Carmine's Italian

Carmine's Italian located in Pasadena, hometown to Mr. Borscht, welcomes you warmly with its rustic chic charm.

The name alone Carmine's reminds me of the TV mafia drama The Soprano's, a chic version of The Soprano's that is.  Would the food live up to the very Italian name?  That is the question, and as I would find, it did, although the coffee was terrible, but lo and behold I wasn't here to critique the coffee but the food, which was most definitely molto buon!

Minestrone soup

Good to order:  The Minestrone soup and the small Antipasto salad.  

The minestrone soup was a hot bowl of soup with vegetables and a few bits of pasta, flavorful and warm, perfect for a cold day.  Don't let the small order of antipasto fool you, the small sized antipasto salad could literally feed two to fullness.  Fresh vegetables tossed in Italian dressing with black olives, Peperoncini for bite, red beets for a bit of nutty sweetness, cubed mozzarella to keep you grounded and salami and mortadella for a bit of spice and saltiness.  If you're craving something light but delicious this is the perfect salad to go with.

Antipasta salad: Salami, mortadella, fresh veg, red beets, peperoncini,
black olives, mozzarella

Good to order:  Chicken Marsala

Mr. Borscht grew up in Pasadena and had often frequented Carmine's back in his teenage days, he was looking forward to Chicken Marsala that he often ordered here, of course he ordered it today for the sake of childhood memories, would it be the same?  It would.  The best chicken Marsala I have ever tasted, large tubes of perfectly cooked Rigatoni with large pieces of chicken, slices of mushroom and in Marsala sauce that was light and nutty flavored.  I'm not Italian but this very much tasted like Italian chicken marsala, unlike many Americanized Italian restaurants' chicken marsalas.

Chicken Marsala over Rigatoni

The Damage:  $27.36

1 Chicken Marsala
1 Cup of Minestrone soup
1 Small antipasto salad
1 Cup of black coffee

Carmine's Italian
424 Fair Oaks Ave.
South Pasadena, CA 91030
(626) 799.2266

The Library Bar

The one place to go for drinks whether cocktail or beer and delicious old-fashioned bar food and then some?  The Library Bar.

On a Saturday night the bar/lounge known as The Library Bar was fairly packed, seating is minimal, three medium sized lounge corners, one picnic table for those lucky enough to grab it and then the line of tall bar seats at the bar.  Now here is a place one can come on a date... or not, meeting friends or simply alone, The Library Bar seems to be a place for all kinds.

But the most notable aspect of The Library Bar seems to not only be the beer and cocktail served but also the food.  Here is a place where "bar food" takes a step up in the world of bar foods,  grilled cheese sandwiches made with Gruyere and Asiago cheese, delicious burgers of different kinds, french fries that aren't stale!  Pork Belly Skewers, Roast Marrowbones or Grilled Artichoke with chili aioli dipping sauce!  What more can one ask for with their beer... or cocktail?!

The bar is dimly lit and the people that frequent here seem to be friendly, the bartenders busy but accommodating.  I immediately like The Library Bar even if it isn't the usual divy bars I like to frequent.

The grilled cheese sandwich made with melted Asiago and Gruyere cheese on sour dough bread with a smear of tomato tapenade, simple and delicious.  But it seems that the Library Burger is the popular item on the menu, many customers are ordering The Library Burger as I quietly peruse the menu, caramelized onions sweet pickles, white cheddar, arugula and mustard.  The meat is grade A, moist and flavorful.  Now this is a place where bar food is given a kick, this isn't just bar food and best of all... it is all fairly priced.

Finally a place casual enough to come alone but nice enough to bring a date.  Finally a place where one can bring a date to buy a drink and grab a bite.  If you're looking for a fast date night, this should definitely be a place to consider.

The Damage:  $39.15

1 Library Burger
1 Grilled Cheese Sandwich
1 Stella
1 Manhattan

630 West 6th Street
Suite 116-A
LA CA 90017
(213) 614.0053

Mitsuru Cafe

The forecast showed gloom and rain on Wednesday so naturally Brother Charlie and I made plans to ditch work and subway over it to Daikokuya in L.A.'s Japan Town for some hot ramen, what?  After all, could be better than hot ramen after a walk in the rain?  Unfortunately things didn't go quite as planned, not too surprising there I suppose, hence the reason why I never plan anything.

Firstly, it did not rain.  Thus Brother Charlie and I walked briskly under the sun, jumped onto the train and headed due downtown!  Onward ho!

Secondly, it did not rain.  Thus Brother Charlie and I walked from the beautiful Union Station to Japan Town, we were getting ever closer to our much awaited destination, Daikokuya.  Onward ho!  

Thirdly, Daikokuya would not be open today due to remodeling, we stood dumbly outside their door peering in, and surely they were remodeling.  There was a unanimous sigh of exasperation 'how could this happen to us?!  Surely the world revolves around me'.... 'and me!'  There was not a moment to be lost our stomachs begin to growl in discontent and dark menacing clouds begin to form overhead- manifest destiny.

Fourthy, off to Mitsuru Cafe it is, instead.  Onward ho!

Neither Brother Charlie or Tummy has ever been to Mitsuru Cafe, but we have often see the woman at the window flipping little red bean pastries, a little worker bee working diligently, cannot burn those pastries, no siree.  Through the grapevine we have heard that something was good here.

The restaurant is empty, we are the first people to sit down, the restaurant has opened a mere 1 minute ago.  We take off our jackets and get comfortable in the janky booth we have sat in, the restaurant is small, the decoration old and not very well thought out if at all.  There is the woman at the window at the front of the restaurant flipping her red bean pastries, working silently but mechanically.  There is an older waitress who is somewhat curt but not rude in anyway and so I chalk this up to her disrupted meal as she was sitting at the end of a long counter on the other side of the restaurant eating, munching.  There is a middle-aged man who seems to disappear and reappear behind the counter as silent as a ninja, he is no doubt working, perhaps cleaning?  But I do not hear one squeek or clink from pots or pans... It is as if a world of Haruki Murakami is set here.

The green tea and the miso soup is the best I've tasted in Los Angeles, some may say that any warm liquid may have more than sufficed however average on this cool day that threatened rain, but I think not, for usually Tummy does not eat miso soup but did finish every last drop of Mitsuru's.  Not too salty, not too watered down, with perfect amounts of green onions and tiny tofu bits.  And though Tummy does not pretend to be any kind of connoisseur of green tea Tummy found the green tea here at Mitsuru to be fresh tasting and light on the palate which was very pleasing to the senses indeed.

The Tonkatsu Ala Carte was served with two large slices of breaded fried pork with a side of house dressed greens.  The plate was larger than imagined and can only be described as sumo sized, good for two average sized tummies.  But however delicious the Tonkatsu looked it just did not deliver in taste and was rather plain and surely Tummy has had Tonkatsu elsewhere much more flavorful.  On the brighter side... a cup of green tea to wash it down.

Sukiyaki baby!  Was splendid, once again this dish was good enough for two.  Slices of beef, onions, green onions, tofu, mushrooms and glass noodles, all swimming in hot flavorful beef broth.  The ingredients were all there, especially the mushrooms as I watched Brother Charlie (a hater of all things fungi) pick it out and chuck it onto my plate.  The broth itself may be debated that it was a bit salty but Tummy has never had Sukiyaki that wasn't so- it is every Sukiyakis right to be a little salty!

The challengers: Tonkatsu Ala Carte versus Sukiyaki.  And without much ado, the results... 
The winner is, Sukiyaki!

And while I sat across my brother in the semi-lopsided booth facing the front of the restaurant, my eyes constantly diverted to watching the slight Japanese lady mechanically working her magic to make numerous amounts of red bean pastries, I had to have one.  I just had to have one.  My eyes were in wonder for so long by the makings of these red bean things that now my Tummy agreed with the 'windows to the soul'.

And so, on our way out of the restaurant, I stopped, stared and looked, "one please".  I paid $1.25 for one of these red bean cuties, stood outside under the eave of the restaurant and took a bite.  The red bean was plentiful at the center of the bready round thing and was sweet, slightly mushy soft, and though the red bean was delightful the texture of the outer bread was not.  Tummy found the very outer layer of the bread to be slightly rubbery and did not like the feeling of having to tear rubbery bread and wished it would have been soft, fluffy and moist instead.

Was it an interesting experience?  Yes, as  new experiences almost always are.  Would I go back?  Probably not, but if I did I wouldn't be getting the Tonkatsu or the the red bean pastry.

The Damage:  $19.25 +/-

1 Sukiyaki
1 Tonkatsu a la carte
1 Red bean pastry

Mitsuru Cafe
117 Japanese Village Plaza Mall
LA CA 90012
(213) 613.1028

L'Epicerie Market


In the heart of Culver City I like to call a certain part of Culver Blvd "restaurant row", simply because there are rows and rows of restaurants, cafe and bistrots, all of which look spectacular, whether they actually are?  I'm not too sure.

Sunday, late lunch, birthday meal in Culver City's restaurant row, place?  L'Epicerie Market, a French restaurant and cafe with a beautiful selection of wine, good coffee, pastries and delicious French cuisine.

A farm -style table that seats eight in a quiet alcove of the restaurant, the table is surrounded by walls shelved with a variety of wine.  Flanked by good company on all sides, discussions of French culture, relationships and food is at hand.  I order a cup of Mocha to start, to moisten my throat and lips from all the talking.  The mocha is light and smooth going down, delicious Mocha made for delicate, graceful ladies is the best I can describe the character of L'Epicerie Mocha.

The meal is started with a cheese-board: a slice of fig, jam, and four varieties of cheese.  All four cheeses have incredibly different tastes and textures and though I do not enjoy the taste of all four it is interesting to taste and compare, as if a cheese connoisseur.  

Cheese board

Seared tuna salad

Mr. Borscht opts to start his meal with a seared tuna salad, the tuna is seared, raw in the middle and absolutely divine.  The salad contains Bib lettuce, slices of cucumber, boiled egg, kalamata olives and feta cheese.  Dressed to perfection, flavorful but light on the palate - a delicate tasting salad choice.

Tummy on the other hand starts with the beet salad:  Arugula, roasted red and orange beets, a poached egg on top that I mistook for Mozzarella cheese and bread crisp.  The arugula and beets are dressed with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette, a perfect dressing to go with the hearty flavors of roasted beets and the peppery arugula.  But between you and me, I preferred the lightness of Mr. Borscht's seared tuna salad, opposed to the heartier and more wintery flavors of the beet salad.

Beet salad

Angus burger

Mr. Borscht goes all out and decides upon a gorgeous looking, and tasting, hamburger.  Perfectly medium-rare Angus beef patty enclosed between poppy-seed hamburger buns, flanked by a thick slice of tomato, arugula, gorgonzola and gruyere cheese... and a side of roasted potatoes that were roasted to perfection, ever so slightly crisp on the edges while buttery delicious on the inside.

Tummy orders the Smoked Salmon Crepe as her main entree.  Standing at about a 1/4" thick, the crepe envelopes a delightful mixture of medium creamy sauce and mixture of bits of vegetables such as corn and peas, and of course there is the bits of salmon that is slightly salty, smoky and salmon-tasting.  this dish too, is delicious, whether it takes home the gold for smoked salmon crepe is questionable, but still I do recommend this crepe to those looking for one in Los Angeles and Culver City.

Smoked salmon crepe

The service was impeccable for a restaurant cafe, and indeed the food here is fantastic for such a casual dining experience- I suppose a little bit of the French culture (speaking aside from food) has carried over into L'Epicerie Market.  It is a restaurant cafe where the well-roundedness is its strong point, the service -nothing less than perfect, the wine list - extraordinary, the French food - delicious, the coffee - perfect, and the pastries and desserts - delightful.

The variety and options allowed here is what I was most impressed with, like the starting cheese board with four distinct cheese flavors this theme of "options" seemed to carry on throughout the restaurant.  Sit in the cafe section with your laptop and a cup of freshly brewed coffee, sit at the wine bar, would you like pastries and coffee to go?  Not a problem!  Or fully dine as we had.  Try our escargot during dinner or simply buy it canned packed with snail shells as well to make in the comfort of your own home.... Its all seems to be here.

The Damage: $57.00 +/-

2 Mochas
1 Smoke salmon crepe
1 Angus Hamburger
1 Beet salad
1 Sear tuna salad

9900 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 815.1600

Sake House

It was a planned night of drunken debauchery that went something like this, friends, drinks, laughs, drinks, talks, more drinks, Little Bar, and yet more drinks, last drink, really the last drink this time, talks, laughs, drinks, stumble stumble stumble, hungry let's eat.  This is how I came to find Sake House, conveniently located across the street from Little Bar, literally a couple doors down which is how we came to stumble into Little Bar after too many drinks one late night hungry from... drinking.  Sake House reminded me of a hip version of Daikokuya in Japan Town, on this night I ordered sushi carpaccio and a noodle dish each bite washed down with Nigori sake, both seemed to be rather delicious- but was it the drinks?  Was it the fun?  Was it being with friends that made the evening and the food so appetizing?  I don't know.  So naturally, I had to go back.

This time Mr. Borscht and I came alone, dinner at Sake House.

Complimentary cucumber wedges served with a sweet spicy sauce

I loved the sushi carpaccio so much the last time that I decide to order it again.  Choices of sushi for this dish are tuna, albacore and yellowtail.  We opt for sushi carpaccio with half albacore and half yellowtail. Once again really delicious.  The special house sauce used for this carpaccio tastes very much like ponzu sauce with a bit more citrus flavor.  The albacore was melt in your mouth, quite literally, the slices of albacore simply melted away, and though the idea may seem quite disgusting- fish melting in your mouth?!  It was actually beautifully tasty.  The yellowtail however was my favorite, the texture soft and supple and the light flavor of the yellowtail easily picked up on the right amount of carpaccio sauce flavors while the albacore flavor was a bit more aggressive standing its ground against the carpaccio sauce thus not melding as nicely together.

The sushi carpaccio is definitely something to be had here at Sake House, it's a burst of flavor, fun, intriguing and makes you want to eat more.

Albacore & Yellow tail sushi carpaccio in special house carpaccio sauce

Mr. Borscht ordered something called Bibimbap which in my experience is a Korean dish, but I found that on the Sake House menu quite a few Korean dishes were listed, which I think is really great for the sake of options and variety.  Bibimbap is rice topped with vegetables such as sauteed spinach, shredded carrots, slices of mushrooms, many places even add cooked bean sprouts and a number of other vegetables, usually this dish is topped with a fried egg which is then mixed with sesame oil and spicy sauce.  The bibimbap at Sake House was a simpler version that came in a hot pot where you'll find that the rice is sizzling away.  I took a couple spoonfuls for a taste and found that a better bibimbap (should this be what you are craving) can be gotten somewhere else. 

Bibimbap:  Rice with an assortment of vegetables all mixed together with spicy sauce

And feeling adventurous as always I decide to go for the Unagi Tofu Steak, something I've never had, seen or even knew existed.  A hot plate with a cooked egg omelet style, topped with fresh soft tofu warmed by the hot plate but not cooked, topped with bits and pieces of unagi and sweet brown sauce, topped with sesame seeds and green onions.  This was an interesting dish where the flavors were unusual together (perhaps because I have never had it), at the same time I felt the flavors went very nicely together: the eggy omelet along with the nutty-ness of the tofu and the sweetness of the brown sauce along with a bit of sweet unagi went wonderfully, and thought it very imaginative of the creator.  One complaint I have is the lack of unagi, I love unagi and would have enjoyed bigger slices of unagi on top, perhaps not even bits and pieces but instead four whole pieces of unagi (as you see served in the Unagi Bowl)- this would have created large layers of egg omelet, large squares of soft tofu and layed out whole pieces of unagi- now this would have been spectacular!  

And though I did like the Unagi Tofu Steak dish very much it is probably the last and only time I order it, it's no sushi carpaccio!

Unagi Tuna Steak:  Egg omelet style topped with fresh tofu, unagi & sweet brown sauce

A few reasons why I like Sake House...

The location:  next to Rascals the wine & beer bar that also serves food, next to Little Bar my favorite bar in LA.

The atmosphere:  quiet but casual, filled with murmuring customers your age (20-40s), reminds me of Daikokuya in Japan Town (though it really can't compare but is a great alternative for this side of town).

The food:  may not be the absolute best but still has a variety of interesting options...
and also, the SUSHI CARPACCIO!!!

The Damage: $35.72

1 Sushi Carpaccio
1 Unagi Tofu Steak
1 Bibimbap

809 S. La Brea
LA CA 90036
(323) 939.7075

Figaro Bistrot Pt. 3, Onion soup, Quiche Lorraine & the best French Toast EVER

A restaurant that can make an anti-onion food lover an onion lover is in my opinion worthy of spending your money at.  I love all kinds of onions and garlic but Friend Tamra is no friend of onions, until she came to Figaro Bistro.  So yes, it just may have been the onion soup at Figaro Bistro that she gives way to, but that's a great start!  I was rather startled when I saw her chowing down on that onion soup, spoon full of onions and all, "I thought you didn't eat onions?!", "I don't" she replied "I guess I do now" she said smiling, shoveling a spoon full of the onions into her mouth.  I have yet to try the onion soup at Figaro Bistro, but I think on my next visit I just may have to, what exactly does magical onion soup taste like?  Apparently magically delicious enough to turn an anti-onion food lover into an onion-eating kind.

Mr. Borscht orders the Quiche Lorraine for brunch, Quiche Lorraine has been his thing as of late, and the Quiche Lorraine at Figaro Bistro is pretty amazing.  Slightly soft with just a bit of a bite, the flavors of the Quiche Lorraine which includes onions, ham, cheese and of course egg was smooth and delightfully.  No ingredient or flavor of the ingredients was more over-powering than the other, in a word, the flavors melded quite nicely together, a perfect marriage.  

But the real reason I dragged the three of us to Figaro Bistro this late morning was to get a taste of their delicious French Toast, which is the best in town, in my opinion.  Ever had a churro?  Well, that's what the French Toast at Figaro tastes like.  Made with freshly baked bread, sliced thick, sweet and with the distinct flavor of mmmmm... cinnamon!  Yes, cinnamon!  Served with a side of syrup of course, and a dollop of vanilla-y whip cream, a couple of halved strawberries, and thick chunky apple sauce.  Maybe the best of all is the texture of the French Toast, and texture does matter when it comes to French Toast, remember that mushy French Toast you had not that long ago?  Yes, we've all had mushy French Toast at one point in our lives.  Figaro's French Toast has the crunch of the thick crust on the outside and the soft yet not-too-moist bread on the inside, absolute heaven, especially with a cup of hot coffee, which made this brunch at Figaro absolutely perfect for a late Sunday morning tummy-filler-upper.

Total Damage:  $36.00 +/-

1 Double mocha
1 French Onion soup
1 French toast
1 Quiche Lorraine

1802 N. Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 662.1587


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