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Mr. Wong

October 18, 2016

After our brief 36 hour stop in Singapore, it was time to board another flight for another 8 hour plane ride to our next destination.  Truth be told, our next destination was the whole reason we planned this trip in the first place – the stops in Tokyo and Singapore to get to this destination were just add ons along the way.  But our real destination was Sydney, Australia.  This would be the first time my husband and I had ever been to Australia, and actually, our first trip to the Southern Hemisphere.  We planned this trip with 5 days in Sydney to see and do everything that the capital of New South Wales had to offer us.  Time to finally relax, sit back and finally unpack our bags.  My husband was responsible for choosing a lot of the restaurants we dined at while in Sydney, and this first one, a lunch right after we landed in Sydney in the morning, was a terrific choice.


Mr. Wong was located right in the middle of the Central Business District, only a few short blocks away from Circular Quay and the harbourfront area.  Popular for both lunch and dinner, Mr. Wong serves up a classic Cantonese menu which is the brainchild of Executive Chef Dan Hong.  As the head chef for three different restaurants in the Merivale group (of which Mr. Wong is a part of), Chef Hong, along with his head chef Brendan Fong and head dim sum chef Michael Luo have crafted an unrivaled menu combining classic Cantonese flavors and ingredients into a modern menu which has won the restaurant countless acclaim throughout Sydney for their signature style.  From the time you walk the back alleys off of a busy CBD street and come to the front door of the restaurant, you’re transported back into time into a beautiful French-colonial restaurant.


Large enough to seat 240-patrons, Mr. Wong, which boasts a full bar also features timber floors with inlaid tile, bamboo French woven chairs and slow turning ceiling fans.  Classic stone accents combine with a dark interior strategically illuminated to set the mood and paint the picture that you’ve walked out of the modern skyscrapers and loud noise of the streets of Sydney back into time.  My husband and I both felt like the restaurant was this juxtaposition of classic Chinese dim sum restaurant set amongst a 1920’s underground speakeasy.  It was brilliant, and beautiful.


As we were dining for lunch, the menu was much too extensive for our needs.  With a menu that was a tome, we skipped all the entrees and concentrated solely on the dim sum menu so that we could sample a wide array of different small-bite dishes.  Besides, you can never go wrong with dim sum, and dim sum done correctly is truly an art.


Since it was only lunch time, my husband and I both decided to start with the same mocktail to enjoy with our meal, the Mr. Wong’s Tiki Sling.  This was Mr Wong’s non-alcoholic take on Singapore’s national drink, the Singapore Sling. The Tiki Sling was made with pineapple juice, apple juice, passion fruit puree, almond syrup, lemon juice, Angostura bitters, and soda water.  This was quite an interesting drink when it was brought to the table, it was almost as if it was two separate drinks mixed together.  You’ve got your fruit juices mixed together and then a foamy, frothy top that never seems to settle and mix back into the drink itself.  The drink is garnished with an actual wedge of passion fruit, which was kind of cool.  The drink itself was fantastic, and both my husband and I really enjoyed it.  The passion fruit flavor from the puree really shines through, and that was really the whole reason we chose this particular mocktail.  The drink is a mixture of sweet and tangy, the sweetness coming from the apple juice mainly and the tang coming from the pineapple juice and the lemon juice.  The soda water gives it the bubbly and carbonation that really brings all the sweet and tangy flavors together.


The first dim sum plate we ordered was the truffle and wagyu puff which was listed under the fried and poached section of the dim sum menu.  This dish was a combination of things both my husband and I love, the wagyu beef for me, and the truffle for my husband.  These little puffs came out looking like works of art.  The puffs looked incredibly delicate with multiple layers of thin dough fried to a crunchy crispy flakiness that was so appealing.  The stuffing of wagyu beef and truffle was a flavor punch with every bite.  The wagyu was so tender and the truffle flavor was powerful.  It was just on the verge of being overpowered by truffle and straddling that thin line, but not quite going over it.  Amazingly, these puffs were heartier than they looked, which made it all the better that the puffs were made with this amazing delicate and crunchy puffy dough to lighten the dish up.


My husband really wanted to order the chive and roast duck dumpling.  Any food dish with duck meat in it automatically catches my husband’s eye since he’s such a lover of duck and it’s not anything we’d ever prepare at home.  Served in a bamboo steamer basket, each order comes with three dumplings stuffed with a combination of chives and duck meat before being stuffed in dough sealed up to look like a treasure purse and steamed to perfection.  The flavors of the duck were terrific and tender.  The meat was rich and the chives were the perfect accompaniment as it cuts through some of the fattiness of the duck.  The steamed dumpling dough was perfect as it was light and chewy and not over cooked in the steaming process.  My husband really liked these dumplings.


The next dish delivered to the table was one I chose, the bbq pork rice roll.  Using long flat rice noodles, bbq pork was used as a filling and the noodles were rolled up and cut into bite sized pieces and served in a light soy sauce.  The noodles were perfectly cooked to be light and soft and tender.  The flavor of the bbq pork was meaty and rich and full of flavor – Chinese bbq pork is one of my favorite things.  And the amazing soy sauce is light and salty and really just brings the whole dish together with the soft, tender noodles and the rich, hearty bbq pork, the soy sauce gives the noodles moisture and a salty touch to round it all out.


My husband was most impressed with our next dish, even though, it’s probably the dim sum dish we order most often when we enjoy dim sum.  On the menu here, it was called king prawn and bamboo shoot dumplings, but it’s more widely known in Chinese as har gaw.  Har gow happens to be my favorite dim sum item, and as it’s served on almost every dim sum menu, I’m always ordering it.  In this case, what my husband absolutely loved was the size of the king prawn and how meaty and sweet it was.  Rather than chopping up the prawn and trying to form bits and pieces of prawn meat into a ball combined with bamboo shoots, Mr Wong took a whole prawn, mixed with chopped bamboo shoots and stuffed it inside the dumpling dough.  The dumpling was then steamed to absolutely perfection.  The dumpling dough was thin enough that it almost became translucent once you steamed it.  The fact that the dough was so thin was a positive for my husband as you can go to places where the dough is so thick you can’t taste the shrimp inside the dough because it’s so chewy.  At Mr. Wong, this was the opposite.  The dough was so thin that the star of the dish was the king prawn and the bamboo shoots.  And believe me, the prawn was fantastic, big, hearty pieces that were tender and sweet and perfectly steamed.  And the bamboo shoots were slightly crunchy and just added to the texture and flavor of the dumpling.  This was the one dumpling that I ordered that my husband expected to like the least because it was the most ordinary of dumplings, and at the end of the meal, he walked away thinking about just how much this king prawn and bamboo shoot dumpling absolutely impressed him.


Of course, the one dim sum item that really caught my husband’s eye, so much so that I think we ordered 3 orders of this particular dumpling (hey, there’s only 3 pieces per order, can you blame us?) was the pork xiao long bao.  Xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, have to be one of the greatest items ever created.  These little hand formed dumplings that are packed full of amazing ground pork and flavorful broth, it’s still a mystery how these are made.  These xiao long bao were fantastic and packed full of flavor.  These dumplings are meant to be one bite pockets of goodness, so that when you popped it into your mouth and bit into it, it just explodes with amazing soupy broth that is just fantastic.  My husband and I loved these xiao long bao.  I told you we ordered 3 orders of this, right?


The next, and final, item on our dim sum tour of Mr. Wong’s menu was all my husband’s selection.  Crispy foie gras and mushroom sticky rice ball caught my husband’s eye and he had to have some.  All the menu had to say was foie gras and he was all over it.  I wasn’t quite sure how foie graz, mushroom and sticky rice would all come together, but it was actually pretty amazing, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t like foie gras or mushroom.  The foie gras and mushroom mixture was stuffed inside a ball of sticky rice, and then the rice ball was then lightly deep fried so that outside was nice and crispy and crunchy.  The texture and feel of the crispy sticky rice was so different and interesting than I had ever imagined.  My husband said that the foie gras and mushroom stuffing was rich and amazingly delicious, combined with the sticky rice, which was actually sweeter than we had thought it would be, was a great combination that combined texture and flavor into one crispy, sticky, delicious ball.  This dish was actually a bit more like a savory dessert that was succulent and savory and good to the last bite.


Finally, as if all of this wasn’t enough, my husband and I decided to give in and order a dessert to share.  We had vacillated back and forth as to whether or not we wanted to get a dessert, but as soon as I saw the menu, I knew there was one particular dessert I needed to try.  Banana fritters with chocolate cake, passion fruit and banana curd, peanuts, and milk tea ice cream.  Um, yes, please?  What in that dessert description didn’t sound good to you?  This dessert was both visually appealing and amazingly tasty as well.  A sphere of milk tea ice cream sat atop a bed of passion fruit and banana curd surrounded by chunks of chocolate cake and fried banana fritters that looked more like a bird’s nest.  This dessert was incredibly creative and different and full of different textures from the ice cream to the curd to the cake to the crunchy fritter as well as a diverse amount of different flavors from rich chocolate cake, to the cook subtle ice cream to the sweet bananas to the tangy curd.  The banana fritters were actually still warm when the dessert was presented, which just added to the taste and texture of the dessert.  The crunchiness of the banana fritters was fantastic and the star of the dish followed by the amazing passion fruit and banana curd.  The contrast between the warm banana fritters and the cool ice cream also added to the wow factor of this amazing happy ending.  This was one amazing dessert and a memorable one as well.

After having flown all night from Singapore to Sydney, dropping our bags off at our hotel, and making our way to the Central Business District of the city, we were seriously in need of some sustenance.  Mr. Wong hit it out of the park for both my husband and I.  The setting of the restaurant was so far removed from anything I had ever pictured for a Chinese restaurant, but yet it worked and was fantastic.  The laid back, mellow feel of this 1920’s underground speakeasy bar set the mood and the scene for what would be a fantastic lunch.  The real star of Mr. Wong is the food, as it should be.  The dim sum lunch was perfect as it allowed us to sample a bunch of different small bites of food.  It’s amazing how full you can get from some dim sum.  And it’s somewhat ironic that we can order dim sum dishes with foie gras and wagyu beef, and yet, the one item that most impressed my husband was probably the simplest, most common dim sum dish possible made with king prawns and bamboo shoots.  Just goes to prove that you don’t always need the fancy products to make the most delicious food.  I would definitely recommend Mr. Wong for anyone who is looking for something a little different and really tasty when they are visiting Sydney.

Halia at Singapore Botanic Garden All Over Again

October 10, 2016

After a whirlwind, and incredibly exciting 48 hours in Tokyo, we hopped on a plane and 8 hours later found ourselves landing at Changi Airport in Singapore.  Continuing our crazy tour of Asia, we had planned 36 hours in Singapore to see and do as much as we could.  Luckily, we’d been to Singapore 3 years prior and had a good feel for the city and the country.  There were a couple of items that were on our “to see” and “to do” list other than just spending some time relaxing, walking around and enjoying the vibrance of this amazing place.  One of the items on our “to do” list was to eat at a certain restaurant located within the Singapore Botanic Gardens.


Three years ago, when we came to Singapore, we wandered from our hotel to the Singapore Botanic Garden and came upon Halia, a gorgeous indoor-outdoor restaurant set amid Ginger Garden within the grounds of the Botanic Garden and right next to the National Orchid Garden.  Not only was the restaurant set in such a beautiful setting, the food was absolutely amazing and one of our most memorable experiences of our previous trip to Singapore.  So, when we made plans to return to Singapore this year, my husband and I both decided we needed to go back to Halia and have another meal at this amazing restaurant.  This time around, we were in Singapore during the weekend, so instead of a lunch meal at Halia, we arrived right in the middle of brunch.  The restaurant is incredibly popular and when we arrived for brunch all of the indoor and outdoor seating was taken, so we had to wait a few minutes before we were seated at the outdoor patio.  It was quite warm and humid, as it always seems to be in Singapore, but something about being in the middle of this garden setting on an outdoor patio deck felt soothing and peaceful.


So, sitting out on the outdoor patio may have been soothing and relaxing, but it was still outdoors in the middle of the Singapore heat, so we needed some refreshments to cool us off.  I chose the chilled lemongrass ginger infusion.  Being in the middle of the Ginger Garden, it’s not a surprise that many of the Halia’s offerings of food and drink featured the fragrant and vibrant flower.  In this case, it was a combination of ginger and lemongrass, a little sweet, a little tangy and a whole lot of good.  Served with a stalk of lemongrass right in the drink, I could taste both the lemongrass and the ginger flavors with every sip.  The drink was light and sweet and really refreshing.  The ginger is really highlighted at the end when you get just a little bit of a ginger bite as an aftertaste, and it was nice.  I really enjoyed this drink.


My husband ordered the Halia mint berry made with ginger, mint, lime, blueberry and a little sprite for sweetness and bubbly.  This was a beautiful drink with the mint leaf served int he drink.  It looked a bit like a blueberry mojito.  My husband said that the blueberry taste is what hit him first when he took a sip of the drink, and for him, that was great as blueberry is one of his favorite foods.  After the blueberry came the mint flavor and both flavors were quite distinctive.  The lime added a twist of tang which goes well with the bubbly carbonation of the sprite.  My husband felt his drink was quite refreshing as well and was much tastier than he thought it would be.


Even though we were there for brunch, it was pretty late in the morning and pretty much approaching lunch time, so instead of ordering lighter breakfast food, my husband I both decided to order more substantial lunch food.  My husband already knew what he wanted since he essentially ordered the same dish when we went to Halia 3 years ago.  The chili crab spaghettini is one of Halia’s signature dishes and it is their play on Singapore’s national dish of chili crab.  Turning chili crab into a dish served with spaghettini is a terrific fusion combination.  The spaghettini makes the dish substantial enough to fill you up and the chili crab sauce is a terrific substitute for marinara sauce you’d find with pasta.  Using pasta rather than serving with chili crab with rice is just a different variation on the dish and changes things up since rice is the most commonly used accompaniment with most dishes in Asia.  My husband, like when he enjoyed this dish 3 years prior, loved the chili crab spaghettini.  He felt that the dish had just the right amount of spice – a little heat to open up the taste buds and add a ton of flavor, but not so much that it was so spicy you couldn’t taste the dish.  This is what he was looking forward to on our return trip to Halia, and he was so happy that it was just as good as he remembered it to be.


To split, my husband and I decided to order a side of truffle fries with our meal.  Truth be told, my husband is a sucker for anything with truffle oil, so I wasn’t surprised at all when he suggested to me that he wanted to order the truffle fries as well.  As described on the menu, the fries are topped with parmesan, parsley and white truffle oil.  When they were brought to the table, not only did they look amazing, they smelled amazing too.  Just a little white truffle oil goes a long way.  And this was quite a large order of fries as a side dish.  The fries themselves had awesome crunch, which was terrific.  If you’re going to load toppings on fries, they better be crunchy and not soggy and soft.  There was actually a good amount of truffle oil on the fries, but not to the point where it was overwhelming.  You could taste and smell the truffle oil in every fry, but the flavor was amzing.  It was a great side dish to just munch on fries while we enjoyed our food.


For my meal, since it was so hot out, I wanted to go with something a little lighter.  I chose the lemongrass and ginger tiger prawn salad.  Made with fresh mango and tomato salad, glass noodles and ginger flower dressing, this dish contained a bunch of ingredients that I enjoy such as ginger, mango and prawns, so I was curious as to how the salad would come out.  Combining glass noodles in a salad with greens was something new to me, but it actually really worked.  The salad was chilled, and light, which really was perfect given the weather in Singapore.  The tiger prawns were plentiful and of a really large size so it felt substantial, but it wasn’t heavy.  The mixture of crisp greens and glass noodles really was a good match and the ginger flower dressing really brought everything together.  The glass noodles were fragrant and flavorful having been combined with the ginger dressing.  The fresh mango and tomato salsa was sweet and tangy and very light, but packed a flavor punch.  The salad was quite refreshing and I adored the large chunks of fresh mango – after all, mango is my favorite fruit.  This was a terrific salad and hit the spot exactly.

Halia was just as good as my husband and I had remembered it being from our previous trip.  We were glad that we made the decision to come back to Halia again.  Though, the decision was a no-brainer as we knew we wanted to get back to the Singapore Botanic Gardens.  On this hot, and humid (though what day in Singapore isn’t?) day, Halia’s cool ginger-inspired drinks provided a nice respite from the steamy weather.  The chili crab spaghettini was exactly what my husband had longed for, and the lemongrass and ginger tiger prawn salad is exactly what I needed.  You can bet that if we make a return trip to Singapore again in the next couple of years Halia will be on the top of our list for another meal.

Fuku Yakitori

October 4, 2016

Months before our trip to Tokyo, my husband started doing some research into restaurants in the city that we might want to dine at while we were in town.  We essentially knew we’d only be in the city for one dinner meal during our time in Tokyo and we wanted to make sure that we planned for something spectacular during that one night.  Reading through some sort of travel magazine, my husband came up with the name of a restaurant that was supposedly very authentic Japanese, was tiny and definitely required reservations in order to get a seat, and luckily helped foreigners bridge the language barrier via an English menu that you could point at to order food.  When I went online to read reviews of this neighborhood restaurant, I was blown away by rave reviews this restaurant received and the food they served sounded to-die-for, so I told my husband I was in and that he needed to figure out how to get us reservations.  Fast forward to one month prior to our trip and my husband reached out to the concierge service provided by our credit card company and they were able to secure us reservations to this little gem of a Japanese restaurant.


Located in Shibuya, just within walking distance of the Yoyogi-Uehara train station on a small, but restaurant-packed alley, was a gateway, or rather a curtain, into a whole new world of authentic Japanese yakitori at Fuku.  There is no sign, no banner, no billboard, or any other indication of what lies behind these curtains.  There’s not even a name on the front of the restaurant.  Either, you arrive here and you know this is Fuku, or you walk right on by and wonder where in the world the restaurant is and how you could have possibly missed it.


Once you pass through the curtains, you step into a whole different world centered entirely around a yakitori grill.  This tiny little space consists of a U-shaped counter with the yakitori grill and the grill master standing in the center of the scene.  Around the counter, there was seating for about 14 guests.  Around the rest of the room, there were a few tiny tables that probably sat another 10-12 people max.  Therefore, you’ve got no more than 25 guests dining at Fuku at any one time, and even at that, the place feels jam packed.  The best seats in the house are those at the counter as you can watch the grill master grill up skewer after skewer of various meats and seafood that are being ordered.


Luckily, we secured ourselves a seat at the counter to enjoy the show.  Each seat at the counter consisted of a bar stool to seat yourself at, a hand created clay plate with a notch cut out for your chopsticks, a pair of chopsticks for your use, and a little tray consisting of salt and pepper, toothpicks and soy sauce.  And then next to it sat a small clay cup, whose use would become apparent a little later on.  Also, there’s a simple, one-page menu, one side in English, one side in Japanese that you use to order from.  To start the meal, a hot towel is presented, your order is taken and then you sit back and enjoy as your grill master starts preparing what you’ve ordered.


My husband decided to start off his meal of grilled meats and vegetables with some beer.  Instead of a local Japanese beer, he spotted a favorite San Francisco beer on the menu that he just couldn’t pass up.  Ice cold Anchor Steam in a chilled pint glass is just what the doctor ordered for my husband.  A little thirst quenching brew to pair up with traditional Japanese yakitori.


Time to get down to business.  Fuku offers different categories of yakitori: chicken, beef, roll, homemade, seafood and vegetable.  Clearly, in looking at their menu, chicken is their speciality as they offer the most variety of chicken skewers utilizing all different parts of the chicken.  All of the skewers are prepared in advance and are chilled in a refrigerated case right by the grill.  When an order is placed, an assistant lines up the skewers and the grill master starts grilling up each skewer and doctoring it with the right amount of spices and sauces according to how they should be cooked.  As soon as each skewer is grilled and completed, it’s delivered from the grill directly to your plate.  There is no pretense in presentation as the star is the skewer and it should be enjoyed piping hot from the grill.  The idea is that you sit down, order a couple of skewers, enjoy those as they are served to you, and then when your order is complete, order some more based on how hungry you still are.  This is the type of restaurant where you sit and enjoy and savor the meal, not power right through it.  Besides, half the fun is sitting there watching the grill master as he does his job and then enjoying the fruits of his labor.


Looking over the menu, we made a few initial selections so we could sample a couple of different types of skewers.  Then we’d figure we’d see how hungry we still were and order more if we wanted to, or try new things if we were that adventurous.  Our first two skewers presented to us were chicken meat.  This skewer seemed to be a combination of various chicken meat selections, some white meat and some dark meat consisting of thighs and legs.  The chicken was grilled perfectly and seemingly only seasoned with a bit of salt and nothing else.  While we had soy sauce at our table and more salt and pepper, we discovered that other than lemon juice on the seafood skewers, none of the other skewers needed any additional flavoring.  The flavor of whatever was ordered shined right through in the grilling process and that was all we really needed.  There were so many different chicken skewer options, it was hard to know what to order, and as I’m not an adventurous eater, I decided to stick with what I knew I could eat.  Other chicken options included wings, gizzard, skin, tail, liver, chicken meatballs, soft chicken cartilage, heart, giblets, and neck.  My husband was a little interested in trying some items such as heart and liver, and had he been dining with someone more adventurous than I, probably would have tried them, but since I wasn’t interested, he decided to skip them.


We ordered another chicken skewer, which was leek & leg meat.  Dark meat chicken skewered in between stalks of leek were absolutely delicious.  When the leeks were grilled to the point of being slightly charred on the outside, they were fantastic and really brought out a lot of flavor.  The leeks were soft and tender on the inside, and the dark leg meat of the chicken was tender and flavorful.  This was a great combination of flavors on a single skewer and my husband and I both enjoyed this chicken skewer.   There were also other chicken skewer combinations offered that included items such as shiitake mushroom stuffed with minced chicken meat, chicken meat with horseradish and chicken with plum & perilla.


Fuku only offered one beef skewer option which was Australian beef.  Being a beef lover, I had to give that a try.  The tender beef chunks were skewered with a couple of shishito peppers in between to add a bit of flavor.  The beef itself was tender and flavorful, again only being seasoned with a little bit of salt.  For my husband, what he loved about this beef skewer was the shishito peppers.   I order the skewer for the beef, he could care less about the beef and goes for the peppers, which I don’t even want.  I guess it works out because I get what I want and my husband gets what he wants.


With the next skewer, I had no idea what it was when I ordered it other than it sounded good.  Called moti-bacon, it was described on the menu as being a rice cake rolled in bacon.  Come on now, anything rolled in bacon couldn’t be bad, right?  And sure enough, on the skewer were three rice cakes rolled in bacon and grilled.  However, when I read the description in English, I was thinking rice cake, such as long grained steamed rice rolled into some sort of a ball and then covered in bacon.  However, being that this is Japan, I should have realized that the rice cake was actually mochi.  For my husband and I, who love mochi, this was great!  This ball of mochi which was grilled up and hot, was ooey and gooey and tasted amazing grilled.  The bacon added the perfect amount of saltiness and char grilled flavor to the rice cake.  This was a terrific combination and a smart way to add flavor via bacon into something such as mochi which traditionally is pretty flavorless.


We didn’t want to order nothing but meat skewers, so we made a couple of choices off of the vegetable skewer list as well.  As I’m a huge fan of onions, I ordered the petit onion skewer.  These small, sweet onions were so delicious and tasty all grilled up.  The grill added the perfect amount of caramelization to the onions to make it just the perfect amount of sweet.  These were good on their own or to enjoy with the grilled meat.  I enjoyed the petit onions so much that I ended up ordering a second skewer of onions.


Another unusual grilled skewer item we saw on the menu that we couldn’t pass up was smoke cheese.  We had absolutely no idea what this meant, and how could you put cheese on a skewer and grill it, how would that work?  Well, we were about to find out.  Sure enough, on a double skewer set up, three thick slices of cheese were grilled up to perfect so that they were blistered on the outside and soft on the inside.  Served up alongside the smoked cheese were three herbed crackers with the idea being that the grilled smoked cheese was to be taken off the skewer and eaten atop the herbed crackers.  Oh man was this smoked cheese incredibly delicious.  We weren’t sure what kind of cheese this actually was, but the smoke flavor of the cheese really shined through via grilling.  The outside was bubbly and blistery creating a nice waxy outer skin on the cheese.  Once you bit into the cheese, the inside was soft and slightly gooey with a very mild flavor.  The herbed crackers were perfect because they added a little bit of saltiness and herb flavor to the smoky mild cheese.  It was such an unusual combination, one we weren’t expected to see grilled on a skewer, but somehow, it was just so perfect and tasted amazing!


Of course, we wanted to order some seafood skewers as well.  One of the options was salmon, which is one of my favorite types of fish.  With the salmon skewer, you get a couple of pieces of salmon filet on the skewer that is grilled up, again to perfect.  The salmon skin remains on one side and is grilled to the perfect crispiness with the meat of the salmon perfectly tender and flaky.  Grilled salmon is generally delicious and somehow in this setting, the grilled salmon tastes that much better.  I thought that salmon was the perfect protein to skewer and lending itself so well to being grilled.  I enjoyed the grilled salmon skewer so much I ended up ordering a second skewer just for myself.


After having the shishito peppers grilled up with the Australian beef skewer, my husband enjoyed it so much he decided to order a skewer of just shishito peppers.  This was all for him as I’m not a shishito pepper fan, or any sort of pepper fan, for that matter.  This made my husband happy as he was more than happy to eat all of the shishito peppers.  In fact, at the end of the night, out of all of the skewers we enjoyed, this is the one that he liked the most because he thought it was the most unexpected.  The blistered and charred peppers were delicious all grilled up with just a little bit of heat behind them.  The sauce that was drizzled over the peppers was amazing and just added the right touch of flavor to the dish.  My husband has mentioned multiple times since we’ve been home that he wished that he knew had to make shishito peppers the way he had them at Fuku because that flavor has become one of his favorite flavors.


I heard the group of Dutch tourists sitting at the counter next to us ordering a special seafood skewer that wasn’t on the menu, and when it was delivered to their plates, it looked so amazing.  I decided, I needed to try one of these skewers for myself.  The special seafood skewer was scallops and onions.  Two scallops were pillowed by onions to add a bit of sweetness and flavor.  The scallops were delicious, tender and sweet.  I’ve always liked scallops, but never buy them to cook at home because there’s a fine line with scallops between perfectly cooking them until they are tender and over-cooking them to the point where they are tough.  At Fuku, these scallop skewers were delicious and the grill master proved his skill by grilling the scallop to the perfect tenderness. The scallops were tender and soft and absolutely delicious.  The onions added sweetness and crunch to the soft scallops.  My husband knew how much I enjoyed the scallops that he gave me half of his skewer.


Finally, the last skewer we ordered was another one just for my husband, shiitake mushroom skewer.  I am not a mushroom fan, so I told him this skewer was all him.  He was more than happy to take the skewer.  After all, it was grilled shiitake mushrooms, what more could he want?  He said that the mushrooms were perfectly grilled to bring out a little char flavor and a lot of sweetness and earthiness in the mushrooms.  If he weren’t so full, he probably could have gone for another mushroom and another shishito pepper skewer.  It was amazing how putting some protein or vegetables on a wooden skewer, seasoning them lightly and grilling the over a yakitori grill could completely transform a dish from something simple and bland to amazing and tasty.


The clay cup that sits at the counter when you sit down at your seat is for your used to hold your discarded skewers once your finished with each skewer that’s presented to you.  By the end of the night when you’re ready to call it quits, its amazing to look at the cup and realize just how many skewers you’ve eaten.  You don’t even realize how filling these skewers are!

When my husband and I got off the train at the station and started walking towards Fuku, we didn’t know what to expect.  When we arrived at the restaurant and were greeted by a classic Japanese scene of the restaurant behind the white curtain, we knew we were stepping into a whole new experience.  What we got was an authentic Japanese yakitori experience and it was unbelievable.  From the moment we sat down, it was like we were treated to a show.  A true grill master churning out, or rather grilling up, some of the tastiest meat and vegetable on a stick I’ve ever had.  Watching the grill master at work was a great experience.  But, what topped all of that was how amazingly delicious each and every grilled skewer we enjoyed for dinner was.  My husband and I were looking for an authentic Japanese dining experience, and what we got at Fuku was better than we could have ever imagined it to be.  The food was amazing, the atmosphere was amazing and we both walked out of their saying that we would come back to Fuku in a heartbeat the next time we were in Tokyo.  I’d never hesitate for a second to recommend Fuku to anyone going to Tokyo, that is, if you can even get a reservation!

The Terrace – Westin Tokyo

September 26, 2016

After flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo, we had 48 hours on the ground in Tokyo.  There was lot we wanted to do, and there are tons of things to do, we had to make the most of our time in this crazy, vibrant, and historic city.  Part of maximizing our time was to start our day with a filling breakfast at our hotel so that we could hit the ground running without having to worry about trying to go out and find food.  After all, breakfast was already included with our hotel stay, so we might as well take advantage of it.  For our short 2 nights in Tokyo, my husband had booked us into the Westin Tokyo, which we just loved for its large rooms, which in Tokyo is huge, and its amazing location in a quieter part of Tokyo, but still only one train stop away from Shibuya and the heart of  Tokyo.


Breakfast in the mornings was at the Westin Tokyo’s restaurant, The Terrace, located in the lobby level of the hotel.  The breakfast set up was buffet-style with an amazing amount of offerings.  Being that we were in Tokyo, the breakfast buffet consisted of both Eastern and Western food options, which was amazing.  For those of us from the West, it was an opportunity to see and sample Eastern breakfast food options and vice versa.


One entire section of the buffet set up was just various drink offerings.   At the table, coffee and tea was offered.  And it wasn’t just coffee, we could choose from espressos or lattes or any other fancy coffee drink we wanted.  At the drink bar, there was milk, orange juice, tomato juice, grapefruit juice, mango juice and green juice.


There was also fresh made smoothies as well with various fresh fruits as well for a healthy alternative.  And there was actually fresh-squeezed orange juice as well, which my husband totally appreciated.  It was nice to see more than just orange juice and coffee being offered.


When you first approach the buffet, there was an amazing bread and pastry offering.  I’ve never seen a larger array of bread options at any breakfast buffet and I loved it.  There was fresh sliced white bread, wheat bread and cinnamon raisin bread along with a toaster.  There were sesame seed rolls and poppyseed rolls and even soft baked pretzels.  My husband enjoyed the flaky croissants and there was even chocolate croissants.  Pastries and Danishes were also offered, lemon filled, berry filled along with muffins and rolls.  Fresh butter slices, various flavored jams and jellies were also offered to complete the ensemble.


Smoked salmon, sliced tomatoes, fresh green leaf lettuce, lemon wedges and thin-sliced red onions were also offered for cold options.  Fruit salad, fresh pineapple, and apple slices and prunes as well.  Additionally, there was apples, pears and bananas as more fruit options.


Additional cold items included various cereals, muesli and yogurt.  Muesli is a very popular European breakfast option and I think oats, muesli, and oatmeal were welcomed options.  Nonfat yogurt, strawberry yogurt, blueberry yogurt and 4 kinds of berry yogurt were offered.  Japanese natto, which is fermented soybean, was quite a popular option for the Japanese guests staying at the hotel.


One thing I saw at this buffet that I hadn’t seen at other buffets previously was a selection of soups.  There was Japanese mushroom soup, minestrone soup and vegetable tomato soup.  This was also where the egg station was with hard and soft boiled eggs, and then a chef who was making fried eggs as well as made-to-order omelets.


For those looking for sweeter breakfast options, there was bread pudding and French Toast squares.  To accompany the French Toast squares, there was pineapple sauce, maple syrup, and chocolate syrup.  The French Toast squares were delicious, super crunchy on the outside, and fluffy and delicious on the inside.


Hot food options included scrambled eggs and sausages.


Vegetables included sautéed corn and green peas, sautéed tomatoes, zucchini and peppers and steamed broccoli.  Am I the only person excited to see steamed broccoli at breakfast?


The meat station featured bacon, ham and fresh sliced thick slab pork belly.


Amazingly, even pasta was offered.  Tomato sauce pasta with capers.  This almost felt more like a lunch buffet rather than a breakfast buffet.


However, surprisingly, the section of the buffet that my husband and I enjoyed the most was the hot Asian offerings.  On the first day we dined at The Terrace, the Asian offerings included a hot pot tofu and vegetable soup and a white fish teriyaki.  On the second day we dined at The Terrace, the tofu soup was replaced with stir fried noodles.  Miso soup was also offered along with steamed white rice.  My husband and I both loved the white fish teriyaki, and I think we both got a couple of filets of white fish during both breakfast meals we had at the hotel.  We both also enjoyed the stir fried noodles.

Generally, when traveling, breakfast at various hotels often tends to be the same, offering the same kinds of food in the same kind of set up.  And while a morning meal is always appreciated as a good jump start to a day of sightseeing, the breakfast we had at The Terrace at the Westin Tokyo gave us a little extra pep in our step.  My husband and I loved having the hot Asian breakfast options: the white fish teriyaki, the steamed white rice, the miso soup and the stir fried noodles. We would have been happy with just these options, but then there was fresh squeezed orange juice, so many different types of fresh bread and pastries and the usual eggs and bacon and sausage that we walked away from breakfast each morning stuffed to the gills and ready to go out and conquer Tokyo.

Singapore Airlines

September 13, 2016

As I mentioned before, we got access to the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX due to a twist of fate that saw us flying Business Class on Singapore Airlines from Los Angeles Tokyo.  Score!  What better way to fly a long haul international flight than on business class?  Ok, my husband would probably say Suite Class on Singapore Airlines, but that’s just getting greedy.  Anyhow, on Singapore Airlines, when you book Premium Economy class or above, you get access to something called “Book the Cook,” which means that you can choose from a wide selection of chef-prepared meals for your flight prior to boarding the flight.  This way, you’ll always know in advance what to expect when you fly, and you get food that is of your own choosing.  And these chef-prepared meals are impressive first class meals.


First off, upon boarding the plane and finding our seats, we were offered refreshments.  I chose a glass of orange juice while I browsed through the extensive Business Class menu for our flight.  And this was a menu, or rather a booklet.  Page after page of delicious food offerings described in detail and course by course along with a wide selection of drink options.  And yes, I said course by course.  Each meal we were presented with was a multi-course meal.  Definitely nothing of the variety of economy class where you’re only presented with a tray with multiple little plates on them that constitute your entire meal.


Even though each passenger was offered drinks and refreshments prior to take off, a flight attendant also came around to each person to take a drink order from their wide drink selection that would be served to us just after take off.  Along with the drinks, we were given these little bowls of premium nuts.  The bowl was nice and warm, like the nuts had just been heated/roasted through the oven prior to serving.  If you know me, you know I don’t like nuts at all, but surprisingly, these warm cashews, almonds and who knows what else nuts somehow tasted so much better served nice and toasty warm like this that I found myself picking through the little bowl until I finished off my whole serving of nuts.  Crazy!  My drink selection was their featured drink mix (non-alcoholic) called Sunrise Meadow, which they described as “a refreshing mix of orange and pineapple juices topped with soda water.”  However, this drink list we had to choose from was so extensive it was impressive.  There was a selection of expertly selected champagne, red wine, white wine and ports onboard for our selection.  The fully-loaded bar could also supply us with a number of handcrafted cocktails, including Singapore Sling, Bloody Mary, Screwdriver, Grand Pineapple Daiquiri, Silver Kris Sling (Singapore’s version of A Singapore Sling), and a number of other cocktails.  Included was also a selection of spirits such as Chivas Regal Scotch Whisky, Highland Park Warrior Series Svein, Absolut Vodka, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Imayotsukasa Junmai Sake, Guinness Stout, Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge, and Johnnie Walker Black Label Whisky among other choices.  Of course, there was also a wide selection of non-alcoholic juices and sodas as well as a wide variety of illy coffee drinks and a large selection of 1837 TWG Tea.


After being in the air for about an hour, the air stewards came around to prepare for dinner service.  Amazingly, when you are seated in Business Class, dinner service doesn’t just mean a choice between chicken or beef and an all-in-one tray set before you.  Rather, you get personalized service from the air stewards as they come by each seat and actually set your dinner table for you.  A white linen cloth is laid out before you and your table is set with a salt and pepper shaker, a dish with butter balls, a fine China side plate and beautiful silverware.  It’s classy, and maybe because this was my first experience with this, I was totally surprised.


Shortly thereafter, we were all served the first course of our meal.  Everyone in Business Class received the same first course start of marinated crayfish with citrus dressing served with asparagus, dill potato, tomato and mesclun leaves.  And boy, oh boy, did this starter look amazing.  I’ve never seen anything like this served on a flight before.  I guess this is the perks of flying something other than economy class.  I’d never had crayfish before, and this was so delicious.  The citrus dressing was perfect for the crayfish and the salad and potatoes and asparagus were so good.  Food on a plane that you can actually eat and enjoy, such a novel concept.


Next, our entrees were served.  Again, since Singapore Airlines has their “Book the Cook” program, you can go online and choose your meal before you ever board the plane.  Wanting to eat something I could actually enjoy, both my husband and I pre-ordered our meals.  Plated and served on a fine china plate, I ordered the braised beef short ribs with roasted potatoes.  As the menu described, it was braised beef short ribs in a red wine sauce served with fondant fingerling potatoes and buttered seasonal vegetables.  The dish was so delicious and incredibly filling.  The short ribs were tender and fall apart with a fork.  The red wine sauce was fantastic and flavorful and the fingerling potatoes were fluffy and tender.  I’ve told you before, I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl, and this meal really hit the spot for me.  Other entree options for our flight included items such as lamb biryani with atchara (pickles), fried onions and cashews, or a Singaporean favorite of nasi lemak with sambal prawns.  How about mushrooms stuffed chicken with mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables?  I loved that they really gave us great options, and the options were wide and varied for every taste as well.


My husband ordered the dim sum selection for his meal choice.  The dim sum selection came with a steamed pork dumpling, shrimp dumpling and lotus leaf rice served with chili sauce and mustard.  I knew that my husband would enjoy the dumplings, and he did say they were tasty, but his favorite part of the meal was the lotus leaf rice.  He said he was incredibly flavorful and different and very filling.  Another entree option to choose from was chicken and rice made with a poached chicken thigh with chicken rice and Asian greens or cod fish clam chowder with potatoes, wilted baby spinach, and cherry tomatoes.  Chicken, vegetarian, lamb, beef, and seafood were all offered and each dish looked and smelled amazing.


But it doesn’t stop there, after our entrees were served, a steward came around with a fresh bread basket.  The bread included sliced sourdough, breadsticks, dinner rolls and garlic bread.  They’d already provided us with butter on our place setting, but you could also take bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar if you preferred that instead.  Wow, I’m so used to just having a dinner roll plopped onto my food tray on the plane that the idea of a fresh bread basket was exciting to me.  And my garlic bread was delicious.


Once the meal was consumed, the plates were quickly cleared away, leaving a clean place setting in preparation for the next course.  A fresh fruit tray was presented to each person.  The fruit offerings included fresh sliced spears of pineapple wrapped in saran wrap, fresh sliced cantaloupe also wrapped in saran wrap, apples, pears and bananas.  I couldn’t help but choose the fresh cut cantaloupe.  It was so yummy and delicious.


Along with the fruit offering, a cheese cart was wheeled around as well.  For those who wanted cheese (and it wasn’t like you had to choose between one or the other, you could have cheese and fruit!) a whole plate was prepared with 3 different types of cheese, including a blue cheese, brie and a hard cow’s milk cheddar cheese along with walnuts, dried apricots, fresh grapes and crackers.  It was all so fancy and sophisticated.  My husband, the cheese lover, of course had to get the cheese plate even though he was already full from dinner.


And finally, it was tine for dessert.  Yes, yet another course to our meal.  Dessert was a yoghurt cranberry cake with creme anglaise and a fresh raspberry.  Being that I am not a yogurt lover, I was going to skip dessert all together, but then I couldn’t bring myself to decline the cake.  So, I tentatively took a bite and was surprised to discover that I really liked this cake.  It was quite light and tasty, not too sweet, and the cranberry added a hint of tart and tang to the cake which was perfect.


Wait, you thought this was it?  Nope, at the very end of the meal, we were also served petit fours in the form of a mini French macaron and a chocolate praline.  Wow!  What a meal.  Incredibly delicious, very filling, and so many courses, it was hard to keep track of.  I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten more food on any flight ever!


A few hours after our first meal service on this flight, the stewards walking around carrying a basket full of goodies they were offering as snacks before we received our second meal on this flight.  While on past flights, sometimes snacks consisted of a tiny package of pretzels or cookies, or sometimes on long haul flights, I’ve gotten a small single serving size cup of ice cream.  But here,  these snacks were no joke.  I actually was able to grab a full-size Hershey’s chocolate bar and a full size bag of Ruffles.  There were other options as well, but my eyes bugged out at the potato chips and the chocolate bar that I didn’t get a chance to focus on what else was being offered.


A couple of hours before landing in Tokyo, we were offered a second meal.  Again, our trays were set with a table cloth and fine silverware and salt and pepper shakes and fresh butter.  For this meal, our appetizer was one of prosciutto ham with orzo feta salad, sun dried tomato and roasted artichoke.  Honestly, by the time this meal was served, I still felt quite full from our first meal of the day.  Now when do you go on a flight and say you’re too full to eat a second meal due the previous meal?  Most times, flights leave everyone starving from lack of anything good to eat.  Anyhow, I couldn’t just let this good food go to waste, and besides, the prosciutto was pretty tasty.


Again, my husband and I chose the “Book the Cook” option for this meal.  My husband took the braised beef short ribs with roasted potatoes this time around.  Slightly different preparation on the short ribs and accompaniments as I had for my meal, but essentially the same meal.  However, like me, my husband was also quite full from his previous meal, and you can see that these meals we’re being presented with aren’t tiny meals.


For my meal, I chose beef sukiyaki with steamed rice, braised onions, green onions and spinach.  Boy, I may have been full, but this dish was so terrific that I couldn’t pass it up.  The beef sukiyaki was so tender and thin-cut and delicious.  The braised onions were amazingly flavorful and the rice was a perfect accompaniment.  I did my best to eat as much of this meal as I could.  But boy, they sure were providing us with too much good food.


Dessert for this meal was strawberry panna cotta with strawberry coulis with a fresh strawberry and mint leaf garnish.  The dessert was sweet, but luckily, not too large so it didn’t get cloyingly sweet.  The strawberry wanna cotta itself was tasty and well done.  The strawberry coulis was a bit over-the-top though and that’s where most of the sweetness in the dessert came from.  I could have done without the coulis, but it was a great dessert nonetheless.  And bonus, it was small and light enough that I could actually finish it, even though I was completely stuffed by this point.

Business Class on Singapore Airlines is like no other flying experience I’ve ever had.  Luxury flying at its best.  Book the Cook is an innovative and terrific program that allows each guest to choose their very own meal in advance and I love that the choices are numerous and varied so that everyone can find something they want.  The whole dining experience is of a whole different level where everything is elevated – from table clothes and place settings, to different courses being served to you individually, fresh bread baskets, cheese carts and fresh fruit are just a bonus.  If you ever have a chance to fly Business Class on Singapore Airlines, you should jump on the opportunity because the experience will be unlike any you’ve ever had previously at 40,000 feet in the air.

Star Alliance Lounge – LAX

September 6, 2016

Last year, my husband came up with big plans for our big trip this year.  Like other trips we take, my husband plans the big picture and I fill in all the details.  That means that part of his responsibility is taking care of the air travel and the hotels along the way.  Through a very strange and weird twist of fate, the first part of our trip would see us flying Singapore Airlines Business Class from Los Angeles to Tokyo.  We were excited when we were told that because we had Business Class tickets we now had access to the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX.


It’s a good thing we arrived at the airport early enough to take advantage of our access to the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX.  According to my husband, you need to have Business Class or above tickets for any Star Alliance member airline or you need to be a Star Alliance gold member.  This isn’t the type of airport lounge that you can buy your way into with some sort of membership.  Entrance to the Star Alliance Lounge is given based on your current, or past purchases, of elite seats on Star Alliance airline flights.  So we were so thrilled we’d be able to experience the lounge.


The Star Alliance Lounge is located on the top floor of the recently renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.  Once you show your boarding pass to gain access to the lounge and you walk through the doors, the space opens up into this enormous, comfortable lounge space that can easily fit hundreds of guests.  The lounge consists of both indoor space, balcony space that is open to the terminal itself and looks out over the shopping arcade of the terminal as well as outdoor space that actually opens up towards Terminal 3 where you can watch planes come and go.  Each unique space – indoors, outdoors, and on the balcony – each has its own fully-stocked bar serving every kind of drink imaginable that you’d want to order.


Of course, the bars aren’t the only places to get something to drink at the Star Alliance Lounge.  Along one wall of the food buffet area, there’s a glass enclosed wine rack that literally holds hundreds of bottles of wines.  And near the back wall is a refrigerator filled with different types of bottled beer, fruit juices and chilled white and red wines, roses, and champagne.  Bubbly for everyone!  Help yourself.IMG_4123IMG_4134

There’s also a soda fountain machine for those not interested in alcoholic beverages or juices.  And sprinkled in several locations throughout the lounge are gourmet coffee makers for those who need a boost of caffeine before boarding their international flight.


The food selection at the lounge was plentiful and abundant.  Part of the food options started with on long buffet line.  The first selections included a kalamata olive hummus and a red pepper hummus.  Vegetable crudite was an option for the hummus with cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumbers and bell peppers.  Next came some wraps and sandwiches.  Mango and curry egg salad was an interesting and creative wrap and something different from just a regular egg salad.  The sandwich was a roasted chicken sandwich.


There were several different salad options to choose from.  A fresh tuna salad with vegetables and a pasta salad with orecchiette and ham and finally a caesar salad with anchovy dressing.



Next was cheese and crackers.  Cheese options included mild cheddar cheese, Havarti dill cheese and Maytag blue cheese.  Assorted crackers and potato chips along with assorted bread rolls were offered.  Also an assortment of fresh fruit included oranges, apples and bananas.


Finally, there was the hot food portion of the buffet.  Vegetarian chili was the healthy soup option for the day.  The entree offering was basil pesto salmon, which looked fantastic.  And accompaniments included lemon herb green beans and rice pilaf.


Who could forget dessert?  There was fresh fruit salad and slices of refreshing watermelon.  Additionally, there were two different kinds of smoothies to choose from – mango peach smoothie and strawberry banana smoothie.  Believe me, my husband and I both had to try the smoothies and we loved them.  They were so tasty.  Also little chocolate s’mores shooters were a terrific sweet ending to a filling meal.  A healthier option for dessert was low fat yogurt with angel food cake.


I mentioned earlier that this long buffet line was just one food option inside the lounge.  Around the corner from this buffet area, was an entirely separate food area of the lounge that included an Asian noodle bar.  This was my favorite section of the lounge.  Grab a bowl and make your own bowl of noodles the way you want.  First you start by choosing between two different types of noodles: mung bean noodles and wheat noodles.


Then there are the toppings for the noodles.  For protein, you can choose chicken or crab meat.  Vegetable toppings included green onions, cilantro, rainbow chard, picked daikon and carrots, lemon wedges and chili flakes for a little spice.


Finally, your noodles need some broth.  Next to the topping station was Vietnamese beef broth for the noodles.  Add as much, or as little broth, as you wanted.  Vegetarian broth was also available upon request.


The last station was for spices and condiments to add to the noodles for extra flavoring.  There was soy sauce, sriracha sauce, salt, pepper and other condiments.  Add them liberally to your noodles as you choose in order to flavor the noodles exactly the way you want.  As I said, this was my favorite part of the lounge.  Mung bean noodles, a little bit of chicken, cilantro, green onions, pickled daikon and carrot, Vietnamese beef broth and a little bit of soy sauce made for one delicious and filling bowl of noodles that filled me up for lunch before our flight.

You never know what you’re going to get when you board a twelve-hour long haul flight to the other side of the world.  But, when you get the opportunity to rest, relax and have a good meal at an airport lounge before boarding a long international flight, you should definitely take advantage of that opportunity, especially if that lounge is the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX.  There’s a reason this is one of the most coveted lounges at LAX, its spacious, comfortable, relaxing, and offers a wide variety of food and drink to meet the needs of travelers who are about to board an international flight.  It’s not just an abundant of food, it’s the fact that the food offering is delicious, varied and filling.  Therefore, you don’t have to worry about what food you might be served on the plane, rather, you can just enjoy the food at the lounge and be relaxed for your flight.  If I’m ever lucky enough to enjoy access to the Star Alliance Lounge again in the future, I would never hesitate to stop in before my flight.  This is definitely one of the best airport lounges I’ve ever been in.

Mendocino Farms

September 1, 2016

Many years ago, when I used to work in Downtown Los Angeles, a new sandwich shop was opening in the neighborhood and everyone was so excited.  I remember that for the first few weeks after the sandwich shop opened, the lines during lunch hour from all the workers in the high-rise buildings nearby was impossibly long.  It’s just a sandwich shop after all, can it be that good? After the hype died down, I remember trying it for the first time and thinking, yeah, it is that good.  Fast forward many years, and the fact that I’m no longer working in Downtown Los Angeles.  However, this same sandwich shop now has a location in Santa Monica, and for work purposes, we’ve actually ordered from this Santa Monica shop a bunch of times and it’s always been a huge success.  So, when I realized a brand new location was opening in Brea to coincide with the opening of a new shopping center, I told my husband that I wanted to take him there so that he could give it a try because I thought that a fancy sandwich shop might be his thing.


Mendocino Farms is a gourmet sandwich and salad shop that was created with the purposes of bringing together people within a neighborhood to a local joint to share good food and good times.  Mendocino Farms is known for their creative and innovative culinary creations, all of which are made-to-order right in front of your eyes using only the best organic, vegan and vegetarian ingredients that are sourced from local partner farms.  Started by a husband and wife duo as a concept 2003, Mendocino Farms is still a family-run operation today, and part of their goal is to treat everyone who walks through their doors as part of the family.  They opened their doors in 2005 on Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles ( the location I visited 11 years ago) and have grown since then to 10 locations in Los Angeles, 3 in Orange County with one more coming soon, and one location to open soon in San Diego County.  As they say, Mendocino Farms is “more than just a sandwich.”


Part of Mendocino Farm’s core values are:  Passion, People and Purpose.  These values are reflected in their stores and in everything they do.  Passion is “proactively thinking of new ways to better serve the interest…” of everyone involved from guests, to employees, to farming partners by performing “…even ordinary tasks at an extraordinary level…” because Mendocino Farms’ founders believe that they “…don’t just sell sandwiches, We Sell Happy!”  Mendocino Farms believes in enriching the lives of everyone in touches from team members to farm partners to food artisans to the guests that walk in the door and always giving back to the people that make the restaurant successful.  And finally, the purpose is to “…constantly stay on the culinary vanguard and push the limits…” of everything that they do in order to help create this idea of a community that comes into the restaurant to gather and fill their bellies as well as their souls.


My husband and I each got lemonade to drink.  This homemade lemonade was cool and refreshing.  At Mendocino, they don’t offer traditional soda drinks such as Coca Cola or Pepsi, but rather smaller batch pure cane sugar colas and sodas as well as iced teas and lemonade.  The lemonade had a nice tangy flavor to it which was refreshing because they didn’t load their mix up with an overwhelming amount of sugar, but rather kept this to a more pure lemonade.


My husband decided to order the New School Grilled Ham & Cheese sandwich along with a side of potato salad.  What I was surprised about was that my husband wasn’t all too thrilled about the large variety of sandwich options at Mendocino Farms.  Apparently, he doesn’t want fancy ingredients and creative combinations, he just wants old-school simple, but delicious sandwiches and subs.  So, for him, the most basic, simple sandwich he could find on the menu was the new school grilled ham & cheese, which actually wasn’t that simple at all, and definitely not old school.  The New School Grilled Ham & Cheese was made with honey seared ham and Mountain Gruyere cheese along with Scarborough Farm’s baby spinach and Mendo’s secret mustard on a toasted pretzel roll.  One bite into the first half of his sandwich, and my husband wasn’t so pleased.  He said that the first bite was almost overwhelmingly mustard and the mustard was spicy, with a bite almost like horseradish.  For him, this spicy mustard would have been great with beef, but not necessarily with ham.  However, as he continued eating the sandwich, he said that the mustard evened out and was more evenly spread over the pretzel roll so it started to taste better.  However, the combination of the cheese and the ham and the spinach and the mustard made for a moist and somewhat messy sandwich, with parts of the sandwich falling out the back end every time he took a bite.  So that was a bit annoying for my husband as well.  While he could have done without the spinach in the sandwich, it wasn’t terrible.  Ultimately, the sandwich was just ok.  Nothing unique or special about it for him, and he would have rather had a straight up ham and cheese sandwich rather than one with all these fancy ingredients he didn’t really want.  The potato salad as a side was good and he enjoyed the flavor of it, but even a small salad was larger than he anticipated it to be and he had a hard time finishing the potato salad and the sandwich.


I decided to order the Steak BLT on a pretzel bun.  This was an easy choice for me.  Carved, balsamic-glazed steak with prime applewood bacon, romaine lettuce, roasted tomatoes with herb aioli and red win onions all on a toasted pretzel roll sounded amazing to me. For me, this sandwich was fantastic.  First, I loved the pretzel roll.  The thickness and density of the pretzel roll allowed the sandwich to stay together and not fall apart or get soggy from the herb aioli or the juices from the roasted tomatoes.  The roasted tomatoes added a nice acidic tanginess to the sandwich, and the red wine onions also added much flavor to the sandwich and a slight sweetness.  The prime applewood bacon added a hint of saltiness to the sandwich as well as a lot of body as this was thick cut bacon.  But the star of the sandwich was definitely the balsamic-glazed steak.  The steak was tender and delicious, and the sweetness of the balsamic glaze really put the steak over-the-top.  This was a fantastic, and filling steak sandwich and it came exactly as advertised and much more delicious than expected.

While our lunch at Mendocino Farms was filling, I certainly enjoyed my lunch much more than my husband would.  Then again, since I’ve had sandwiches and salads from Mendocino Farms previously, I knew I would enjoy my food.  I was hoping that by taking my husband to dine at Mendocino Farms for the first time that he would enjoy it too.  It’s not necessarily that he didn’t like his food, but it was more that he felt that this was just too “fancy” for him and he just wanted a simple sandwich.  So, while he didn’t dislike Mendocino Farms, this was more than he expected and just not what he would prefer.  I’d be surprised at this point if I’m able to convince him to dine at Mendocino Farms again.  However, we still order lunch from Mendocino Farms at work quite often and I quite enjoy the various sandwiches and salads that I order, so at least I can still enjoy Mendocino Farms on my own without having to drag my husband along.