Walking into the bar area at Katana, one experiences an overwhelming sensation of Hollywood trendiness. The concrete walls with recesses for candles, the piles of bricks, the low lighting, the funky world music, the model gorgeous hostesses and bar tenders. It's just the sort of atmosphere in which you expect to find Lindsay Lohan dancing on tables as paparazzi jostle you in their quest for the money shot. However, the clientele at Katana is surprisingly low key. When the hubby and I went on a Sunday night, we found a lot of families and almost touristy looking couples. So while the hostess may be in stilettos, you can certainly come in your keds.
After waiting for about ten minutes (with a reservation) we were escorted back to the surprisingly empty dining area. What were we waiting for? The room is a study in what Americans think "Asian Decor" looks like: Lots of dark wood with embroidered silk cushions and small smooth pebbles where you can rest your chopsticks. A fun place for a date night.
We had come for their Appetite Stimulus Menu - Four courses for $35 dollars. I'll review them in the order they came (which was the opposite of what they were supposed to be, except for dessert). However, our very sweet waitress did warn us that the first course does take a while, and I had fun eating it all tapas style.
First came the sushi (you could also choose a chicken teriyaki entree). A confession: While I enjoy sushi, I don't feel overly qualified to review it. To me it either tastes fishy (which is a very bad thing) or it doesn't. This didn't. The fish tasted fresh and had a nice texture, but it was all pretty basic stuff. A nice simple plate of tuna, yellow tail, salmon, shrimp, spicy tuna, and a California roll.
Then came the Robata or skewers, which Katana is apparently known for. I can't tell you about the salmon with pesto as I hate cooked fish. (I did take one intrepid bite - just for you dear reader - before reassuring myself that I do indeed despise the stuff). The chicken meatballs with teriyaki sauce was steaming hot, moist and tender. However, the teriyaki was quite light and lacked the deep flavor I was expecting. Luckily, all robata are served with three dipping sauces: ponzu, spicy mustard, and ginger. These flavorful concoctions did wonders to elevate the chicken. Finally, we also had cherry tomatoes wrapped in bacon. Now, there is a soft spot in my heart for all things encased in bacon, but these didn't blow me out of the water. The bacon was so thin it simply added a complex note to the steaming tomato juices bursting in your mouth. While I would have liked a little more meat, it did balance the acidity of the tomato beautifully and was quite a tasty morsel.
Finally, the supposed "first course" of Chicken Gyoza arrived (there were two other options offered which I don't recall). The wrapping was light and pliant, and the filling seemed to be made of the exact same ingredients as the chicken meatball robata. So, once again, this dish benefited greatly from the use of the dipping sauces.
We ended with the rich Chocolate Volcano. This tiny cake packed a deep chocolate flavor. Served piping hot with vanilla ice cream, the molten center was divine when used to smother the accompanying berries. Definitely my favorite course of the night!
While the food at Katana was good, it certainly wasn't anything special. If you're looking for a trendy atmosphere, this might be the place to go. Personally, I think you'd do better to spend your $35 on the Farmer's Market Menu at Josie. I give this two and a half belt notches.
Katana's Appetite Stimulus Menu is available all night Sunday-Thursday. 8439 W. Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 323-650-8585 www.katanarobata.com/katana
While still in the land of early bird specials (and the week of both my parent's birthdays), we decided to try the deal at the Old Yarmouth Inn: Between 4:30-6:30 you can order three courses off their prix fixe menu daily for just $19.95.
The Inn, established in 1696, is the oldest on Cape Cod. The proprietors play up this heritage, seating guests in colonial dark wooden chairs and wall papering the room in a toile fabric patterned with an idyllic scene of children playing. Even the wooden molding, with it's square "dental" pattern, seems straight out of another era. The ceilings are a bit low (remember, people were shorter back then!) but, with two of the walls composed entirely of windows, the light and airy space never feels claustrophobic. One final welcoming touch is a pretty vase filled with fresh flowers on the table.
Having been out exploring Cape Cod all day, we were thrilled when the bread arrived. It was light and airy with a substantial crust. The sweet butter which accompanied it made for a simple and delightful mouthful, we were ready for our meal!
Not being a big fan of mixed green salads (how boring!) I chose to pay the $2.25 up charge for the Caesar salad. Now, normally I love the rich, creamy tang of the dressing, but this dish was completely overpowered by the anchovies in the dressing. I know there are purists out there who will claim that the anchovy taste should be present in a true Caesar, but I believe it should simply be part of the underlying depth of flavor, not the first thing that assaults your taste buds. The salad was very cheesy, but it seemed the sort of shredded Parmesan that you might buy at your local supermarket, not the delicate flakes I have come to expect. While the croutons were buttery and delicious, this salad certainly left a lot to be desired.
For my main course, I opted for the braised, boneless Short Ribs in a Hoisin and Beer Sauce. The meat itself was served steaming hot and fork tender, but it didn't have much flavor. The sauce was flavorful and rich, but I think they put in a little too much cornstarch as the texture felt artificially gelatinous. The carrots were way overcooked, completely falling apart. That's the sort of side I would expect at a cafeteria. The only redeeming items on the plate were the crispy snap peas and the creamy mashed potatoes. While it wasn't a bad dish, it certainly isn't one I will order again.
The final disappointment came with dessert. I selected the Lemon Cream Cake garnished with Raspberry Coulis. Dear reader, I kid you not when I say I have had better desserts from a supermarket bakery (which is where I suspect this came from). The cake was cloyingly sweet, yet still managed to have a slight bitterness. The best thing on the plate was the fresh strawberry. This restaurant is in desperate need of an on site pastry chef!
Overall, the Old Yarmouth Inn is clearly stuck in the past, but more an embarrassing 1980s big shoulder padded, neon colored, poofy haired sort of past. This place is in desperate need of a culinary makeover! It is a beautiful space with ample potential, however the food leaves a lot to be desired. I give this one belt notch.
Old Yarmouth Inn serves their three course special Daily from 4:30-6:30. 223 Route 6A Yarmouth Port, MA 02675 508-362-9962 www.oldyarmouthinn.com
First off, dear readers, an apology for being so behind on this blog! I have indeed been dining on deals and am eager to share them with you, it's just taken a little longer then expected to write about my experiences. But, never fear, I remember each morsel in delicious detail.
My travels in the past few months took me to New England, so I used it as an excuse to slip away to one of my favorite places in the world: Cape Cod. This elegant peninsula is a mix of vacationing families and retirees. While the tourists may get stuck paying top dollar for so-so fare, the locals know that this town is chock full of deals! This being an older crowd, they are mostly found in the way of "early bird specials." So off I went to catch the worm!
My first deal was found at the Cape Sea Grille. Get your order in by 7pm, and for the price of an entree you also get a soup or salad and a dessert. Two additional courses completely gratis! This restaurant perfectly captures the beach side sophistication that is lost in so many tourist traps. The walls are lined with windows with views out on to the tall grasses and sweet cottages that define the area. The colors are plucked from the environment, with sand colored walls accented by sky blue details. We sat on the enclosed patio, the fading sunlight all around us spotlighting the perfect pink rose on each table.
The two types of bread were from a local artisan bakery. While the Pecan and Raisin bread had nice complex flavors, it was slightly burned on top. I much preferred the perfectly cooked Wheat bread. The light and airy texture of the inside contrasted nicely with the substantial crust.
I started with the soup of the day: Gazpacho. Done well, this is one of my favorite soups, and the Cape Sea Grille's version did not disappoint. The acidity of the fresh tomato gave it a nice tang which was offset by biting into the sweet corn kernels nestled within. The abundance of veggies cut into tiny pieces made every mouthful taste like summer's last hurrah. My only quibble was the creme fraiche. While it gave a nice color contrast, the mellow flavor was completely superfluous on top of the bold veggies.
For my entree I opted to go with the $24 Orange and Soy Roasted 1/2 Chicken. (Disclaimer: I thought I took a picture, but I apparently took a video, so enjoy!) The chicken itself was perfectly cooked, the meat was nice and moist. The sauce was subtle, something I did not expect with such potent flavors. What really made the dish shine was all the veggies on the plate. The caramelized onions melted in your mouth. The creamy blue and white potatoes contrasted beautifully with the crisp snap of the peas. Overall, the plate provided a lovely array of textures and a depth of flavors. I'm continually impressed by how great chefs can elevate the lowly bird.
Finally came the Chocolate Bread Pudding. This is like no other bread pudding I have ever experiened because there was no trace of "bread." That little ramekin contained pure unadulterated chocolate wonderfulness. The texture was remarkable, more substantial then fudge but far silkier and creamier then cake. Overall, a very sweet ending to a delicious meal.
The ambiance, the service, and the food all work together to ensure a special dining experience to be enjoyed by the customer. I would give this place four out of five belt notches.
That's right, I've finally joined the masses of little birds on Twitter. I'll be tweeting about the latest deals and specials as I learn about them, as well as keeping you up date on new posts. You can follow me at diningondeals (or just click on the link to the right). See you there!
There's something about Morton's that just oozes class. From the bowtied waitstaff to the white linen tablecloths to the cart of lusciously marbled steaks and impossibly large vegetables, this is a place of timeless elegance. So when I heard they offer a "Power Hour" with $5 bar bites, I grabbed my girlfriends and headed out for an upscale evening at a downscale price.
The bar area is beautiful, all dark wood polished to a high shine with a large mirrored wall displaying countless varieties of spirits. We were pleased to see that we could sit on benches a around high table in the bar area, rather then being forced to line up at the actual bar itself. I particularly enjoyed the playful lamp on our table. The base consists of an adorable metal sleeping pig, a Morton's signature that I have always loved.
We began with the Petite Fillet Mignon Sandwiches. In my former life as a non deal diner, I have tried the actual Fillet Mignon at Morton's and found it to be delicious: perfectly tender and simply packed with flavor. So, needless to say, I had high hopes for it's baby sibling. Sadly, these tidbits are clearly the red headed stepchildren of this meaty family. (Not that I don't love red heads - and step children;) While I'm sure they use all the same steak, the strips found in the sandwich are clearly the trimmings that don't live up to the Morton's standard. They were much fattier, and not in a marbled sort of way, more in a chewy, my teeth can't break this down sort of way. I would almost venture to say gristly. The soft white buns were huge, dwarfing the little slivers of meat, and doused with a healthy dose of Mayo. Certainly a filling plate for five bucks, but not what I've come to expect from Morton's. If I went again, I would try the three prime cheeseburgers instead.
Next came the Blue Cheese French Fries. While you can't go wrong with pungent blue cheese, a touch of heat, and fried anything, this dish was less then impressive. While I appreciate their generosity with the cheese, the fries themselves were large and almost mushy. I like thick cut fries as much as the next girl, but they're supposed to have a nice crispy outside to contrast with the fluffy interior. Alas, this dish could have been so much better.
Our final choice was the Chicken Goujonettes, which is basically a fancy name for chicken fingers. Now this is the sort of thing you would expect to find on a $5 menu, and they did it well. The chicken was moist with a nice, crunchy bread crumb coating. It was served with a tangy yet smooth mustard/mayo sauce. Simple, cheap, and delicious, this gets my stamp of approval!
Finally came the sweet stuff, Morton's Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake (Full price at $9). This has always been one of my favorite desserts on the planet and it did not disappoint. Luscious fudgy goodness melting out of a moist, cake like exterior is basically my definition of Heaven. The raspberries add a touch of tartness to offset the decadent richness of the cake. Be warned, it takes about twenty minutes to make, but when you're in the company of good friends and anticipating heaven, who could complain about that?
Overall, if you're looking for a fabulous atmosphere with friendly service that won't break the bank, this is definitely one to check out. The three of us were completely stuffed by the end. However, if you're looking for flavor that blows you away, this might not be the place to find it. Save your pennies and mosey on over to the full service dining room instead.
I give this two and a half out of five belt notches.
Morton's Power Hour is 4:30-6:30 and 9-close every day in the bar. You can check out the full Power Hour menu here:. 3400 W. Olive Ave. Burbank, CA 91505 818-238-0424 (This is a nationwide chain, check the website for other locations)
Campanile is known as an iconic LA institution. In the fickle world of restaurants, it has stood the test of time for the past twenty years, winning numerous awards and nominations including the James Beard Outstanding Restaurant Award and the James Beard Best California Chef Award. Plus, chef Mark Peel even appeared on Top Chef Masters just last week. So, given all this, I was really excited to try their $22 three course "Soup Kitchen" menu.
The space itself is stunning, exuding the feel of a castle. The soaring ceiling is mostly composed of skylights, filling the restaurant with a bright white light that gradually dimmed into candlelight as the evening wore on. Walking in past a gurgling Mediterranean fountain, I immediately noticed the patterns traced on the stone wall which give the room the look of a Medieval feast hall. I was ready for a meal fit for a king.
As soon as we sat down they brought a bread basket and butter. Hurrah! I wish more places would bring bread immediately, instead of waiting till after you've placed your order. I have a tendency to show up at restaurants starving, so a little bread to munch on while I mull over my evening's meal is a welcome treat. Campanile is partnered with their neighbor, La Brea Bakery, and all their bread comes from there. The multi-grain bread was dense and nutty, but nothing to write home about. Far superior was the airy white bread, with just the right amount of chewiness and a nice crust.
Our waiter, a distinguished older gentleman, made sure to point out the Wednesday Night Special, explaining that they had first started the deal during the Writer's Strike. As soon as the recession became "official," they decided to reintroduce it. It always features the soup of the day, a chicken, fish, or vegetarian entree, and ice cream or sorbet for dessert.
After placing our order, we were pleasantly surprised when Chef Mark Peel himself came out of the kitchen to chat with us. I love when "celebrity chefs" can actually be found in their restaurant instead of just on TV. After speaking with us for a brief spell, he continued to circulate the room, clearly at ease with his guests. We were off to an impressive start.
First came the chilled Cucumber Yogurt Soup. The yogurt imbued it with a really nice tang and creaminess while hundreds of tiny slivers of cucumber gave it a great texture, especially when eaten with the smooth richness of the avocado garnish. A perfect dish for all the hot days of summer. If I could change one thing, I probably would have used more avocado for the garnish, both for the texture and also to break up the monochromatic look of the dish.
Next came the Pappardelle with Wild Mushrooms and Garbanzo Beans. I opted for pasta since I don't like fish and we're currently on the poultry section of my cooking school, so with all the leftovers I eat a lot of chicken these days. But my dining companions both got the Halibut and assured me it was delicious.
The pasta was good, but not great. It could have used a little more oil as some of it stuck together, and the garbanzo beans were harder then I would have expected, almost like little nuts! However, I do give them credit for being fairly generous with the mushrooms considering their price tag. They were buttery and delicious, thoroughly enjoyable, just like the accompanying slivers of garlic and Parmesan.
We ended with Vanilla Ice Cream. I have to say, this was the most disappointing part of the meal. I understand that this is the "cheap" menu, but they couldn't afford any other flavors? The vanilla itself was very custardy and rich, I would guess it has about five egg yolks in those three little scoops:) Although, for my personal taste, it could have been a little sweeter. The hazelnut biscotti served on the side was buttery with a great crumb and flavor. I only wish they'd giving us a full sized biscotti on such a big plate.
Overall the meal was tasty, but certainly not the rapturous experience I'd come to expect after all those accolades. And while I appreciate the value and the $22 price tag, I'd be happy to see them charge $25 or $30 and spring for a better dessert. I give this three out of five belt notches.
Campanile Soup Kitchen Wednesdays: $22 for three courses. 624 S. La Brea Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90036 323-938-1447
Last week, I found myself in Raleigh, NC for a business trip. Being completely unfamiliar with the area, I turned to the chowhound.com community for some advice, and they did not disappoint! Of all the tempting deals proposed, I settled on the $20 menu at J.Betski's for two reasons. 1. $20 for two people sounds like quite the deal and 2. I've never eaten in a German/Polish restaurant.
The decor at J. Betski's feels like a light and airy take on an old German monastery. There is the requisite dark wood paneling, amber stained glass, and beer steins lining the bar. Even the cutlery had intricate scroll work on the handles, an unexpected touch of class not normally found in today's restaurants. The walls are decorated with delicate wrought iron frames, a modern suggestion of the old monastery windows. And then there's the light! One entire wall is made of windows which leads to their outdoor patio. When we arrived at 7:30pm, the place was still awash in sunlight, giving it a bright, welcoming feeling.
After the waitress took our drink orders (they have a number of specialty cocktails that use flavors such as elderberry), my coworker and I settled down to the business of figuring out the food. The $20 deal includes one appetizer and two "pub" plates. The pub plates menu seems to be made up of what I would call German/Polish comfort food, while the regular menu has a more elegant and refined take on the classics. Bring on the comfort!
The first bit of comfort was the bread, a dense and tangy rye served with whipped butter. The dark bread had a nice solid crust with a soft and chewy interior. Heavenly.
Then came the Beef and Spinach Pierogies with Caraway Cream. The al dente dough was wrapped around a filling so moist and flavorful it simply oozed deliciousness with every bite. Buttery crumbs on top gave the dish a nice crunch, while the cream helped to smooth everything together. The tang from the caraway contrasted beautifully with the richness of the filling. A lovely little dish.
Then came the entrees. We ordered the Honey Braised Pork with Braised Cabbage, but they had run out of that so we got Short Ribs instead. This was probably the most disappointing plate. While the short ribs did fall right off the bone, they were a little dry and didn't pack the flavorful punch I've come to expect from ribs. The Braised cabbage was a nice addition, the moistness helping to balance out the drier meat. I wonder if the regular Honey Braised Pork would have been better.
My favorite dish of the evening was the Chicken Stew with Mushrooms, Cognac, and Spaetzle. This dish was utter creamy richness without tasting too heavy. There was definitely some bacon hiding in the mix for extra an salty indulgence, in addition to the soft, earthy mushrooms, the moist flavorful chicken, and the buttered spaetzle cooked to perfection. Each bite was an explosion of utter comfort and happiness. If I lived in Raleigh, this would be a great place to go any time I felt even slightly down, as no one can be sad with this much homey goodness on their plate.
We ended with the Blueberry Cheese Strudel for an additional $6.75. The cheese was the sweet kind normally found in danishes, wrapped around tangy blueberries in their own syrup. The pastry crust rolled around it was heavier then I would have expected, and while the dish was certainly tasty, I think a lighter crust would have elevated it to another level. Not that we didn't finish every bite of it;)
Overall we had a delicious meal for an even tastier price at J.Betski's. I think we could even have split all the food three ways as I was stilled tremendously full until lunch the next day. Four belt notches.
J.Betski's offers their $20 menu all night Monday-Thursday. 10 W. Franklin St. Suite 120 Raleigh, NC 27604 919-833-7999
Stop for a minute and imagine your own personal heaven. Maybe there's some clouds, a few harps scattered about, possibly a dove. But now focus on the good stuff. If your heaven looks anything like mine, there are bites of deliciousness as far as the eye can see. I got a chance to actually experience a taste of heaven this past Saturday at Drink:Eat:Play's annual LA Cupcake Challenge.
The hallway outside the ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel was abuzz with excitement. Men and women of all ages clumped together, eagerly studying the ballots that foretold the deliciousness to come. We scanned the forty different flavors, the choices running the gamut from the traditional (chocolate, vanilla and red velvet), to the original (sticky toffee pudding, salted caramel), to the downright mysterious (sunday mimosa, pigs on tap.)
At four o'clock the doors were swung open and the mob swelled into the ballroom. Everywhere I looked mini cupcakes beckoned me with their come hither swirls of frosting. There were towers upon towers of the yummy treats. Just the thought of all that sugar was overwhelming! I grabbed a plate and made it to about three displays before it was full. Clutching the ballot in one hand and the plate in the other, I studied the sold out crowd and began to worry that the purveyors would run out of cupcakes before I'd had a chance to make my way around the room. Besides, I wanted to do this systematically, giving each cupcake it's due, rather then wolfing them down in an effort to get to all of them.
It was at this moment that I spied the very clever team from the CIA (the Cupcake Intelligence Agency.) This foursome had begun to set their plates down at an empty table, leaving one member of the team behind to guard their spoils. Seeing how many cupcakes they had already amassed, I decided to trust them with my little hoard and asked if I could join them. They graciously agreed.
With a home base established, I went about collecting samples from every display and leaving them at the table. The atmosphere in the room grew giddy as the first of many sugar highs began to set in. People's eyes twinkled as the bakers explained their wares. Strangers smiled at strangers as if to say, "Can you believe this is real?!" And everywhere you looked there was the breathtaking sight of mountains of mini cupcakes.
Having collected my treasures, I then went about the delectable task of judging the contest. The first challenge was figuring out exactly which cupcakes were which. The shops that had marked their cupcakes with some sort of label were much appreciated. Sometimes it took the CIA, myself, and our two other table mates to figure out which was which. Cupcaking is definitely a team sport! And now, dear readers, a confession: Although I only took one bite from most cupcakes, by the time I had made my way through the 26 "original" entries I was much too full to attempt the "traditional" entries. But I would like to congratulate Big Man Bake's "Red Velvet" for winning first prize in that category.
The prevailing theme of the year seemed to be bacon (and you know how I love my bacon)! Three separate shops put out a bacon offering with varying levels of success. Far and away the best of these attempts was the "Breakfast Cake" from My Delight Cup Cakery. This consisted of a pancake flavored cake with maple frosting sprinkled with fresh bits of bacon and drizzled with maple syrup. Although I did not "shoot" the entire cupcake in one mouthful like some of my brave table mates, one bite was enough to convince me that these people are culinary geniuses. Willy Wonka may have unsuccessfully attempted to stuff an entire dinner into a piece of gum, but the ladies behind My Delight have truly captured the essence of an indulgent breakfast in a single cupcake (and no one turned into a blueberry at the end!). The cupcake was sweet and salty and moist and creamy and utterly unique. While I didn't vote for it, it was one of my absolute favorites and I am delighted to announce that it won Best Original Cupcake.
My vote for Best Original went to the Caramel Banana cupcake from Jus Minis. Nineteen year old Executive Culinary Director Justin Polacek was actually brulee-ing individual banana slices at the event, giving his table the added excitement of a fiery demonstration. Far from being just for show, those little coins were the perfect compliment to his luxurious cupcakes. The bruleed banana had the satisfying crunch of caramel coupled with the creamy softness of the raw banana. Add to this a cupcake that tasted like a deep and richly flavored banana bread, as well as some silky chocolate frosting (who doesn't love that combo??) and you have one phenomenal cupcake. So phenomenal, in fast, that it won first place in the "Best Overall" category. Congratulations Justin! Here's hoping that this win gives him a chance to start selling his cupcakes in stores in the LA area, not just in Riverside!
My vote for Best Overall went to the Key Lime cupcake from My Delight Cup Cakery (they of the fabled breakfast cake - both pictured above.) Another big trend I noticed this year was putting a surprise filling inside the cupcake. The treats were filled with everything from pumpkin puree to strawberry jam to caramel that oozed forth as if from a truffle. I am all for this trend as it adds yet another dimension of flavor and excitement to the cupcake. My Delight's Key Lime cupcake gave us a spectacular example of how a filling could elevate the taste. They nestled a tart and pungent dollop of creamy key lime filling inside their sweet little cake. They then topped it with a super soft meringue that had just a hint of a crunch from being baked on the outside. With the multitude of flavors and textures, (and my Florida native's love of key lime), this was one of the highlights of the show for me. Here's hoping that My Delight expands out of the Ontario area and comes to LA sometime soon!
Having failed to bring Tupperware, My Delight Cup Cakery was kind enough to give me one of their handy plastic trays, which I loaded down with all the treats that would not yet fit in my stomach. (This feat of ingenuity, coupled with my foresight of wearing expandable pants, earned me the title of Chief of the CIA, an honor for which I will forever be grateful!). It is four days later, and I am still enjoying the fruits of my labor (although I think they will all be gone after today!).
Overall, it had been a day with many highs (see above) and a few lows ("this lavender cupcake tastes like lotion"). I would like to thank Drink:Eat:Play for putting on such a magical event; it surpassed all my expectations. It was even so well organized that by the end there were still plenty of cupcakes to spare! Thank goodness this is an annual event, as I can't wait to experience another day in my own personal heaven.