Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Searsucker

After an amazing dining experience at Cucina Urbana, I felt a renewed vigor to check out some other places on my to-do list.  Searsucker is the creation of Brian Malarkey, former Top Chef contestant, and former executive chef of one of my favorite restaurants, Oceanaire.  So it was only a matter of time before BF and I paid it a visit.

Searsucker took over the space of the former Z Gallerie. While I never visited Z Gallerie, the restaurant does have more of a gallery/warehouse feel than it does a restaurant. The restaurant is hard to spot from the outside. We almost missed it when driving by, except for the little sign saying “valet parking for Searsucker”

Inside, the restaurant is quite spacious. I was surprised at how much space has been set aside for the waiting area and the bar. The actual dining space seems much more limited.

The interior was dimly lit. Mixed with the marble top tables and black paintings, I personally didn’t think the decor fit the mood Searsucker is trying to convey (fun, unbeat, innovative.) Instead I felt a little like I was dining in an open warehouse and I didn’t enjoy the low visibility.

Shortly after we were seated, we were served complimentary cheese puffs. I thought they were pretty tasty as a starter, but I wished they were a little warmer. BF loves these kinds of breads, so he enjoyed these more than me.

As we glanced over the menu, there were several small dishes we wanted to try as well as several entrees. After getting some recommendations from our waiter, we chose a few dishes to sample.

I read rave reviews about the duck fat fries on yelp, so I ordered them. Duck fat fries sounds so wrong, but they taste so amazing. They were by far, some of the best fries I’ve ever tasted. The fries were very crispy on the outside and topped with some crunchy, crumbly mix of cheese and something else.  I couldn’t stop eating these and would definitely order them again.

Mushrooms, truffles and burrata.  I’ve been on a serious truffle oil craving lately, so when I saw mushrooms and truffles, I had to get it. I love the taste of mushrooms drizzled with truffle oil. However, these may be the first truffle oiled mushrooms that I didn’t enjoy. I felt like the truffle flavor was too weak. And the cheese made the dish too salty.

When we spied the crab cake on the menu, we had to order it to compare it with the legendary crab cakes of Oceanaire. The crab cake is served “carb free,” meaning no bread crumbs.

I liked the presentation of the crab cake. The taste was similar to the crabcakes served at Oceanaire, but not as spectacular.  The fact that BF and I were letting each other have the last bite rather than fighting for it, was a sign that these simply didn’t dazzle us as much. The crab cake here was served lukewarm rather than steaming hot like they are at Oceanaire. Also, I believe the Oceanaire uses something else to loosely hold it’s crabcakes together and I missed that taste in this crabcake. Finally, it was missing the buttermilk sauce at Oceanaire that I think compliments their crabcakes so well.

For my main entree I chose scallops with figs and foie gras. I normally don’t like to order scallops when I go out because I always feel like three or four scallops really isn’t an entree sized portion. However, I was enchanted by the idea of foie gras and I love figs.

My entree consisted of three scallops. The scallops were served rare, so that they had a firm rather than chewy texture. Served this way, they also had a sweetness to them.

I was really disappointed by the foie gras, which was grilled, dry and very flavorless.

BF ordered the tuna albacore. Little medallions of tuna were seared and served with some balsamic vinegar and basil.

We left our dinner pretty disappointed. We loved Brian Malarkey at Oceanaire, but his new menu and restaurant failed to impress us.
Searsucker on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pumpkin spice cakes

After using my Martha Stewart collection pumpkin cake pan to make mini mochi pumpkin cakes, I wanted to use it again because it’s such a cute pan.  So I made some mini pumpkin cakes.

These were small, cute, and tasty. I love the little pumpkin shapes. The pan has been working out great. The cakes slide right out.

These molds are perfect for presenting simple cakes. I baked a bunch of mini pumpkin cakes to give to relatives over the Thanksgiving weekend and everyone seemed to like them.

Pumpkin spice cakelets (adapted from here)

Ingredients

1 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground ginger

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray cupcake/muffin molds with oil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar with an electric mixer.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Using an electric mixer on low speed,  mix the dry ingredients with the pumpkin mixture until just blended.  Pour into the cupcake molds about 2/3 full.
  4. Bake for about 20 minutes  or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Liang’s Kitchen Irvine

5408 Walnut Ave
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 262-1404
Liang's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

A few weeks ago, I wrote about tasting the hand pulled noodles and beef noodle soup at Mama Liang’s House, a small popular chain  in LA and the  Bay Area that is known for its beef noodle soup, beef pancake rolls, and Juan cuisine.  You can read more about Juan cuisine in my previous post.

When I tried their new location in the Bay Area, I left feeling satisfied but not overly impressed. However, after a few weeks of sitting around in San Diego, which is sadly devoid of hand pulled noodles and good beef noodle soup, I was craving Mama Liang’s hand pulled noodles like crazy.

So when we had some errands to run in Costa Mesa, I made plans to check out the Mama Liang’s in Irvine, called Liang’s Cuisine. To my surprise, when I looked it up, the reviews were mixed, whereas the one in the Bay Area had rave reviews.

It was cold and rainy when we arrived so I forgot take a picture of the front.  This location was a tiny hole in the wall spot, which I also found surprising. We immediately spotted it though because despite the plaza being full of restaurants, it was the only one with a crowd outside waiting.

Luckily, we were able to get a table right away. A steaming bowl of beef noodle soup sounded perfect in the cold weather. BF decided to try something different and went with the beef dry noodles. We also ordered some spicy wontons.

One thing I noticed on this occasion is that there are a lot more dishes offered on the order sheet than are listed on the menu. I was afraid of trying one of the dishes on the order list though, thinking it likely isn’t very good if it’s not on the menu.

Our food arrived much more quickly than at the other location. The noodles were wide, thick and chewy like I remembered them. The broth though, was a lot saltier compared to the other place we had visited.


BF’s dry noodles were served with marinated beef slices. He thought the sauce was really really salty and he could barely eat it.

The spicy wontons were just okay in my opinion. Nothing special.

I was surprised at how different this location was. Overall, the food was too salty and I don’t think we will be back. I did think the servers were really nice and friendly though.

There was one amusing incident. At a lot of these small shops, the assumption is always that you speak chinese and so they will speak chinese to you when you walk in and only switch to English if it becomes apparent you don’t speak chinese. I’ve always thought it was amusing that they even speak chinese to BF. Usually it’s not an issue since I do all of the ordering.

On this particular night, while we were waiting for our food, BF had his sketch pad out and was sketching away. When the waitress came to give us our food she spotted the drawing pad and asked to see it, except she said it in chinese. Before I could translate, BF got the gist of her request and handed over his sketchbook. Since he had responded, she then began continuing to carry a conversation with him in chinese. To my great amazement/amusement, he seemed to be able to guess what she was saying by her gestures and he would respond in English and they carried on like that for quite a while before she finally switched to talking to him in English.

It was definitely the best part of the dinner experience. I’m disappointed that the food at this location is not as good as some of the others. Hopefully things will improve.