After lunch at Mozza on Saturday, Dad and I headed a few streets over to Milk on Beverly. Opened just a few weeks ago, Milk has already garnered it’s share of food blogging reviews, here, here and here!

The menu offers both simple breakfast and lunch item, but the real focus here is desssssseet, yes indeed! A full lunch, dessert included, at Mozza less than 15 minutes ago, I was already full, but who knows when the next time I’ll be out here again. So dessert it is! Borrowing the words of a true milkshake connoisseur, as Robyn said, “milkshakes help digest.” If you think about it the right way, they really do!

A blend of house made vanilla ice cream, melted chocolate malt balls and a caramel chocolate swirl, the Milkie Way Malted ($4.50) was rich, full-bodied, but surprisingly not too sweet. That distinct, slightly gritty, almost salty malt touch was key to balancing the sweet-salty action. Flavorwise, they had it down pat. But! But! They made one huge mistake, milkshake-wise. It was THIN! Thin as in my-straw-could-only-stand-straight-up-for-5-seconds kind of thin. And that is a big failure. A true milkshake should be soooo thick that we could stick a heavy metal knife right though, and it would still stand nice and tall. It should be so thick that we must muster all our energy to spoon, not suck it up. But if we do choose to suck it up, our cheeks should shrink in, our lips out tight and all the oxygen in our head, depleted from milkshaking. I will find that milkshake one day. Until then, Milk should consider more ice cream and less milk in their blend.

To their credit, there were quite a few, many of them creative, milkshake options ranging from Strawberry Shortcake, to Coffee Toffee Crunch and a Passion Shake. They even have ice cream bonbons at only $.25 a piece along with ice cream sandwiches (I think it had a macaron “crust”) and housemade ice cream bars.

Housed along the other side of the register counter is my favorite form of desserts: baked goods! Apple pie bread, banana bread, melted chocolate cookies, snowballs, and even a blue velvet cake. But what caught my eye were the beautiful madelines, perched high above the other treats in their own silver platter. And they were not any plain old madelines, but chocolate hazelnut creations. At $.75 a piece, I bought a couple for the ride home and one to have right then and there…while they were still warm! It was almost like biting into a soft nutella cake, the blend of chocolate with ground hazelnuts created the flavor of nutella, only in a more delicate, buttery cake form. The thin shell of the madeline was juuuust crusty, as you like it, but the innards! Oh so tender, finely grinded nuts, butter butter all around… madeline deprived I’ve been in LA!

7290 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 939-6455

Dad’s visit from Hawaii this weekend was a perfect excuse to pay a visit to Batali and Silverton’s Mozza! I called in for lunch reservations a few weeks ago, but they were near booked with the only openings for two at 3pm and 11pm. However the man on the phone was kind enough to suggest that we come right before they opened to score a seat at the bar. And that we did.

We arrived around 11:45, just 15 minutes prior to the restaurant’s noon opening, and were the third group in line. Apparently it was everyone’s first visit to Mozza, and all were equally excited. Whispers of burrata, lardo and sage hovered in the air and every minute or so one would pop up on their toes, looking eagerly in the glass windows as the staff prepared for the day. Finally, we heard the clicks of the double doors unlocking and we all rushed in.

My dad and I strategically seated ourselves right in front of the pizza constructing action, between an elderly couple that drove in all the way from San Diego and a two women decked out in rather flashy attire, a la Hollywood. Famished from a lack of breakfast, I tore into the trio of breadsticks placed at our table. Simple, done right, and nothing out of the ordinary.

I started out with the aqua fresca of the day, a sparkling blood orange limonata ($5). It’s a bit pricey for such a simple drink, but oh heck, I was in such a good mood, who really cares. The drink was presented with the pale yellow limonata on the bottom half and the sparkling blood orange floating on top. Sweetened just so, crisp and fruity, it was perfect start to the meal.

Soon came the winter caprese ($12), little did I know that this would be my favorite part of the meal. The burrata was devilishly buttery soft and pure white, completely innocent in appearance. Yet when paired with pesto and a quartet of roasted cherry tomatoes, I swear it was complete sin. The tomatoes simply busted open in your mouth, spilling sweet, juicy innards, melting into the pillowy cuts of burrata. I could only wish that all caprese salads were this decadent.

Most pizzas come cut into slices of four, but my egg, guanciale, radicchio & bagna cauda ($13) came whole and uncut to preserve the glory of the barely cooked yolk. I snapped a shot (just for you!) and returned it back to the kitchen to have it sliced. The waiter came back a minute later, a smile on his face, “chef couldn’t bear to break the yolk, so he sliced around it.” What could I do but smile in return? It was salty pizza, but salty in a good way. Thin slices of crisp fired guanciale, an unsmoked bacon made for pig cheeks, lay round with the slightly bitter touch of radicchio and bagna cauda, heavy in anchovy, a flavor calling my name. Thin, crisp slices with a crust, lovingly charred and basking in generous doses of a rich olive oil and a cornmeal dusted bottom. Thick or thin pizzas, I love them all, just don’t give my something that hovers in between :)

I took great joy from eating a fair share of dad’s burrata, escarole & braised bacon ($15). The sight of more burrata following up from our appetizer gave me great joy! Layer it on top of a crusty light dough and thick cuts of salty braised bacon, and the end result is pure ecstasy. I ate some of the bacon alone, and oh dear god, they are meaty, fatty and juicy little bits.

I was pretty full by the last slice of pizza. Actually I was really full, but alas, a meal is never complete without dessert! It was a call between the butterscotch budino, meyer lemon gelato pie and soffiata with pistachio gelato ($8). It was a hard decision to make. Chowhound raves center around the majestic beauty of the butterscotch budino, remarking on the layer of salted caramel that took the pudding from good to excellent. But what is soffiata? I didn’t know either. I was curious, so that’s what I decided to have. Out arrived a beautiful trio of baby profitoroles, each round of choux pastry hugging a little round of milky rich pistachio gelato. A generous scoop of the gelato sat as queen to the trio, quite dashing in appearancem adorned by tiny chopped pistachios and a light hand of tangy sweet stewed cherries. It was gorgeous! I wanted to look at it forever and take pictures, one after another, but I noticed it was melting, so I stopped. And ate. And ate. Man, did I eat!

As dad and I waddled out of Mozza an hour later, the line of people waiting for a seat at the bar numbered a good dozen. Get there early if you don’t want to wait!
“Oh man, dad. I’m so full. Where are we going now?”
“Up to you,” my dad said, “what do you feel like?”
“Let’s try the milkshakes and madelines at Milk!”
“You’re not full??”
“Well, I am, yeah, but well…I think milkshakes…help digest?”
So off we went on Beverly Blvd. I’ll report back on our sugar high soon :)

Pizzeria Mozza
641 North Highland
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 297-0101

I stopped by Taco Factory in the Claremont Village on the way to class today. You know what? I’ve been looking forever for a place in this city with Al Pastor. I keep on reading about Kirk’s adventures with this succulent meat and was growing quite frustrated with the fact that I could not access such places without a car. Who would have guess the Taco Factory, a mere 15 minute walk from my dorm, offers this treasure?!

So I had a Al Pastor Taco ($1.29), and here it is. Kirk was right! I like, I like it very much! I have no previous experience to compare this with, but the shreds/chunks of pork were so moist and flavorful with just the right about of spice. Slightly taken aback by all the offerings at the pile-it-on-yourself salsa bar, I just loaded up whatever and anything that looked good. It worked out very nicely, I must say! Only issue I had here was eating this with my hands. There was so much stuff everything threatened to spill out. I had to do it fork and knife – it was the only way.

The Mahi Mahi Taco ($2.49) was ehhh, just okay. I would have much preferred two more Al Pastors’ to the Mahi Mahi for the price. A fair sized fillet was sautéed and layered over the corn tortillas with a tangy cream sauce and cabbage. The fish was tough and overwhelmingly ‘fishy’ in flavor, even with the cream sauce…Hawaii spoiled me, but I can’t be too picky here. All in all, it was a simple, yet enjoyable lunch…nice to get some time alone for myself. Besides, now I can say I’ve had Al Pastor, finally!!!

Taco Factory
363 Bonita Ave.
Claremont, CA 91711
(909) 621-3434

They must go though countless bags of dried chili peppers at Sichuan restaurants. It’s been more than 12 hours since my last bite of beef stir-fried in pickled peppers but my lips! They have blown up to enormous proportions because of the heat, and my tongue is still swollen from one to many peppercorns. I had more than my share of whole peppers. Just cause I really wanted to taste them, you know? Curiosity really burns.

Chung King is know wide and far, thanks to the New York Times and Jonathan Gold. But save for the newspaper articles on the pasted on the windows and tables, you’d never guess the extent of Chun King’s popularity from the modest storefront, comfortably worn down interior, and eager to please owners.

We began our meal with an assortment of cold appetizers selected from the tray counter at the back of the restaurant. From the left: kelp shreds with chilies and brown peppercorns, fuqi feipian, and pig ears in hot sauce. The pig ears were my favorite of the trio, with its balance between crisp and meaty. However, I could not help but think of how just incredibly oily all the dishes were, every slice of ear was literally dipped in oil. It didn’t occur to me how much bare, hot oil I was ingesting till after I paused for a minute, and went, uuuugh. So much oil! But that’s they way it’s made at most restaurants, so I’ll suck it up and won’t eat so many ears next time!

In contrast, the dish of konnyaku in a soy-based sauce, topped with peanuts and green onions was very mellow and refreshing. I like the mix of the crispy, cool slippery jelly and the sharp peanut bits. There was just the slightest hint of heat, the konnyaku would later prove to be a lifesaver that we’d often turned to when burned by our later, pepper-dominated dishes.

Our stir-fried beef with pickled peppers contained far more peppers than beef. You see how the beef looks plentiful in the picture? Deceiving! The only beef in that dish is what you see on top. So basically it was a huge plate of stir fried peppers with some vegetables. The beef, however little there existed, was very tender, almost buttery I dare say. It was an especially tongue numbing trip when coupled with a pepper or two and a spoonful of rice. Those peppers really do you in. My tongue wasn’t gasping in the face of heat, but was far beyond that stage. It was just numb to death with a mild burn. I think the numbness went all the way to my head. heehee.

One of our few non-spicy entrees was the fried Chinese bacon with garlic sprouts. I think I like this more than American bacon! The slices are thicker than the bacon you usually get at a typical breakfast, making for a more meaty, savory treat. The supple ribbons of fat running proudly though each strand had a nice sear and melted oh-so-gently into the lightly hued pink meat. Nothing quite like pig fat, meat and hot rice, eh?

Sorry, the picture is so bad, but everyone started to attack this dish so quickly, I didn’t have time for a retake! This was the group favorite of the evening, fish fillets sautéed with bean sprouts in a hot bean curd sauce, then topped with green onions and peanuts. The success of the dish lay in the contrast of textures and flavors, from the bright crunch of sautéed sprouts, to the peanuts and then a searing hot fish that burned, yet begged you to come back for more of its smooth and flaky meat in a light bean curd based bath. Salty, hot and wanting.

And to celebrate the new years, we made sure to get noodles for long life! Three kinds of noodles, in fact! The dan dan mien paled in comparison to what I’ve had in various Sichuan restaurants in Rowland Heights. I could taste nothing but spiciness. And spicy is good. I like spicy. But I don’t like spicy when it overkills everything else and the whole dish ends up tasting like spicy in many textures.

However the Sichuan cold noodles were an instant favorite. Mellow, plain and cool to mute the every growing numbing tingling fires in our mouths. The “house special sauce” was sweet and thick, lightly glazing over every strand of the chilled noodles. This, like the konnyaku, saved me from begging for a cup of milk.

Any aid that the cold noodles might have offered was murdered and torn apart by the “ants climbing on a tree” noodles, thin glass vermicelli stir fried with minced pork, eggs, and little peppers. These peppers could not be as easily avoided like the larger ones in the previous dishes. Look carefully, little bits of red, everywhere! I loved, but hated them at the same time. Where it’s so hot you need and should stop, but it’s so good, you just can’t. It’s as if some invisible for propels you to go bite and bite and you want, but cannot, no you cannot stop. You want more! And that’s how Sichuan restaurants stay in business!

OOoh, this one, the fish flavored eggplant was glorious! There was no “fish flavored” element that I could recognize, but sweet slices of juicy eggplant were stewed in a spicy concoction that called for a glossy layer of pure hot oil right over the top. It was hot, but really, you had to keep on going. The eggplant was the equivalent of savory soft butter balls in hot oil. The meat of the eggplant was loosely bound, falling over and encasing the steaming rice, bringing with it the fearful heat we love to crave.

That was without a doubt the fieriest meal I’ve had in a long time. But it was very enjoyable! Even though the restaurant is tiny to begin with, it was completely full from the moment we arrived till after we left around 9:30pm. Unlike a fair share of restaurants in this area, service was bend-over-your-back extremely friendly and helpful. I think by the time the third dish came around, the waitress remembered to keep an eye on my water glass, cause it was filled a good seven or eight times throughout the dinner! One thing I don’t plan to engage in again is stuffing more than three peppers in my mouth at once, just to get a taste of plain, unadultured Sichuan peppercorns. Not too wise. But hey, now aren’t you curious? Not even a little? ;)

Happy Chinese New Years!!!

Chung King
206 S. Garfield Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 280-7430

Growing up, I ate a lot of Chinese vegetarian foods and mock meat. My grandma is Buddhist, which meant that on certain times of the month she’d have to go vegetarian for a week. Those were my favorite weeks. Grandma would prepare numerous dishes of faux ham and chicken, working wonders with wheat gluten, tofu and mushrooms. I grew to like mock meat even more than real meats (save for sweetbread, foie gras, and braised shortribs, hehe). A lot of it had to do with the texture, “meat” made from veggies, especially tofu always seemed to carry a lighter chewy with a bit of bounce. I like soft foods and the rhyme and blend of various forms of bean curd and mushrooms were very appealing.

Which explains my excitement to visit to Happy Family Vegetarian in Rowland Heights, a restaurant specializing in mock meats. I went with Trisha, a close friend from high school. While she may not be the most adventurous eater, Trisha was nonetheless kind enough to stand my excessive enthusiasm and quite willing to indulge in my delight for mock meats. That’s what high school friends are for.

We arrived around 5:30pm, soon after the restaurant opened for dinner. A few tables were filled, mostly older couples and small families. We were welcomed into the restaurant with cheerful, “hellos, welcome, welcome,” all around and given a small complimentary salad to begin. A basic mix of chopped lettuce, carrots and cucumbers was tossed in a light miso based dressing, very simple, yet clean and fresh.

Our Vege House Chicken with Sesame ($8.50) reminded me a lot of kung pao chicken, only without the spice and without the chicken. Little rounds made of chopped button mushrooms, eggplant and tofu were battered, fried, then finished in a tangy sweet-sour glaze. Texturewise, I could barely differentiate it from actual chicken, but in terms of flavor, I enjoyed this a great deal more. The batter was crisp and sharp, served at a sizzling hot temperature that contrasted with the soft, sweet blend of vegetables. You could even claim that it was “juicy.” Cause it was.

We also shared a dish of “real” vegetables, Eggplant with Basil ($7.25). This was noted as ‘spicy’ on the menu, but as Trisha can’t eat spicy foods, we asked for it to be made mild. The dish consisted of a rather generous portion of eggplant stir-fried with fresh basil leaves in a garlicky sauce. The eggplant melted right onto my bowl of hot rice, while the sauce did its duty, lovingly soaking through every grain. Enjoyable, if not a pedestrian item, but I can’t help but imagine how much the dish would benefit from with a touch of fiery peppers!

It was just going to be these two dishes for our “light” dinner…that is, until I saw Fried Bread ($2.00) listed on the menu. I loooove bread, and whenever there’s any time of bread, be it sweet or savory, listed on a restaurant menu, count me for an order. Even better if it’s fried. The duo of mini loves were crispy, crunchy and just oh-so-fried to that deep golden brown shade. The crust functioned as decadently delicious armor, holding safe to the soft, white layers of nothing but pure plush dough. The only thing more I could have asked for was a bowl of condensed milk. Just for dipping, you know? Fried. Bread. Sweet Milk. It’s a god blessed combo made in heaven.

Our meal closed with complimentary bowls of tapioca in a sweetened evaporated milk base. This was a particularly refreshing end, given the greasy nature of our dish. There were so many more interesting dishes I’m interested to try – Fried Taro with Lychees, Vege Shark’s Fin with Mustard Greens and something called “O Oh Gen” (anyone had this before?) Well, we will be back, and I’ll let you know!

It’s midnight now, and I could really go for a mock ham sandwich. Like the kind my grandma makes. Such are my childhood memories.

Happy Family Vegetarian Restaurant

18425 E. Colima Rd., 2nd Floor
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 965-9923