Monday, March 22, 2010

East 180

Probably one of the nicest decorated Chinese restaurants I've been to lately. But as we all know with nice decor and ambience you usually sacrifice quality and authenticism.

East 180 is located about an hour and a half from where I live, so it was quite a trek. My mom had recommend it and we decided to head out on a Saturday afternoon. It's located in Diamond Bar and along the way you will pass many exceptional Chinese restaurants.

Reading some of the Yelp reviews, was prepared for something less than exceptional. The first thing you'll notice when you enter is the decor, it's pretty darn nice. The building used to be a Sizzler and you would not be able to tell. The restaurant was pretty empty, maybe four or five tables were full. Not a good sign on a Saturday afternoon. But once we sat down and started to review the menu, we knew why. On weekends the the dinner menu is served all day, which means the prices are pretty high for lunch.

We ordered the some items that my mom had tried before and some standard items. Beef Fried Rice, Sauteed Spinach, Salt Baked Chicken, Shrimp and Rice Noodles with Black Bean Sauce, Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs and Salt Pepper Fish.

The shrimp dish arrived first and it was the best dish of the day. The rice noodles were sauteed with black bean and served on top of the sauteed shrimp. The black bean added a nice saltyness. All of the dishes were garnished with some pickled cucumbers.

Several dishes arrived at once, the ribs which were incredibly sweet, not to my liking. The salt baked chicken was presented by our server in the clay pot and taken back to be plated. It was very nice, the chicken was moist and the salt added nice flavor to the chicken. The dipping sauce served with the chicken was strange, it looked like a sesame sauce, but tasted very tart.

The salt pepper fish was okay, not enough seasoning and the batter was not crisp. Spinach was well done and the beef fried rice wasn't too bad. The restaurant prides itself for using organic ingredients and no MSG. This is unusual for most Chinese places. But that is part of the reason the prices are high. If that is important to you, then East 180 is a good option.

Since we ere celebrating my mom's and sister's birthday, we ended the meal with their Taro Almond dessert. My mom and my sister both loved it.

Unless I'm in the neighborhood, I probably won't make the trek again. There are just so many great Chinese restaurants, that it was an opportunity to mark it off the list.


Friday night, dinner reservations for two at 7:00 pm.

This would be my first visit to Valentinos which has been one of the top restaurants in Los Angeles for several years. After getting a discount offer from Blackboard Eats, this was a perfect opportunity.

I was looking forward to enjoying the set tasting menu, but after hearing about the specials and reviewing the menu, I had second thoughts. Our servers name was Paul and he couldn't have been more helpful. He suggested that we order what we wanted and he would see what he could do. So we decided to go with the Prosciutto e Burrata starter, as well as the Il Timballo di Funghi. For our entrees we ordered the IL Risotto Nero ai Frutti di Mare and the Grilled Seafood Trio special.

Since we were planning on sharing, Paul said that we could make our order into a four course split tasting with wine pairing, Nice! The bread served was forgettable, breadsticks, some smaller white and poppy seed rolls. But I was not here for bread.

The Prosciutto e Burrata was the first started delivered and it was paired with a full glass of Proseco. This dish was so simple, but so delicious, the ingredients were top notch. The burrata was so creamy, and complimented the salty prosciutto. It was also served with something they called "gnocco frito", which was a little fried piece of dough. This dish was a perfect way to start.

Next up was the Il Timballo di Funghi, this was a savory flan made with wild mushrooms, served with a Parmesean and Saffron Fonduta. The mushroon "flan" or custard was so delicate and subtle. A nice earthly flavor which was paired with a sauce that was light and silky. I thought the sauce could have had a bit more seasoning, but the whole dish was very nice. The mushroom dish was paired with a Rosé,

First entree up was the IL Risotto Nero ai Frutti di Mare. A squid ink risotto topped with a seafood medley, which included calamari, shrimp and fish. Wow! I loved this dish. The risotto was delicious, the squid ink added a subtle ocean flavor and saltyness. The color contrast between the black risotto and small white pieces of seafood, was beautiful. Overall this was just a very nice and well balanced dish. Our server brought over the wrong wine for this course, so he actually poured two glasses of wine, one was for the last seafood course. He let us decide which one we though paired better and the one they choose was perfect. Sorry but I don't remember what the two varietals that were chosen.

I was getting pretty full after the risotto course, but the last course was the Grilled Seafood Trio. This plate included grilled dover sole, grilled turbot, lobster claw meat and grilled branzino, grilled asparagus was also included to add color. The seafood was served with a trio of sauces, a heirloom tomato butter sauce, a brown butter sauce and a caper berry and citrus sauce. Once again the quality of the ingredients really shined. The sole and turbot were delicious and perfectly cooked. The sauces were okay, but the brown butter sauce was the star and paired well with all of the seafood.

We closed out our meal with the Molten Chocolate cake, served with pair ice cream. Our server brought out a 1997 port for this course, that was awesome.

I can see why Valentinos has the reputation it does. The service was flawless and the food was delicious.

The Old Place

Ah, The Old Place.

A very appropriate name...the location seems like it should be historical, if it's not already. The restaurant is only open Thursday - Sunday and has a capacity of about 60-70.

It was a Thursday evening and my friend invited me to check this place out. He's a regular so maybe the experience might be a bit different then your first time. But whether you're a regular or first timer, the staff is amazingly courteous and the ambience is incredibly welcoming. That is the highlight of The Old Place. We sat at the end of the bar where I was introduced to the manager Tim. Tim gave me a brief rundown of the location history as well as the history of the restaurant.

We started off with beers, we had an amazing Telegraph Ale, just not sure which one. We were joined by a lovely wine distributor that was coming by to visit Tim. So of course we had to do some wine tasting as well.

At this point I had to get some food into my system or Friday was going to be unbearable. We ordered all starters, Grilled Octopus, Mushroom Toast, Grilled Vegetable Salad, Noodle Bake and the Steamed Clams.

The star was the Noodle Bake, but then again I'm sucker for mac and cheese. Egg noodles served with a nice cheese sauce, all browned in a small cast iron skillet. Homey goodness. The grilled vegetable salad was simple and the grilling on the open fire really adds some smokiness.

The clams which were a popular item, were delicious but the broth lacked some flavor and seasoning. The fresh sourdough bread served with the clams was nice and warm, delicious. The grilled octopus was a little overcooked, which caused it to be too chewy. The mushroom toast had a nice assortment of mushrooms including local Chantrelles. It was served on toasted sourdough bread with melted cheese. Very good.

We ended the meal with a berry crumble, considering how full I was and the fact that I don't have a sweet tooth, it was a delicious ending.

The Old Place is a wonderful restaurant with a lot charm and personality. The ambience is what makes it a destination. The staff will keep you there.