Wednesday, October 28, 2015


319 E. 2nd Street, Suite 202
Los Angeles, cA 90012
Tel: 213.626.0244
$$ ($15-$30)
Cuisine: Vietnamese/Thai
Fri, 10/09/2015, 7:00pm reservation
    (4.5 Piglets)

Being Chinese, Asian is probably my cuisine of preference. I grew up eating Chinese food (and I'm not talking about the fast food kung pao chicken from Panda Express). My mom would sometimes spend hours just making one of her stews for us to eat for the following day. So, when I heard that there was a new restaurant that incorporated Vietnamese and Thai flavors with a hint of Chinese, I couldn't pass up on the opportunity to check it out!  

Simbal is nestled in Little Tokyo featuring Southeast Asian cuisine. Chef Shawn Pham, who worked at Sona, The French Laundry and the Bazaar by Jose Andres, crafts simple Asian cooking with a piece of his heritage into his dishes. The flavors are unique, bold and pleasurable to the palate. Dim Sum carts roam around the restaurant for a few snack-able items before and during your dining experience.

The kitchen
The bar

The restaurant is industrial with a modern and contemporary feel. The bar is elegant but the main delight is the open kitchen with counter top seating. You can see everyone working hard, including Chef Pham. The manager Ron Carey is welcoming and is hustling to make sure everything is in order. And the food...delicious.

DEAL WITH THE DEVIL ($12.50): Blanc vermouth, port wine, lime, pineapple, ginger, peychaud bitters, soda. Sweet, with a hint of ginger. I'm not the biggest fan of ginger, but this actually works. I think for all ginger lovers, this is the drink for you! 
BRAISED PORK BELLY ($14.00): Braised pork belly, coconut juice, marinated egg. This reminds me of my mom's cooking and hence, I think it tastes Chinese than anything else. The broth had a lot of deep flavors and was probably my favorite thing out of the dish. The egg was cooked perfectly with the creamy, runny yolk in the middle. The pork soaked up all the flavors of the broth and was moist and had the right amount of fat to meat ratio. 
DIM SUM: SPRING ROLL : Chinese sausage, jicama, egg.  It's a spring roll manipulated! Chinese sausage? Egg? Jicama? Yup. It was good and the sauce was sweet. Definitely a nice deviation from the usual Vietnamese spring roll. 
MY FAVORITE DISH. BEEF TARTARE ($13.00): Larb seasoning, sesame bread. This dish is reminiscent of a Thai larb salad. It's spicy and the beef tartare was delicious. If you're afraid of trying raw beef, this is a good start dish for you since the lime slightly cooks the beef. The sesame was delicious and I could eat that nonstop, everyday! Super crispy and was yummy in my tummy. 
BROILED BLACK COD ($15.00): Turmeric, caramelized shallots, roasted peanuts, fresh dill. This was good. The cod was flaky but it wasn't one of my favorite dishes. 
SEASONED RICE ($9.00): Chili jam, salted duck egg yolk, bonito powder, crispy garlic. The rice was definitely different and not your usual fried rice. Get the lime and mix it in. It'll take it to a whole another level. 
SHORT RIB PIE ($16.00): Lemongrass, annatto, beef tendon. This is comfort food at its best. I love pot pies and the stew in this concoction reminded me of the stews my mom would make. It tastes very Vietnamese with the flavors of star anise in the dish. My only wish was that the crust was a little more flaky, ie. more fat and butter (cause you know...I do love my butter). 
A closer look at the short rib pie!
ROASTED BONE MARROW ($16.00): Grilled chili jam, scallions. Wow! This bone marrow is definitely a different take on the usual flavors. It was a little spicy from the chili jam and the scallions added a nice touch. It had strong Asian flavors and I appreciated their take on bone marrow. I also believe that this would be a good dish for those who have always been afraid to try bone marrow, especially if you like Asian food. 
COCONUT FLAN ($7.50): Tamarind caramel, coconut snow. I'm not the biggest fan of coconut, but I actually enjoyed this dish. My friend couldn't get enough of it and she kept thinking about it the next day. That's how good it is. It's sweet (but not overly sweet) and creamy. The coconut snow added texture and coolness to the dish. I would order this dish again. 

Overall, the food was pretty darn good for Asian fusion. I appreciate that Chef Pham stayed with his roots, but incorporated other flavors from Southeast Asia. The service was exceptional and made my dining experience that much more enjoyable. The only downfall is that the restaurant is hidden and could easily be missed. At the time of my visit, they were working on getting their liquor license, so many of the cocktails could have been modified. Would I come back? Uh...yes! 

Saturday, October 24, 2015


Lou Malnati's
805 S. State St.
Chicago, IL 60605
Tel: 312.786.1000
$$ ($15-$30)
Cuisine: Pizza/Italian
Mon, 10/05/2015, 3:00pm walk-in

Pizza is usually a part of my healthy diet as I would like to say. To argue which pizza is best...NY or Chicago is based on personal preference. I've had both. I think both are equally good. So when I was in Chicago, I knew I had to find the best Chicago style pizza around.

The interior

The interior

Lou Malnati's is a classic. They opened their first shop in 1971 and has expanded ever since. Their pizza is a deep dish, traditional pie. The crust is what gets, buttery and flaky all made from scratch. Lou's pizza is thick and usually a slice is good enough to satisfy most people. They don't skimp on the cheese nor the sauce either. And obviously, on my visit, I had to get their specialty pizza: Malnati's Chicago Classic.

MALNATI CHICAGO CLASSIC (SMALL-$14.65): Made with Lou's lean sausage, some extra cheese and vine-ripened tomato sauce on Buttercrust.  If you ever wanted a pizza pie, this is the real deal.  So buttery, so cheesy, so good. The crust isn't as thick as I thought it would be. It was more the sausage and the cheese that is the substantial component of the pizza. It takes about 30 minutes to bake, so be patient. It's so worth it. 
A closer look at the Classic Sausage Pizza

Overall, Lou Malnati's is the way to go whilst in Chicago. It is extremely tasty, the service was pretty impeccable and you're always left feeling satisfied. Granted, I haven't tried their other toppings cause I stuck to what I knew was good. The cheese and the buttery crust...oh man...I can't get enough of it. Good thing they ship to California! Unfortunately, it ain't cheap. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


1723 North Halsted
Chicago, IL 60614
Tel: 312.867.0110
$$$$ ($50+)
Cuisine: American
Sun, 10/04/2015, 7:30pm reservation
    (4 Piglets)

Alinea. Three Michelin stars. Number 26 best restaurant in the world by S. Pellegrino. Best restaurant by Gourmet Magazine. Best chef by the James Beard Foundation. The list goes on and on so you get the picture. 

The hallway to where the magic happens...
The kitchen at Alinea

I can't reiterate how excited I was to finally try this place. To even get tickets to this restaurant (you gotta go online and hope you're lucky to score a reservation) was a handful. I was blessed enough to have a friend of mine know a few people to score us a reservation. And even then, forking out over $1500 on the spot (we each paid $375pp)without having eaten anything is kinda a big deal. So, I expected a lot out of this restaurant. Based on the the awards Alinea has on their belt, how could you not?

Grant Achatz is the chef behind Alinea. He had stints at Charlie Trotters and the French Laundry before coming up with the concept of Alinea. Having had been diagnosed with oral cancer, he fought for his life and managed to beat the odds. His food at Alinea is truly innovative and is the epitome of molecular gastronomy. Here is the 15 course meal we had ...BE PATIENT CAUSE THERE ARE LOTS OF PICS AND EACH COURSE IS AN EXPERIENCE IN ITSELF.


COURSE ONE: PEACH: Basil, murray river salt. So I'm ready to eat this, but where are the utensils?
A closer look at course one...
COURSE ONE: PEACH: Basil, murray river salt. Ok. Now, I'm finally ready to review course one which happens to be a drink. It was a great way to begin a meal. It was refreshing and it was a spectacle to watch how the wine melted the ice and encapsulated peach juice. I wouldn't say it would be considered a course, but it was good nonetheless.
COURSE TWO: GILDA: Guindilla de ibarra, anchovy, olive. This was my least favorite of the three. It was a jelly that consisted of anchovy and olives. It was a quick one bite type of dish and just the texture itself was kinda off for me.
COURSE TWO: BOCADILLO: Bread, jamon iberico, manchego. This was my favorite of the three. Anything that can resemble the jamon iberico is a big accomplishment in my book.

COURSE TWO: PATATAS BRAVAS: Paprika, chile, garlic. This was my second favorite of the three. It was a crispy potato with some deep flavors and a little spice.
COURSE THREE: STRAWBERRY: Tomato, pumpernickel, burrata. So, the tomato was really a strawberry and the strawberry was really a tomato. The burrata cheese at the bottom of the bowl had a few tapioca balls. To eat this dish, you had to drink it through a straw like how you would do in a boba drink. It wasn't amazing but it was interesting to say the least.  

COURSE FOUR: CHAR ROE: English pea, olive oil, chamomile. The olive oil was transformed to a foam and there was a bit of jalapeno in the form of a gelee. The roe was sweet and the dish was a bit spicy and creamy. The presentation was nice but to me, that was about it.

COURSE FIVE: GRAFFITI: Matsutake, maitake, parsley. The name says it all. The pieces resembled the texture of meringue and under that, are some porcini mushrooms. A parsley liquid was sprayed like graffiti. It was good.
COURSE SIX: TORORO KOMBU: Hamachi, ice fish rice cracker. Tasty. Good. Small. Nothing special.We actually BBQ it  over the open fire...
COURSE SIX: CORN: Uni, nori, togarashi. The best out of the courses. It was delicious and the uni sauce was creamy. A good take on corn with Japanese flavors. 
COURSE SIX: PERCEBES: Smoke, seawater, ash. It was good but so small. Sigh. One bite wonder. 
COURSE SEVEN: CHICKEN: Shishito, lily, kombu. Ok. So finally something more substantial. I was hungry. I wanted meat. This was a threesome of just alright dishes. Succulent? Very. But anything that floats my boat? No. 
COURSE EIGHT: HOT POTATO: Cold potato, black truffle, butter. This was one of the better dishes. Perhaps, it was tied for the best dish. Unfortunately, it was only a shot of a potato truffle soup that left me wanting more. I guess you know its' good when you crave more of it! 
COURSE NINE: OLIVE CAKE: Extra virgin olive oil, black pepper. This wasn't one of my favorites. It was definitely very spongy with a pungent olive taste. My friend hated it and only took one bite before completely calling it quits on this dish. Perhaps feeling like you're foraging for your food wasn't the best idea either...

COURSE TEN: LAMB: Caper leaf, grapes, olives. I love lamb and when I got this dish, I was kinda disappointed. Sure, the lamb was good, but it didn't do anything for me. 

MY FAVORITE DISH. COURSE ELEVEN: BLACK TRUFFLE: Explosion, romaine, parmesan. This dish was so good. Imagine that soup dumpling you get at Din Tai Fung  and multiply that taste by 100x and this is what you get. I wish I could get more than one piece of this masterpiece. So divine. 

Honey Truffles anyone? They smell like marshmallows.....!!!!!!!
COURSE TWELVE: PARSNIP: Honey truffle, vanilla, orange. A parsnip with lots of flavor that is sweetened. It was good. Flavors were well put together. I didn't marvel at this dish though. 
COURSE THIRTEEN: BACON: Butterscotch, thyme, black pepper. This was like a piece of bacon hung to dry. I love bacon and this was slightly sweetened. It was good. 
COURSE FOURTEEN: BALLOON: Helium, green apple. Wow! How innovative! Just the experience of this dessert was marvelous. The taffy was sticky and the green apple was very distinct. Solid. 
A video of me eating the balloon:

COURSE FIFTEEN: TROPICAL FRUIT: Rum, vanilla, kaffir lime. Pretty dessert on a table right? Did you just read that correctly? Yes, you get your final dessert course made right in front of you on the table. Lots of flavors and it was quite substantial. It was good if you like tropical. I personally wanted something more on the chocolate/ice cream end. That's just a personal preference though. 

A video of the dessert: 

Overall, Alinea is an experience that I feel everyone should try at least once in their lifetime. The food is innovative and Achatz achieved molecular gastronomy at its best. The service could have been a little better. We arrived at 7:30pm and had long wait times between dishes resulting in a 4.5 hour dinner (my friend was eating the same night and his reservation wasn't til 9:30pm and he was just about done when we were leaving). In terms of the food, I wouldn't say that every dish I tasted was amazing, but it was definitely creative. Just for the creativity and the experience, it's worth a visit.