breakfast or lunch)
notes: Outdoor patio seating available; can accommodate big groups (call ahead); best for breakfast/ brunch.

August 08, 2014

Maccheroni Republic

I'm a bit late getting on the Maccheroni train, but here I am!

Maccheroni Republic has two alluring attributes that warrant at least an initial visit: (1) handmade pasta and (2) BYOB with no corkage fee. *

* Word on the street is that they are obtaining a liquor license soon, which will likely force us to bid adieu to the BYO + free corkage perk.  Whether true or not, you have all the more reason to check them out sooner than later!

Let's start with the basics.
  • Maccheroni Republic is an Italian trattoria located in downtown LA.  Look for the McDonald's on Broadway, but know that the entrance is not on Broadway, but around the corner, tucked behind some lush shrubbery.  
  • This place serves excellent pasta dishes, while uniquely retaining the comfort of eating in a friend's [Italian grandmother's] home.  
  • Parking is available on the streets (meters; free after certain hours) as well as an adjacent parking structure ($5).  
  • BYOB without any corkage fee - oh, yeah! 

  • There is indoor seating available, but opt for patio seating.  The ambience is cozy and inviting, especially with the glimmering lights that welcome the warm summer breeze.  It's all very romantic... for the romance between pasta and I, which is gradually blossoming.

$10 lunch deal is awesome! Must return.

Daily homemade, handmade pasta.

Non-pasta items.

Violetta Di Melanzane -- baked eggplant rolls, stuffed with mozzarella -- $9.50

This appetizer comes with about six small eggplant rolls and plenty of cheese -- so much cheese that after awhile, that's all I could taste.  So if you love mozzarella, you'll love the violetta di melanzane.  Would I order it again?  Probably not.

Spaghetti Vongole -- spaghettini with Manila clams in a garlic, white wine broth -- $13.95

Spaghettini pasta is thinner than regular spaghetti, but thicker than vermicelli or angel hair pasta.  I liked its use with the ample vongole (clams) and broth.

Tortelloni Burro E Salvia -- spinach & ricotta tortelloni with Parmesan sage sauce -- $14.95

A closer look inside.

The fave of the night was the tortelloni (the difference between tortellini and tortelloni is the size of the pasta; the latter being bigger.  And for most folks, bigger is better).  Delicately stuffed with the perfect balance of spinach and ricotta and tossed in a sage sauce, this is what defines pillow-y goodness.

There are many other diner favourites such as the black and white pasta (bianchi + neri) and the linguine ai fruitti de mare.  Whatever you choose to eat, remember to supplement it with (BYO) wine!  Have a great weekend, ya'll.

Maccheroni Republic on Urbanspoon

cuisine: Italian
location: Downtown LA
hours: M-F: 11:30am-3pm; 5:30-10pm; Sat: 5:30-10pm (dinner only); Sun: 4:30-9pm (dinner only).
websites: { yelp | facebook }
price: $10-$20
attire: Casual
parking: Street meters or nearby lots
reservations: no
notes: Forgot to bring wine?  Don't worry, just head to Buzz Wine Shop on Spring.  Also, the best time to check this place out is a weekday night.
other reviews: { | gastronomy | darindines }