Mi Piace: A Monday Night Happy Hour Worth Trying

One of the first places I ever went alone to in Los Angeles was Mi Piace in Pasadena. I was 17 and only a few months away from starting college at Woodbury University. I had to do some placement tests during the summer, so they knew what math and English classes to put me in. I knew no one in LA and my friend Sunshine (I am from Santa Cruz) was unable to come with me. She was several years older and we would always sleep at her brother’s house on our SoCal trips during my high school years. I had been conversing via AIM with a nice gay man that was an Interior Architecture Woodbury alum asking questions about the school. I told him I would be visiting and he said I could stay with him. I don’t know what my mom thought I was doing but I ended up staying the night with this stranger after testing all day and being to tired to drive back to SC. He lived in Pasadena with his boyfriend, actually only blocks away from where I now live, had a meditation room, and I offered to take him to dinner. He suggested Mi Piace and told me that the place was “So Sex & The City.” That was all this high school student had to hear. I was sold. I will say now with some age, experience, and knowledge that it really isn’t that great of a show. I still care for the characters but it is, with the exception of a few people and storylines, a lot of dysfunctional women and relationships that are unhealthy for females to idolize. Anyway, the show was at this time something I put on a pedestal and I was in awe of. I felt so sophisticated in this lounge and I did feel like a girl in the big city. After dinner, we went shopping at J. Crew and there I saw Kristen Davis. My first big LA celebrity sighting and it was perfection. It was the quintessential Charlotte town, store, and intersection.

Since then, 6 years have past. I have finished college, grad school, and grown up (sort of). Being in lounges and eating and drinking is now my world. I have lived in Pasadena for almost three years and rarely go out there anymore. I have become more of a downtown gal. Last month, when I was on the Gays and Dolls WeHo Bar Crawl, I met a fantastic gay man who lived in Pasadena. He told me that Mi Piace on Mondays was something that I had to do. Every Monday after 6pm almost all drinks are $5 and all appetizers  are 1/2 priced until closing. Last Monday, I met him there and we had a fun night. I had come from a large dinner so I  wasn’t that hungry, but I was thirsty. I reverted back to my 17 year old brain and ordered drinks, I never drink. I started with a French Cosmo and then went on to a Key Lime Martini. It was good and girly and took me back in time. I just tried a bit of the food and was impressed; it was more than worth the 1/2 off prices. There was mac n cheese, a salmon pizza, and chicken lettuce wraps at our table. The best surprise of all was that my new gbf (gay boyfriend) and I were joined by our matchmaker, The Minty, who also wrote about this very reasonable Happy Hour. She referred to it as, cheaper than the parking in the area.

To keep the words of my first time at Mi Piace alive and well, “It is so Sex & The City.” There is a part of me that thinks I have outgrown it and it is no longer my scene but it still has its positive sides. This Monday night Happy Hour is not to be missed! Just as I doubt I will miss the second Sex & The City movie. Josie and I actually saw the first movie while in Paris..how romantic! Of course, we had to read the subtitles but it was still worth it. Who wants to see it with us? Maybe we can follow it with HH at Mi Piace on Monday. After all, there are $5 French Cosmo all night long!

Office Bonding Buffet: New Delhi Palace, Pasadena

The picture above is reason enough for you to believe me when I say, I absolutely and totally love my job. For all you Uncouth Gourmands fans out there, I’m Meryl aka the CFO: nice to meet you. I love trying out Indian cuisine in LA; I moved here from India two years ago, and I’m constantly on the prowl for any semblance of the food I dearly miss. So when Carina mentioned Indian food, I was ecstatic!

The UG team (missing two members: Lea and Maria) set out early to the buffet at New Delhi Palace. I liked the vibe here; they had statues and ethnic decorations all over. I picked up the camera and got clicking, while the rest of the team headed over to the buffet, which definitely did not lack variety. I found the salad particularly amusing, it was a combination of potatoes, corn and carrots among other food items, but I don’t think I’ve seen this anywhere back home.

I was delighted to see the ‘basmati’ fried rice, always a favorite, which went hand in hand with the ‘Dal Makhani’ (a creamy lentil delicacy). The ‘Chole’ (chickpeas) was not as spicy as I would have expected, but then most Indian food I’ve eaten here is toned down on the spices front. The Chicken curry was simple and delicious, cooked in typical North Indian style, and along with the ‘Palak’ (spinach) curry, worked well in combination with the ‘naan’ (Indian oven-baked flat-bread).

My top choice of the buffet would definitely be the ‘Baingan Bharta’ (eggplant curry). It had just the right blend of sweet and spicy although I think they took the liberty of changing it up by adding potatoes. Anyway, it tasted just right with the fried rice. The ‘raita’ (a traditional yogurt side dish) was good, but the ‘Tandoori Chicken’ was a bit of a let down though the chutneys were appetizing. They had a mango pudding and rice pudding for desert, which were both great, but I guess I was hoping for the more traditional ‘Gulab Jamun’ or ‘Halwa’.

I think among all of us, Josie had the best time (refer to food plate above). I lost out on the garlic naan, and had to settle for the regular naan as I was too involved with getting the right pictures for my first post on this prestigious blog. But Josie and Carina both argued that it was in good faith: they didn’t want me to be embarrassed just in case I did get kissed anytime soon(!). Below is a shot of the rest of the team; to the left is Ian, our website designer, on the right is Kristiana, our marketing intern, and that’s me in the center. Overall, it was nice team lunch and good bonding time; we all had our fill and blissfully drifted off to sleep in Carina’s car on the way back to the office. In light of our food comas, I doubt we will be returning anytime soon, but I do know the buffet selection is changed daily. A definite must-try!

Brunchin’ with the Girls in Pasadena

It’s a mix of insomnia, hypomania, and a lot of love that gets me up in the morning to build this little thing we often refer to as UG. But on this particular morning, I woke up in a bunk bed in Malibu! The problem, however, was that I was supposed to meet Carina, Roni, and her bud Caroline who was in town from Sweden for brunch at Central Park in Pasadena!

We’ve been there only once before. Funny thing about that place is that when we went last time, Carina’s then-boyfriend said this of the pic of us: “Dude, you guys look so hungover!” Don’t be quick to judge – we were and he was right. Therefore, our memory of this place was a little fuzzy. It wasn’t a first choice place. The non-UGs were coming from the monthly Rose Bowl flea market and we were looking for a brunch spot in Pasadena. Carina wanted to try Maison Akira’s $38 French-Japanese buffet brunch. Caroline wanted something a bit more traditional and I, being jobless, didn’t want to spent that much on eggs. Go figure, right? If I could have yolky eggs on everything, I’d be a satisfied woman. But since there aren’t many brunch places in Pasadena, we opted for Central Park.

We had met Roni a couple times before through Arun, the Mayor of Downtown, and she has always intrigued me. She’s from Tel Aviv, a Harvard grad, runs a math club, is a blogette peer, and fronts a band (which she just fired everyone from). Only two words can describe this girl: F-in awesome. When talking to her, you get this feeling that this girl is running her own one-man pirate ship; she is no marginal character. We learned a lot from her and chitchatted about everything from books, movies, music, dating, and life in general. The place was packed so we talked for a bit, and well, we could’ve talked for hours more. It was nice.

Here at UG, you get a more playful and, often times, less sophisticated worldview of food. Admittedly, our blogosphere buds do this just as passionately, but more beautifully and probably a lot more couthly than we do. I’ll try my best to explain. We sat down and were all super hungry. After indecisively narrowing my entree down to waffles and eggs, an impulsive urge for a turkey club came upon me as I coveted my table neighbor’s food. Carina ordered the eggs sardu, Roni the croissant french toast, and Caroline ordered the shrimp pasta.

The meals got to us and they looked edible enough to tickle our pickle. We dove in. I try to write as honest and true as possible so that anyone sitting at the same table before me, at the same establishment, about to eat the same food can relate on some level – albeit without the company. And perhaps it was our excitement, our hunger, or the lack of Pasadena brunch spots – but these butter loving babes didn’t melt.

In fact, it sucked. I mean it was only a slight notch above typical diner fare for probably double the price.

But fear not. Like any loyal dater, we’ll just have to give it another shot. Plus, this brunch place does impress more with a hungover body…so I am sure this can continue to be a morning after place. However, after a whirlwind weekend in Malibu, it just simply didn’t stack up.

Euro Pane: Bringing the BEST Egg Salad to the People

“I live in Pasadena, which is home to your favorite egg salad sandwich.” That was the first thing I said when I met Ruth Reichl. She is now my idol, however, then I was just beginning to learn her story. I read that fun fact on one of her tweets, before I read the heartbreaking ones and learned that Gourmet magazine went under. My fellow food bloggers and friends, Gastronomy Blog and Teenage Glutster, were in line with me to meet Ruth after the celebration and talk for Gourmet magazine. They both told me that Ruth Reichl’s book Garlic and Sapphires changed their lives. After meeting her and hearing their vetting, I knew this was a book that I must read. For the last few years, thanks to B School and coming into womanhood, I have been strictly reading business, economics, and feminist books. Since I finished school I have moved on to read nothing but Erica Jong, once you find a writer and character (Isadora Wing) that share your exact voice it is impossible to let go. On my recent trip home I finally picked up Ruth’s book and once again my life was changed. Ruth Reichl has the career, personality, palate, and writing ability that I aspire to hold. I finished the book in only a few days and now feel a new vigor to transform my life and really get great at writing about food. Color me inspired.

After returning back to LA after a great time in Nor Cal, I came home to discover that my bathroom sink overflowed. It was a nightmare. I escaped to my favorite bakery, home of the best egg salad, with the last couple of chapters of her book to savor. When I first moved to Pasadena, nearly 3 years ago, it was Lovebirds Cafe across the street that I was most excited about. I loved the name of the cafe and the interesting sandwich menu with crisp green apples and sharp cheddar on a turkey sandwich. Unfortunately, the place was awful. However, it is because of those bakery failures that I traveled across the street to Euro Pane. It was not the egg salad that first stole my heart there; it was the caramel sea salt french macaron. My boyfriend at the time was an emotional eater, who felt the exact same way about food that I did, and we got this cookies the morning after every sleepover. My next boyfriend, who was much more of a drinker than an eater, didn’t get food at all and said it was the “total chick’s cookie” for those times when us girlies crave the sweet and salty. I later described this particular cookie as “the essence of femininity.” I find the term to be much more feminist approved and accurate. On this emotional day when I came in, while my sink was being fixed and the tiles on my bathroom floor were scrubbed, I needed a cookie. At the cash register they were giving samples of the caramel sea salt macaron. This quarter of a cookie filled my salty/sweet quote but I still needed more sugar. I ordered the berry macaroon. The consistency and complexity was just as delicious but in the words of Sinead O’Connor and my Yelp review “Nothing Compares 2 U, my sweet and savory cookie.”

Of course, I ordered the egg salad that I have been raving about for the last two years. I had Ruth Reichl’s book in my hand and I really tried hard to concentrate on the way in which an expert would eat this. I felt as though I had all of her words and shared experiences at my disposal and I closed my eyes to enjoy and enhance the taste. This sandwich is open faced, which for a non-UG may mean a knife and fork. The eggs themselves are soft boiled and are right at the perfect line of very delicate and not oozy (technical term). The fresh baked bread has a sun dried tomato spread that perfectly sweetens the sandwich and some fresh baby greens for texture, color, and taste. The sandwich then has the final cracking of black pepper and sliced chives on top and it is served. It is a sandwich of renewal and despite being Jewish and always despising Easter this would be the epitome of an Easter sandwich. Let’s just say I wasn’t worried about my bathroom sink after eating this sandwich. I often say that 80% of my life is the quest for a good sandwich and this, my friends, is it.

I know Pasadena gets a bad rap for food, but we truly hold one of the greatest sandwiches and we are about to get even luckier. The rumors are on the blogosphere (from Cafe Pasadena and Brigham Yen) that we are are getting a brand new Euro Pane. Whether it is a relocation or a second location, I am thrilled! We will be sure to let you know, when we know more, but for now grab an egg salad sandwich and a cookie because your life just got so much more delicious.

Being Couth: Meeting Thomas Keller in Pasadena

In my almost three years of living in Pasadena, I’ve met some great people at various signings around the city. Bill Clinton, Barbara Walters, Chef Curtis Stone are just some of the authors I have shook hands with in the Crown City (technically I met Martha in Glendale). The locations of the events have either been Vroman’s or Sur La Table but when I heard that Thomas Keller would be in town I was surprised to see that he’d be at Williams-Sonoma. I love the high-end kitchen store, my mom buys those $20 apples for everyone on her Hanukkah/Christmas list and I normally walk in for samples or sale items. I put the date in the calendar, but with Josie in Berkeley for the week I wasn’t sure, the night before I decided to head to the event solo. As my dinner was in the oven, I ran to the store 20 minutes before closing to get the book Ad Hoc at Home with the receipt, so that way the following day I just had to wait in line. I live a few blocks away so this morning I walked by the store maybe an hour before he event. The line didn’t look that intimidating so I decided to run to SBux for an Iced Venti Soy Chai Latte. I finally got in line and began to sip and twitter.

The line was filled with Le Cordon Bleu culinary students, housewives, and some of my foodie friends. Kung Food Panda and Limer35 were just behind me. The weather was beautiful and it felt fantastic to be outside on a Thursday before noon. The event was so well coordinated and executed. Thomas Keller arrived early and the event began early. We were given cupcakes and faux pomegranate martinis in line and a dog was served water in a beautiful glass bowl from the store. One person in line asked if they could have a photo signed and the staff was super kind even when saying no. They said they asked Mr. Keller and he wasn’t comfortable with that because he’s not a celebrity but that he would happily take photos.

As I was approaching the Williams-Sonoma door on my way to Keller, once again everything was beautifully handled. They were letting in people three at a time, the Post-Its with the correct name spelling were in the book, and we were instructed to have our cameras on and hand it to the woman in the blue shirt.

Within moments it was my turn. He got up, shook my hand, sat back down, signed the book, and then stood for a picture. He called me Carina and he was sweet and shy. I had no uncouth statements and I didn’t slip him a business card, as I have done with others. He’s not that kind of guy. He is classy and respectable. Sure meeting someone like Richard Simmons is fun because they are outrageous and kiss you without asking and Chef Curtis is a guy that is begging for you to flirt with him but Keller, well Keller, is a man to respect and act appropriately around. He shows up early and starts early and I left feeling pleased, not starstruck and giddy. Williams-Sonoma was a great venue for him as they are a proper store that delivers exactly what you would think: good service, products, and no surprises.

I am sure that it is his demeanor, properness, and attention to detail that has restaurants constantly rank some of the best in the world, whether it is Per Se or The French Laundry. I was impressed and I was on my good girl behavior. I thanked him and if I knew how I would have curtsied. The Williams-Sonoma staff took my book and dried it with their hands. It was the smoothest retail operation I have seen and I am sure it was up to the Keller standards.

I grabbed my book, asked my blogger/twitter friends to join me for lunch, and a had a lovely stroll through my neighborhood. It was the most couth I felt in a long time and I thank Keller for this feat. What’s next, drinking milk and reading the bible? I am lactose intolerant and a Jew so instead I went for jalapeno yellowtail sashimi from Japon Bistro and looked for the Anais Nin journal about incest at Cliff’s Books. I want to make a joke about Keller’s inscription and a book on incest but I will restrain…if only you could take the uncouth out of this girl for good.

Sushi Roku: Dining with Delicious Food and The Delicious

Once upon a time ago when we started our blog, we seldom left Pasadena. After exploring almost every crevice of Pasadena, we went on to downtown Los Angeles and haven’t left. However, when our westsider, The Delicious, told us that she would be in Pasadena, we quickly jumped at the opportunity to stay local on a rainy Saturday night. I was at work, but Carina and Delicious went to Rosso Wine Shop and picked up some bottles for someone’s birthday before going on to Sushi Roku. I had been once before and wasn’t that impressed but I gave it a second shot. So I met them there after work and we ended up staying hours. The place was different, the meal was better, and the service was impeccable. Here’s the yummy stuff that we sampled while there.

Wes, the GM and friend of The Delicious, was tending after us this day and he recommended a few goodies. I couldn’t eat the fish and so the girls had the scallops on a potato chip all on top of some avacado. They enjoyed it. Since I could not have the scallops, I tried the filet mignon wrapped asparagus with soy yuzu dressing. It was a slightly scorched bundle of wrapped joy. (Ok, that sounded vulgar but I really can’t help it sometimes.) But wait, we didn’t stop there, we went for a few more rounds (also called courses by normal people).

Next was an interesting but very tempting sashimi that were served atop with micro greens and parmesan. Delicious, not a fan of micro celery, didn’t have any but I could tell Carina enjoyed it very much – she ate all of it. Next up was a fish-less trio. There were green beans, chicken yakatori, and sesame marinated eggplant. All were to my liking and the girls moved to the endive with tuna filling portion of their apps, which were garnished with edible flowers. Presentation was definitely above what I remembered it being a few years back and much tastier, too.

I’m a big fan of veggie rolls and burdock root. Carina and Delicious are not a fan of the bitterness of burdock so I had the roll all to myself. I was particularly impressed that my roll was wrapped in a cucumber shell. An avid fan of Iron Chef Japan, I know the rigor that it takes to peel a cucumber like that. I’ve seen Iron Chef Sakai effortlessly tackle the arduous skill time and time again with a gargantuan sized knife in seconds. I’ve also tried it before and just ended up wasting a shit load of cucumbers; so the fact that they did it for us made me particularly impressed.

For our entrees (yes, we were not finished), the girls moved to sushi and I got a perfectly cooked NY Rib-eye with buttery mash potatoes and haricot vert. Delicious and Carina thought it was too rare, but I always order rare so it was perfect. (My dad often wonders if I’m really Mexican because he likes his meat cooked well-done. I ask myself if I’m really his daughter.) The butter content in all the components of my entree would disgust some people, but to a uncouth gourmand like myself, it was heaven. I don’t let a little thing like good health get in the way of my hedonistic pleasures and I devoured the whole meal. It was funny because when Wes came by to see if we wanted anything else, I said I wasn’t really hungry and then, of course, I ordered a steak entree with a piece of meat bigger than my head.

For dessert we had the bread pudding with a caramel sauce that was made from, get this, croissants. Croissants are one of my favorite foods, mainly because of the butter ratio, and to see them in a full fledged dessert was magnificent and delicious.

Sushi Roku has changed for the better over the last few years. From the caliber of service to the presentation to the food – it was a pleasure on all fronts. There were a few dishes that were better than others but hey, when you’re in good company those small imperfections fall to the wayside. I hear they have a great happy hour so I’ll most certainly be back to Sushi Roku.

Cuisine: Sushi, Japanese
Neighborhood: Pasadena
One Colorado
33 Miller Alley
Pasadena, CA 91103
(626) 683-3000

Elements Kitchen: Getting Closer to Their Element

I initially went to Elements Kitchen on February 2nd with The Minty, but I never wrote about it. Not because I am afraid of writing a bad review but they were only open for a few weeks and I could tell they were not at their stride. We sat in the bar and we were virtually ignored, glasses were dropped, and the price point was very high. This, aside from the School Cafe at Le Cordon Bleu, are the closest places to eat by my house so I really needed this to be good and I was anxiously awaiting their opening for months. I am a long time fan of Elements Cafe, so I know they can create awesome food, it is just ironing out the problems that a full-scale restaurant has. My initial problems was the server, the fact that we paid $9 for Duck Confit “Eggrolls” (plural) when it was only one egg roll cut in half, and all of the food was served lukewarm. The Oyster and Mussel Chowder with pork belly had great flavor but it was not hot enough. Also we got the Elements Burger with oxtail, foie gras, an heirloom tomato and fries. This was priced at $15 which didn’t quite make sense to me when one egg roll is only $6 cheaper. I am not asking them to raise the price but the pricing seemed very inconsistent. Minty and I shared all of this food and I cut the burger in half. It was very uncouth because later I felt like a horrible person when she said she didn’t have any foie gras and I had a huge piece on top of my burger. Relax friends, my cutting privileges have been revoked.

Nothing I ate was bad but nothing was THAT hot (literally and figuratively). It was one of those nights where Minty and I had a choice: we could either keep ordering more and hope for something to be better or we could cut our losses and say goodbye. We chose the latter and grabbed sushi. Here is the Minty’s recap of the evening and the meal. As I mentioned, this place is in my hood and I really want to love it. They started a great special on Wednesday three weeks ago where they pick an ingredient and do a sketch on it and make 5 plates for $5 each. The first week the ingredient was avocado, which is the only fruit I don’t like. I grew up in Santa Cruz with avocado trees in my backyard and even now when I go home my mom asks, “Have you grown up enough to now love avocados?” The answer is sadly no. It’s the color and consistency that I can’t get passed, although I now endure pieces in my sushi and tacos. Anyway, I was not looking for 5 plates dedicated to this mushy green ingredient. The following Wednesday was shrimp, which I would have been totally down for but that was a night that I was going to consume over a pound of shrimp at my favorite restaurant Boiling Crab. Finally, this Wednesday (yesterday) the ingredient was scallops, one of my favorite foods. I had our finance intern, Maria, and our newly crowned CFO, Meryl, with me so I asked them to join me. Plus if you RT the special on their Twitter you’d get a free plate. We walked in and there were these beautiful green couches in the bar/lounge area, that I hadn’t seen before. According to the chef, the host, and the server that greeted us they had just arrived and we’d be the first to sit on them. I was impressed by the attention this time around.

Our server was very sweet and brought us out a bowl of taro and plantain chips. She was informed about the Twitter special and I had each of us ladies pick a plate. My new saying in 2010 is that, “I am so over eating cooked seafood.” I ordered the scallop sashimi and then the girls got the seared scallop with a macadamia-crusted Belgian endive (seen in the main pic) and the sherry-glazed scallop with noodles and chorizo. The other two scallop dishes on the menu were plays on the ingredient one was “scallop potatoes” and the other was a dessert plate with bananas that looked like scallops.

We were enjoying ourselves. We were the first people in the restaurant and we got a lot of attention. I am not used to having co-workers besides Josie so it was nice to hang out with the ladies outside of the office. Although, I am sure I was driving them nuts that night because Josie and I were on g-talk and I was LOL’ing every two seconds in the office…I even choked on a Starburst. I hope the girls are ready for it, because starting on Tuesday Josie will return to the office full-time and the giggle fest will continue. Anyway, the time was passing and our small plates still hadn’t arrived. After a half an hour our server came up and said the sashimi won’t be ready for a while. I was bummed, that was the dish I really wanted. My dish was the easiest, it didn’t even have to be cooked. I ordered the bananas instead. Our waitress kept checking in on us and apologizing and after 45 minutes of sitting in the lounge our two small plates arrived. They were good but by this time it was almost six and my hunger was growing.

The food was really good. The scallops weren’t over cooked (my biggest complaint) and it was yummy but if I didn’t enjoy my company it would have been way too long to wait. Also, I knew I would be trying a sampling of a new truck called Shrimp Mania later that night so I wanted to eat very little at Elements or else I would have ordered an entree after these “sketches.”  Only a few minutes later the dessert plate arrived, it was good but nothing special.

To sum things up, the service was a million times better the second time around. There are still some glitches but after I took a trip to the bathroom I saw how far the bar is from the kitchen, and it makes sense that it may take a while to get the food. The food is good and I much preferred trying it for only $5 a plate. I will go back and want to sit in their actual dining room to see if there is a difference. Anyway, they are heading in the right direction. I liked that the chef came out and the new comfy furniture that we were the first to defile. I will be back and I am sure that the glitches will be worked out. Here is our lovely intern Maria on the new furniture.