Nobu West Hollywood

When it comes to food, palette diversity could not be wider as everyone defines his or her own concept of what makes a restaurant worthy. We have friends who will always remain true to their ethnic cuisine and view with skepticism contemporary restaurants based on their ethnic cuisine. We have Chinese friends who, when in comes to Chinese cuisine, only patronize authentic Chinese restaurants. Similarly, we have Japanese friends who will only go to traditional Japanese restaurants. Nobu, who?

Where and how do we draw the line between what is authentic and not? There is no question of authenticity when a hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant is owned and operated by Japanese serving up traditional food items. What about when a Japanese restaurant takes on a contemporary spin in its food execution and presentation? Will it still be stripped off its right to authenticity? But what if the food item, as contemporary as it might be in presentation, is executed with ingredients native to the cuisine?

I ask myself that question all the time although I am never really wanting to seek the answer. Heck, even the most authentically delicious bowl of ramen you will find in Japan have grassroots from China. Chinese noodles were brought into Japan and gradually the bowl of noodle soup was shaped into Japan's very ramen. Where does the term authenticity begin?

Sure, when it comes to food, we want the true and original (or as they call authentic) flavors of the cuisine. Food can also be both authentic and contemporary at the same time. It is possible and Nobu is testimony to that. T and I are by no means sticklers to the term authentic and while we take great interest in beautifully crafted and creative foods in sexy restaurants, we also get tremendous fulfillment out of hole-in-the-wall and no-frills joints. A chef can stray from the traditionally expected way of cooking as much as he wants to with his innovation and creativity, and as long as the marriage of flavors work perfectly in execution, that is a winner to T and I.

Lest you think that Nobu gained its fame by being the most mentioned Japanese restaurant for celebrity sightings (and maybe that is partly correct), this place does deliver solid and fine Japanese food with uncompromising quality.

Our friendly server came over and introduced himself and saw our dSLR camera. I see that you brought your very nice camera. Don't worry, just take your time tonight and enjoy playing around with photographing your food. The food here is perfect for photography, he told us. Ah, yes, thank you.

Eva Sakura martini

The Eva Sakura martini is shaken and poured table side. The concoction is partly made up of Suntory Yamazaki 12-year whiskey and sake with flavors that make a smooth blend. Note that an order of this particular martini will have enough for a refill for your martini glass. After my cocktail was poured into my glass from the shaker, the server left the shaker on our table so that my glass could be refilled with the remaining cocktail. If you are planning to order a second and different drink during the night, be sure to pace yourself.

Shima aji sashimi with jalapeno

Having lived and worked in Peru for several during the early years of being a chef, Nobu Matsuhisa is said to incorporate South American ingredients into traditional Japanese cuisine. If this is supposed to be an indication of his cooking technique, we certainly did not see much of it, if any at all, as we looked over the menu that was mainly both traditional and modern takes on Japanese cuisine.

In fact, perhaps the one and only hint of anything being South American is the jalapeno in the yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno dish that is widely popular. On the night we were there, the restaurant had shima aji that was just freshly flown in and our server recommended that we get this fish to substitute for the yellowtail since they carry yellowtail everyday. We never want to pass up on daily fish specials and agreed to his suggestion. The shima aji sashimi with jalapeno dish was drizzled with refreshing ponzu sauce accompanied with a slight hint of citrus. A cross between mackerel and yellowtail, the shima aji was at its freshest that night.

Wood oven-roasted leek with miso aioli

The wood oven-roasted leek with miso aioli is a work of delicate art. Heavily charred on the outside, the outermost layer is cut opened to reveal the inside layers that were meant to be eaten. This inner stalk is carefully sliced into miniature bite sizes before the miso aioli is delicately piped onto the inner stalk.

Black codi with miso

Nobu has been synonymously known for the black cod with miso. In our server's words, restaurants including Koi have tried to emulate this signature dish of chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Who wouldn't want to? The cod here is prepared to result in a smooth-as-butter texture.

Squid pasta with garlic sauce

Don't be deceived by the the name squid pasta with light garlic sauce on the menu. It is far from being a pasta dish. For those who are unfamiliar, ika somen is one of the more traditional dishes in Japanese cuisine where ika (squid) is thinly sliced to resemble somen (fine noodles). Ika somen is generally found only in traditional Japanese restaurants. Taking a play on the traditional ika somen where squid is meant to physically resemble noodles, Nobu creates its own representation of this dish. By calling the dish squid pasta, pieces of squid are sliced so that they resemble shell pasta. Now, that's ingenious.

If you have ever tried to cook squid at home, you will know that it cooks very quickly and even the slightest hint of overcooked squid will turn rubbery. At Nobu, the squid pasta is perfectly charred and yet it maintains the slight rareness to it. Seasoned with shichimi (Japanese chili pepper), the delicate spice lingers on the tongue without being overpowering.

Miso soup with clams

As far creativity has brought Nobu to its success, this place also does the Japanese classics very well. The sweet potato tempura is fried to perfection and the layer of batter is just thin enough. The sashimi (pictured above: golden eye snapper, squid, kampachi) is maintained at the freshest quality.

Green teas are often refilled with a fresh cup of tea from the kitchen. Nobu makes a wonderful night out without being pompous. There are different gorgeous dining sections at Nobu and we made sure to wander through them.

903 N La Cienega Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046



Fig in Santa Monica

One of the memories that haunt me about Fig was that we were seated right next to a small enclave where there was a private party going on. It was a baby shower and those ladies look like the Kardashian sisters, except that they were not the Kardashian sisters. No, I don't have that type of celeb-spotting luck. We could hear their occasional music during their baby shower games (pop rock, hip hop) and even overheard their entire game of guess-the-celebrity-baby-name. Among the overheard celebrity baby names? Suri Cruise. Oh, hello Los Angeles.

Squash and lentil chili

Not often will you find good restaurants inside a hotel but Fig, located inside the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, does deliver and fortunately it does not fall into the stereotype of sub par hotel restaurants.

The menu at Fig is clean and contemporary American with a focus on seasonal ingredients. The kitchen took squash and lentils and transformed it into their own representation of chili, with kale strips and apple as complements. The seared tuna nicoise salad came with anchovy fillets, quail eggs, and haricot verts. The seared tuna, rare inside, was very fresh although I did wish they had sprinkled just a bit of sea salt over the tuna. The young beets and pistachio salad was lightly refreshing  on a warm sunny day.

Tuna nicoise salad

The big advantage of Fig is the open atmosphere at the terrace that allows ample natural sunlight to flow in while completing the experience of soaking up the vibe of Santa Monica, where the restaurant is located. Fig overlooks the pool and garden area with bountiful trees and if you look through the trees, you will be able to catch glimpses of the Pacific Ocean.

Young beets and pistachio salad

Fig Restaurant
101 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401


Mindy's Hot Chocolate

There's the saying, third time's a charm. For Mindy Segal, the pastry chef and pride of Chicago, it takes doubling a 3-time event before the charm finally happens. For each of the past 6 years, Mindy had been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. While it is a great honor to be a 6-time nominee in itself for the coveted title, I think her fans (and Mindy herself) were probably beginning to wonder when will she finally be the recipient of the award. Year 2012 must be her lucky year. Chicago foodies celebrate her win for the award and may it never be the last. Her restaurant, named Hot Chocolate, is as befitting of a place where people come for dinner but they really should stay for dessert.


T does not like desserts. What? It is true. He is the type of guy who scrapes off all the frosting from his cupcake, tosses the frosting into the trash, and then eats his naked cupcake. He might as well have just eaten a muffin instead.

This place made him fall in love with dessert. I knew we were off to a fantastic start of dessert when despite finishing his entire medium rare steak for dinner, he commented that he had plenty of room left in his stomach for the dessert we were already planning to order. We had seen the dessert menu at the same time we were thinking about our entrees, and I highly recommend you do that so that you will have an idea of how much food your stomach can take in. Remember, the entree portions at Hot Chocolate are huge and the items trend towards the heavy side. Even if you are starving and can eat a horse before placing your orders, look at the tables around you and you will believe me when I say the entree portions, really, are huge. So please, please, be conservative when you order your appetizers and entrees so that you will have room for dessert. After all, isn't that the reason you came to Hot Chocolate for?

Rhubarb cocktail

Usually at dinner, T would tell me that he has no room for dessert and would just eat a bite or two of our shared dessert just to please me. But not that night, no. We each got our own dessert. Among the other items on the dessert menu, Hot Chocolate features a seasonally-changing dessert. When we were there, the kitchen was having a rhubarb special which came with 6 mini dessert courses at $20 per person. Each dessert course was a tasting portion of rhubarb cocktail, rhubarb galette, red velvet cupcake with rhubarb cream cheese, risotto with rhubarb jam, rhubarb+lemon curd, and rhubarb+vanilla sorbet. The very unique dessert creations were truly the ultimate way to taste every iteration possible for rhubarb. T finished his dessert before me, so that was pretty telling.

Risotto with rhubarb jam, rhubarb vanilla sorbet

R to L, clockwise: red velvet cupcake with rhubarb cream cheese, rhubarb+lemon curd, rhubarb galette, risotto with rhubarb jam

As one would expect from the name Hot Chocolate, this place does serve hot chocolate and in several ways too. The list includes half & half which comes with half dark chocolate and half espresso, and black & tan which has a base layer of hot fudge and covered with steamed hot chocolate. All hot chocolate drink orders come with piece of house-made marshmallow. There is a $1 split charge for hot chocolate drinks and it is recommended that you do it especially if you are there for other food and dessert. Pictured below is one person's portion of hot chocolate after splitting it into two for sharing. The hot chocolate is rich and velvety, and it will fill you up.

Hot chocolate with house-made marshmallow

Hot Chocolate gained its fame from its dessert. Heck, even the owner of this restaurant is a pastry chef and not the other way around where usually the executive chef that takes charge of the main menu takes the stage. With that in mind, we were not sure how the entrees would fare but they were definitely very, very good. I ordered the whole grilled branzino fish and to my delight, it was served whole with the head and tail. Saying that I loved it could very well even be an understatement. The skin was charred until crispy and the fish inside was moist and flavorful. I polished the bones clean. While many people prefer to eat their fish in fillet form, I give Hot Chocolate credit for being brave in offering the fish in whole form. After all, seeing fish served whole was a large part of T and my growing up in Asia where it is common practice at restaurants and at home. The whole grilled branzino at Hot Chocolate was served in the most purist and clean way with fresh cilantro, dill, shaved fennel, and capers on top. It was just like the way Jamie Oliver would do it.

Whole grilled branzino fish

When a non-steak restaurant can prepare their steak that exceeds expectations, you know the kitchen takes things seriously. As requested, his steak was prepared to a perfect level of medium rare just as requested. It was neither overcooked nor undercooked, but the meat inside was a perfect reddish pink with the jus threatening to ooze out each time he sliced with the knife a bite-size piece. Even at popular steakhouses, we have had to send our overcooked steaks back to the kitchen.

Medium rare steak with bearnaise sauce and grilled asparagus

After being closed for a few months due to remodeling, this place has reopened and the revamped Hot Chocolate is now a rustic place and perhaps a little grunge. It is no longer the romantic and dimly lit place it once was, but we are loving every bit of this new concept.

Sweet potato wedge with skin, duck confit, and bleu cheese

Mindy's Hot Chocolate
1747 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

2006 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2007 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2008 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2009 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2010 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2011 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2012 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef


Ramen Santouka

For the ramen aficionados, Santouka needs no introduction. For the unfortunate ones not in the know, you will be curious to see the perpetual line of people waiting outside this restaurant in downtown Vancouver regardless of the time of day. Japanese international students, as you will see, make up most of the crowd seeking the quality of ramen at Santouka. This name is nothing new. In fact, it is a ramen chain that originated in Japan with locations in different parts of the world. It is, however, not your run-off-the-mill chain. Santouka has friggin' excellent ramen and the Japanese know it.

Bonito+scallions+seaweed on rice, shoyu-flavored tonkatsu ramen

Miso-flavored tonkatsu ramen

The resulting process of simmering the pork bones for 20 hours is an excellently silky and robust tasting broth. The complexity of the smooth flavor shines through at every spoonful. The highlight of Santouka's broth was that the final taste of the simmered broth from various ingredients did not end up like a whole bunch of ingredients were just boiled together resulting in a homogenous flavor. Instead, the parts of the sum (I'm attempting to do a wordplay on sum of the parts!) were competing to shine through.

At other ramen restaurants, you choose among the flavors of shio, shoyu, miso, or tonkatsu. At Santouka, one of things that make them unique is that all the ramen selections have tonkatsu as their base broth and you get to choose how you would like your tonkatsu broth to be further flavored: shio, shoyu, or miso. We loved this take on serving ramen with a 20-hour broth and then further enhancing it with the various individual flavors that would otherwise be a standalone flavor in itself at other ramen restaurants.

Santouka is also well known for their tokusen toriniku ramen (which we unfortunately did not get a chance to try this time round) with the toppings served separately on a side plate. The meat for this ramen is pork cheek.

The texture of the noodles at Santouka are cooked to medium hard by default. We thought it was perfect to our liking with a nice balance between soft and hard, but trending more than medium. They do state on the menu that if you prefer your noodles to be softer or harder, then inform your server as they will be more than happy to cater to that since noodle texture is very much an individual matter of preference.

Order a side of rice bowl to complement your ramen. As if the ramen is not already very satisfying, the Japanese rice bowls add a great touch to your ramen pilgrimage. Among the choices are the bonito, scallions, and seaweed rice bowl and the salmon roe rice bowl.

When the bowl of ramen arrives at the table, pick up your chopsticks, and start slurping. As loud as you can.

Ramen Santouka
1690 Robson St
Vancouver, BC V6G 1C7


La Baguette et L'echalote

I'm a firm believer when Vancouverites say La Baguette et L'echalote is the best French bakery with the best croissants in their city. I've had some good croissants in my life but I think the chocolate almond croissant from here might be one of the best and most memorable ones I've had. Biting into the croissant, I felt the individually crisp and delicate layers of the croissant. As I inched my way from the edge towards the middle of the croissant, more and more almond cream were oozing out. It was the most generous amount of filling I've seen. T had the nutella croissant and all he could do was stand there while concentrating on devouring the pastry (the bakery has no seating).

Chocolate almond croissant

Chocolate almond croissant

Nutella croissant

La Baguette at L'echalote has other great selections of pastries and breads that will take care of your shopping needs for baked goods. The baguette selection comes with various types.


There's no seating in here and neither do they serve coffee, though it would be nice to be able to complete the whole French cafe atmosphere with seating and coffee. If you do want good coffee with your pastries, walk a few steps into the Granville Island Public Market and head towards JJ Bean which makes solid espresso beverages.

La Baguette et L'echolate is undoubtedly a French bakery gem in Vancouver. Grab a pastry or baguette from here before getting on your shopping at the Granville Island Public Market. 

La Baguette et L'echalote
1680 Johnston St
Vancouver, BC V6H 3S2

Cafe Medina

When in Vancouver, Cafe Medina is the place for a fabulous brunch. With their freshly made waffles bragging their deliciousness and left to cool on tiers of wire racks by the window, the crowd can only wait patiently outside the cafe for another table to open up so they can move up on the list as they near their turn to be seated. As you can already figure out, Cafe Medina is popular and it gets packed. Wake up early and go early. Since we were on vacation, we had the luxury of visiting Cafe Medina on a Monday morning where it would be relatively less crowded. We arrived shortly after 9:30am and were seated right away. Within minutes, all tables were taken. When we left at about 11:00am, people had already gathered outside waiting to be seated. Don't these people have to work on Monday? Were they all also on vacation like T and I were?

Step into Cafe Medina and you will find yourself in a charming and quaint cafe with exposed high ceilings. Tables are huddled closed together, reminding you of small tight-spaced cafes commonly found in Europe. The food here is Mediterranean-inspired and you are in for a hearty brunch here.


The bottom of the cassoulet was lined with a bed of baked beans made with white beans, thick tomato sauce, and chopped bacon. Scooping up the fried eggs and side of grilled focaccia with the bacon-flavored beans and sauce couldn't have been a better indulgence that we would have over and over again. The cassoulet came with a generous amount of meat which included the saucisson de Paris charcuterie, double smoked bacon, and andouille sausage. Among the excellent meats, the double smoked bacon was a standout with its caramelized and charred sides that added to the overall rich flavor. The andouille susage was a winner in itself with its complex spiced taste. The cassoulet is heavy so be sure to pace yourself since you should really save space in your stomach for the famous waffles. T knew me too well that I'd need his help with my cassoulet and ordered a side of merguez spicy lamb sausage with a fried egg, and complementing them with a fruit bowl.

Literally the size of a palm for each waffle and the texture of soft bread, they were one of the most memorable ones we've had. Toppings are ordered separately and we had both the salted caramel and yoghurt which turned out to be great contrasting options. The salted caramel was lusciously rich and sweet while the yoghurt was natural and unsweetened.

Brunch at Cafe Medina is worth waking up early for.

Cafe Medina
556 Beatty Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 2L3