Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kickin' it at Factory Tea Bar

After a demanding week of work last week, I headed out to the newly opened Factory Tea Bar in San Gabriel with Jackie over the weekend. I heard about this place with Alyssa over the week when we went to the movies and were approached by someone from Factory Tea Bar promoting it to us in the parking lot. Cool story.

Anyway, the place wasn't hard to find, and although it was in the middle of the day on a Saturday, parking was not hard to find either. When we first opened the door, I was immediately impressed, as I never imagined the interior to be so huge and roomy. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's large enough that I could get a full workout from running laps in there.

We were instantly greeted by the servers, and were seated comfortably on a large couch facing their projector screen and stage set-up. The servers were very friendly and helpful in describing their menus and telling us about how they just opened. We learned how they were starting open mic nights, which explained the whole set up with the mic and instruments. Pretty cool. While no one was on the mic when we were there,  I thought it was pretty creative how they were playing music from Youtube, and were actually projecting the Youtube videos on their projector screens.

Anyway, we ended up ordering two drinks, and a snack to share.
Peach Yogurt from Factory Tea Bar
I ordered the peach yogurt drink, and was happy to see that it came in such a huge portion as the price was not what I'd consider cheap. However, for the size, I think the price is pretty reasonable. As for the taste, I really enjoyed it as it was a perfect balance of sweet and sour-- not too much of either.
Black tea from Factory Tea Bar
Jackie ordered a black tea which was also quite a large portion :)
Green Tea Brick Toast from Factory Tea Bar
For our snack, we ordered a green tea brick toast. I was so excited when the plate arrived, because it looked so pretty. As shown in the picture, the actual toast actually has the words "Factory Tea Bar" sketched into it. How cute! As for the taste, I was instantly sold-- green tea anything is pretty much a winner!
Fries from Factory Tea Bar
Lastly, we also got an order of fries on the house. I guess it's for promoting their opening, which was great for the two of us. Yummy! In addition, they are having a buy one drink get one drink free promotion currently, so if you're planning on checking this place out, the sooner the better.

Overall, I think this place has great potential, and I think it will be a great place to bring my friends for our get-togethers. But the only downside is that it is cash only, so beware! My only suggestion is that, as with many other tea houses, they should carry some card games and board games.

323 S Mission Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 872-2969

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

A hearty lunch at The Counter

Sorry for the excruciatingly long break I've been taking from blogging! Between taking a short vacation, work, and play, most of my free time has actually been spent... sleeping and recuperating. With my busy summer break, however, I have been eating many delectable meals, and I can't wait to share all these places with you guys :) In particular, I recently ate at The Counter in Pasadena with my family.

As a celebratory meal for my mom's birthday, my mom wanted to try something a little more creative and different. The Counter fit the match with its "build your own burgers" (more on that later). The setting was also very comforting. Although very casual, the restaurant gave a very beach-y vibe, with it's outdoor seating, large windows, and aluminum chairs.

We started off with two intriguing appetizers: fried dill pickles and Parmesan french fries.

Fried dill pickles from The Counter.
Parmesan fries from The Counter.
My sister, a fan of fried pickles, told us that we had to try them, and so being the loving family members we are (haha), we ordered a plate of them. I... still don't know how I feel about them. The flavor wasn't very distinctly pickle-like, but rather, it was very ambiguous tasting, like it was trying to be sour, savory, and sweet at the same time. Very confusing.

On the contrary, I am in love with the Parmesan fries! I would order these over regular fries any day. I love the contrast between the smooth melting cheese with the crunchy crisp fries.

In addition to the appetizers, we ordered off the build your own burgers menu. We each got a small clipboard with a sheet of paper that gave options of meats, toppings, sauces, and buns that you could check off with a pencil. We all ordered the smallest patty, and even that itself was very huge. You could select up to a patty that was as heavy as a whole pound. Who does that?!? Pretty crazy :)

Customized burger from The Counter
I ordered a burger with blue cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and ranch dressing; just a pretty basic burger. I added blue cheese, because I remembered how good it tasted in a burger at Red Robin's, but unfortunately, when I ate it in my burger here, it was incredibly overpowering and was basically all I could taste from my burger. Also, I thought that the dressing I added would come already drizzled in the burger, but it came as a side, which I guess would be good for adjusting how much you might want to add, but I just found it a little inconvenient. Overall though, the patty was grilled to perfection, and the vegetables were fresh and crisp.

Here are the burgers that my brother and mom ordered:
My brother and his way of decorating his burger at The Counter.
My mom's burger topped with caramelized onions at The Counter. Yum!
I would definitely come back; I think it makes a very good lunch place. (But I'll probably skip out on the blue cheese next time!) The portions are pretty large though, so if you're not starving, you might end up taking home half a burger...

The Counter
140 S Shoppers Ln
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 440-1008

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Buster's: Hometown Cravings

For the past month, I've been craving to go to this local coffee shop in my hometown, South Pasadena, called Buster's. While it's selection of sandwiches, salads, and baked goods may not be enough to tempt the out-of-town visitor who only stop by once, the entire environment and atmosphere is what I always long to go back to (not to mention they have a nice selection of frozen yogurts and Fosselman's ice cream perfect for the summer sun).

Speaking of its environment, I love that as soon as I walk into the door, I am opening my eyes to walls, floors, and ceilings of bright colors in reds, yellows, greens, and blues. It's also located at a prime location on Mission street, next to the metro station, with interesting stores and boutiques surrounding it. But really, if anything, making a trip to Buster's is essentially taking part of a tour of the city of South Pasadena. Having been around for over two decades, it is most definitely one of the most popular places that locals flock to.

Ever since I was young, I've been frequenting this place, and I remember how every time I came with my friends after school ended, going up the stairs to their second floor seating was an absolute must. And if you're a first time customer, you'll be amazed at what you see when you arrive on the second floor. It's much more spacious than the first floor, with a brick wall framing multiple windows that look out to the street of shops and people. I mean, this is really the type of aura a coffee shop should be giving, right?

Anyway, there's my blurb about Buster's. Be sure to check it out!

Buster's Coffee
1006 Mission St
South Pasadena, CA 91030
(626) 441-0744

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Trip Down to Irvine to Old Vine Cafe

On a random weekend, I went with my sister and her friends to Irvine for a shopping spree. While we were there, we also had lunch at the Old Vine Cafe. It was pretty packed when we got there, and had to wait about half an hour to get seated. But upon entering, I was almost immediately captivated by the atmosphere. As pictured above, their menus are stapled onto canvas paintings. How interesting! In fact, looking around, I noticed that each canvas menu had a different painting.

I took a little longer than usual deciding what to order, because there were just so many options. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go the delectably sweet route, or something more heavy and savory. But finally, I reached a decision and ordered the Southern Brunch-- it offered both savory and sweet on the same plate!
Southern Brunch at the Old Vine Cafe.
The dish I ordered consisted of two eggs, a fried green tomato (bottom right), house made scrapple (top right), and a biscuit with apple butter. Yum! When the plate first arrived, I had forgotten what I had ordered, and I thought that the portion pictured on the top left in the image above was actually mashed potatoes... But no, it was just a very satisfying biscuit. Although I thought that the dish wasn't going to be very filling by the looks of it, I was already stuffed by the time I ate through half of it. The scrapple was very interesting to me, as I've never had it before, but I liked it's flavorful mushy yet crunchy consistency. The fried green tomato also caught my attention. Although it tasted fresh and juicy on the inside, it was fried and crunchy on the outside.

I also tried some of my sister's dish, which was the Omelet España, recommended by our server.
Omelet España at the Old Vine Cafe.
The omelet consisted of Prosciutto, artichoke, bell peppers, Shiitake mushrooms, and cheese. Similar to their fried tomato, I loved that they came up with original combinations of ingredients for their dishes. The outcome was delicious too.

I'm surprised I haven't discovered this gem of a restaurant throughout my two years in school in Irvine, but I'm glad that I finally did. I can't wait to take my friends here and try out their other options from their menu. Some things I will keep in mind however, is to not come when I'm completely starving (because it might take a long time to get seated), and to always bring extra cash because it's located within The Camp-- a plaza that also houses many other cool boutique stores.

Old Vine Cafe

2937 Bristol St, Ste A102
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 545-1411

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lunch Eats at Eat Chow

After figuring out housing woes for the next school term, I organized a lunch time get-together with two of my future roommates Lindsey and Esme. This was the first time I got to meet Esme, and knowing that she's actually an international student from China, I thought that it would be nice to eat lunch at an American-style restaurant. Upon Yelp-ing a bit (a new favorite past-time of mine), I saw great reviews for Eat Chow in Costa Mesa and knew that we had to come here for lunch.
The restaurant design is also noteworthy. The interior looks super chic, with a few tables complemented by fancy (extremely heavy) chairs and a bar table with stools against the windows. Moreover, Eat Chow is connected to the clothing store, The Closet, next door. Rather than plastered walls, there is a window as well as a doorway leading into the restaurant. I thought that that was very unique. In addition, I noticed on the door of Eat Chow's that dining in there gave a discount for shopping at The Closet. Very neat.

Anyway, to start off the meal, I ordered their popular Truffle Parmesan fries. The moment I bit into one of the fries, I realized what all the hype was about. Fried in truffle oil, these fries tasted perfectly seasoned, and simply irresistible. Each fry itself was also finely cut into super thin sticks, which kept me from feeling guilty eating them.
Truffle Parmesan Fries from Eat Chow
For my main entree, I ordered the French Dip sandwich. I did not expect to be wow'd or anything, as it's a pretty basic dish, but actually... Eat Chow's French Dip is definitely something to boast about. The roast beef was very juicy and tender, and the sauce was freshly hot. The portion size was also very appropriate and nothing that made the dish feel too heavy. At first, I had my reservations about ordering it because I knew that it would not come with a necessary serving of vegetables, but it worked out because my sandwich was actually accompanied with a side of greens.
French Dip Sandwich from Eat Chow.
Lindsey ordered the Teri Burger, while Esme ordered the Salmon sandwich. While I did not try either of their dishes, they both nodded in agreement when I asked whether they liked what they ordered. Furthermore, by the end of our meal, all three of our plates were completely cleared! Esme also added that the Salmon sandwich she ordered was The Best Sandwich that she's ever ate (note the caps). After her dish arrived and her raving reviews of it, I half-regretted not ordering it because it was my second choice! But whatever, I had an amazing sandwich as well :)
Teri Burger from Eat Chow
Salmon Sandwich from Eat Chow
Overall, this lunch was solid. I love how their dishes seem like traditional American dishes with a little edge. I don't know what this place would be like during lunch and dinner times on weekends, since the restaurant is quite small and cozy, but when we went at around 2pm on a weekday, there weren't a lot of people and therefore service was pretty attentive. Take my word, I will come back and order that salmon sandwich! Now who wants to join me?

Eat Chow
1802 Newport Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
(949) 650-2469

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer night out at Tanino Ristorante Bar

After surviving the first week of my internship, I went out with Sophia, Julieta, and Alyssa for a night of fun at Tanino Ristorante Bar in Westwood. We had two conditions when we were deciding where to eat at: (1) we wanted Italian food, and (2) we wanted eat at a restaurant that had a pretty setting. Tanino was a perfect match!
Upon opening the door, I was instantly stunned by the interior. Everything from the black and white floor tile to the intricately-patterned ceiling made it feel like I was dining in someone's mansion. Very classy.

We were shortly seated and greeted by a friendly staff of servers. Within minutes of glimpsing through the menu, the waiter came by to see if we were ready, but being our first time at Tanino, we needed much more time. But after just asking for a few more minutes, another waiter comes up and asks if we were ready to order, as if we were taking way too long to order. We spent a few more minutes deciding what to order with the eager waiters hovering over us, and finally came to a decision.

I ordered the Spaghetti ai ricci di mare, which is a spaghetti with sea urchin dish. When I told the waiter my order, he questioned me a few times (more than three!) as to whether I really wanted to order that dish. I was a little taken aback, because I am always instantly drawn to anything with sea urchin, but yet the waiter almost seemed like he was discouraging me from ordering it. So I asked him whether the sea urchin was bad that day or something, and he told me that the sea urchin was fresh, but that the taste is a little strange and wasn't sure I would like it. I guess he didn't know that I'm actually a big fan of sea urchin! Regardless, I thought it was a little weird that he would discourage someone from ordering something off their menu.
Spaghetti ai ricci di mare from Tanino Ristorante
I ended up ordering it anyway, and was so glad that I did because it was so fulfilling! Although the portion wasn't huge (a good thing), it was packed with more sea urchin than I could have imagined. Very impressive. I also liked that even though the description said that it was made with olive oil, that the dish wasn't too greasy at all. It was a very good dish, and I might end up coming back frequently to order this despite their amazing selection of dishes!

Alyssa ordered the Tortelloni di zucca e salvia, which is a tortellini stuffed with pumpkin and ricotta. It sounds super yummy, and by the looks of it, I'm sure it tasted amazing. Moreover, it's one of the recommended dishes, according to the waiters.
Tortelloni di zucca e salvia from Tanino Ristorante.
The Gnocchi was also another recommended dish, and so both Sophia and Julieta ordered the Gnocchi al pesto. That also looked positively tasty. Needless to say, the four of us happily left our plates empty and had the time of our lives!
Gnocchi al pesto from Tanino Ristorante.
Once we finished our main entrees, we asked for the dessert menu and were caught in a dilemma deciding what to order. We all ended up ordering a flourless chocolate cake. I was so glad that our entree portions were a little smaller, so that I could fit in dessert without feeling overly stuffed.
Flourless chocolate cake from Tanino Ristorante
The cake was dense with rich chocolate flavor, and eating it confirmed that we did in fact choose the perfect dessert to finish the meal!
Me and Alyssa at Tanino Ristorante
Julieta and Sophia at Tanino Ristorante.
Overall, the environment really set us up for a fantastic meal! It felt like we were eating like kings, when really, we paid like we were the poor college students we were receiving our small paychecks from our part-time jobs. I also loved that they were incredibly quick in serving our food (maybe only about 10 minutes from ordering our entrees to receiving them), but maybe that's because we arrived at about 9:00 p.m. The only thing about the service was that the waiters kept on trying to tease us and make conversation with us. It was fine at first, but I personally felt a little like they were crossing the line a bit and were a little too talkative. But with my girls with me there tonight, it was pretty entertaining. So I will just end this post and say that I am waving my thumbs up for Tanino! (Just be bold and order that sea urchin spaghetti regardless of what beef they may give you~)

Tanino Ristorante Bar
1043 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Neighborhood: Westwood
(310) 208-0444

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cafe Massilia: High expectations with Low realizations

For a slow and quiet Sunday, my sister and I used up her Groupon coupon on Cafe Massilia located in cute Old Town Monrovia. Settled on a small side street, I would have never discovered it without the help of Groupon. Contrary to it's mild presence from the outside, however, the restaurant was very impressionable on the inside.

Walking into a warmly lit room painted in deep red and decked with timeless decor and small tables, the atmosphere was very cozy. We were quickly greeted with a friendly welcome from the waitress who spoke with a heavy French accent. The whole setting reminded me of when my siblings and I were young and we went on vacation in France, eating crazy family meals in restaurants where we couldn't read what we were ordering. Luckily, below each of the French names of the dishes at Cafe Massilia was a very attractive English description.

Adding to the intimate atmosphere, our appetizers shot our excitement (and expectations) through the roof. We ordered Escargot and the Salade d'Endives as starter dishes and both did not disappoint.
(A half-finished) Escargot Au Beurre d'Ail from Cafe Massilia.
Everything about this dish was perfect: the way the escargot was cooked, the presentation in that we did not need to fork the meat out from the shell manually, and the fact that the oil that it was drenched in made the perfect dipping sauce for a basket full of bread.
Salade d'Endives from Cafe Massilia.
Our starter salad was as equally promising. It smartly paired blue cheese with apples and walnuts within the greens, leading to a combination of flavors that I didn't even know was possible. After finishing up the salad and the escargot, my sister and I were energized with anticipation for our entrees.

Unfortunately, the entrees we ordered left much to be desired. Together, we ordered a baked sea bass and the roasted duck leg with orange sauce to share.
Loup De Mer Massilia (baked sea bass)  from Cafe Massilia.
I could not have been more disappointed by this dish. The texture of the fish was incredibly rough, which was completely the opposite of why we ordered it. We decided on the sea bass, because it is usually prepared very smooth and juicy, but the fish here was dry and unimpressive. Interestingly enough, the menu lists this dish as "The Best of Massilia," but I did not see it as any sort of "best." So then I moved on to the duck, hoping that it would make us forget what we just tried.
Canard a l'Orange (Roasted Duck Leg) from Cafe Massilia.
Although the duck here was paired with a complementary orange sauce, it tasted no better than the sea bass. There was nothing noteworthy about the dish other than the fact that the meat was not roasted to perfection, but rather rough and dry. Perhaps if my sister and I walked into Cafe Massilia with low expectations we may have been impressed, but the setting was so precisely decorated and themed, and the appetizers were done so nicely, that we could not help but have some higher expectations. The only redeeming quality was that we have a Groupon discount for the dinner tonight.

Even so, we thought that we'd give their desserts a try, since we had such mixed thoughts on the dishes before. We ordered their trio sampler of desserts which is "a Sampler of Creme Brulee, Mousse Au Chocolat and Profiteroles."
Three Dessert Combination from Cafe Massilia.
I wish I could say that the dessert was the redeeming dish of the night and made the whole meal satisfying, but this was not the case. Much like the rest of dinner, the dessert was very mixed in quality. The mousse by itself was very rich with flavor and tasty. Likewise, they also served quality creme brulee with the thinnest layer of hardened caramel and the lightest, fluffiest of creams. However, the profiteroles was another expectation left unmet. The pastry encasing the ice cream tasted so stale that I was just glad that there was a generous amount of ice cream to distract from it.

To sum it up, dinner was anticlimactic and merely mediocre. Don't be fooled by our happy faces; this was taken before we tried the entrees.
My sister (left) and me at Cafe Massilia.
Cafe Massilia

110 E Lemon Ave
Monrovia, CA 91016
(626) 471-3588