Yesterday, one of our cars had an unexpected problem so we were with only one, and I picked up my husband who was out in Culver City. Out of necessity (read: not wanting to sit on the 10/110 freeways) we decided to eat there and, after checking out menus at both La Dijonaisse and Beacon, opted to try the latter, despite what I have read on these boards.
Walked in without a reservation at around 6:15 PM, and were seated promptly. We ordered 2 green teas, and 2 cups (with lids) of hot water and 2 tea bags were brought. I don't understand why restaurants of this caliber use tea bags, but the tea was actually pretty ok so it wasn't a loss. We ordered several things to share: the crispy vegetable spring rolls, which were nice, hot and crispy but strangely soggy on the inside and quite bland, and the shishito peppers w/ bonito flakes and ponzu. Now, shishito peppers are small, light little things, and I don't really know how any restaurant can justify setting about 8 of them on a plate and calling it a serving of anything at all. The delicate flavor of the shishito was totally overpowered by the ocean of ponzu it was swimming in. Next came the STIRFRIED MUSHROOM salad w/Togarashi-Spiced Almonds, Mixed Greens, Manchego Cheese and Yuzu Dressing and the FIVE SPICED CHICKEN salad w/ Napa Slaw, Crispy Noodles, and Sesame Dressing. Although the seperate parts of the mushroom salad were good: the meaty mushrooms, the crunchy almonds, slightly warm chunks of manchego cheese and tart yuzu dressing, the flavors did not complement each other- particularly the yuzu dressing w/ the cheese and almonds. Maybe I am too set in my cheese/nuts/balsamic-y or sweeter dressing combo, but a tart citrus w/ such a nutty cheese seemed off base. The chicken salad was good but again, quite bland and wouldn't hold a candle to the much more robust flavors of the similarly constructed Chinois Chicken Salad. All in all, the food is fine but nothing, I mean NOTHING to get remotely excited about. Don't believe the hype.
Last Sunday, we went to brunch at Firefly Bistro in South Pasadena. Now after several ho-hum dinners here, I hadn't really give it much thought but the brunch menu did sound appealing so three of us went. Even though it was Easter, the staff tried desperately to accommodate us and did so by sitting us at an enormous table meant for 10 since the party who reserved it wouldn't be in for another hour. I thought that was nice of them since it was already set up which meant they would have to re-set everything after we were done. Mr. Astrogirl (hmmm, that doesn't have the greatest ring to it so I'll figure out a better way to refer to him!) started with a perfectly made mimosa, meaning you could actually taste more champagne than orange juice and it was not too sweet. We all shared the fresh strawberries w/ crème fraiche and balsamic reduction which came with a freshly baked hot cross bun- hmmmmm.......lightly coated with a sweet sugar glaze, it was warm and moist, and I'm not usually a sweet breakfast person but it really hit the spot. On to the entrees: I had the breakfast tacos- 2 soft flour tortillas containing scrambled eggs w/ chorizo, potatoes, sliced avocado and salsa which were very good- a little bit spicy and nicely seasoned. My sister had the dungeness crab hash topped w/ eggs and hollandaise which was excellent, and husband had the green goddess omelet topped w/ pesto and served with crispy-on-the-outside but tender-on-the-inside home fries. The coffee flowed, and we were in brunch heaven. The toast they serve (in bread-basket fashion) is unbelievable- yes, what appears to be plain, white toast has a golden, crunchy crust and has the most amazing 'bread' flavor... it also comes with fresh butter and homemade strawberry jam. We could have eaten several baskets of it. Although we never order dessert at brunch, we saw the other patrons ordering it en mass, so we shared the hazelnut brown butter cake w/ pear compote and caramel ice cream (not as good as AOC but still excellent- warm, nutty cake w/ melting rich ice cream) and the key lime pie- creamy, smooth, not-to-sweet, and both mellow and tart at the same time. I was tempted to rub it all over my body but it was Easter and a public place so I held back. Conclusion: the pastry chef at Firefly is a genius.
Lastly, we celebrated my dad's birthday at Polka last Saturday. I had called ahead and made reservations- thank goodness, because the place was packed by 7:00 PM and they were turning people away. Immediately after sitting down, the large cups of soup were brought to us- that night it was a tomato cream soup that was just divine. The consistency was thin, but the flavor was creamy yet refreshing. We placed our orders and soon after, the mini salads were also brought to the table- an unusual but strangely complimentary mixture of lettuce, grated daikon, pineapple chunks, mandarin oranges and sesame dressing. We waited for the main course and soaked up the surroundings- for those who have never been to Polka, it is a small and kitschy restaurant decorated with different paintings, bumper stickers, lamps, candles, red curtains, and a bunch of other knick knacks. Soon afterward, our meals were delivered steaming hot. My "royal plate" of 1 potato/cheese pierogi, 1 rolled cabbage w/ tomato sauce and some stewed pork w/ gravy with veggies (all entrees come w/ mixed veggies and a scoop of warm potato salad) was so tasty and down-home it made me miss the Polish grandma I never had. I swear the pierogies are so fat, fluffy and creamy that it makes me want to use them as a pillow to rest my head. I adore them. Luckily we ordered a plate of them so the whole family could try these pockets of heaven (not sure if that is the English translation for pierogie but it should be), and everyone agreed they were delicious. My dad and husband were very happy with their orders of roasted pork in gravy and the veggie plate (yes, you read that right) of pierogi, soybeans, potato dumplings and stewed mushrooms. However, the real eye opener of the night was my mom and sister's orders of the kotlet schabowy- breaded pork loin. Now- I noticed on my previous visit to Polka that many people had ordered this flat yet gigantic breaded pork steak, but for some reason I always feel like gravy/comfort food when I go there so I never thought to order it. Man, was I missing out. It is arguably the most perfectly fried, perfectly seasoned and perfectly tender deep fried pork loin I have ever had. Pounded thin, it still has a moist and tender texture, and it doesn't require any sort of gravy, lemon, or salt. It's perfect on it's own. And massive. I might actually have to get one to go- I could think of several fantasy dishes I could create with this- like getting a HUGE plate of Japanese curry and setting one of those on top- it would be the perfect katsu curry, except it would be called kotlet schabowy curry I suppose. How about a nice bottle of tonkatsu sauce, a bowl of rice, Japanese pickles and some miso soup? The perfect teishoku!!! Go grab a loaf of bread and make one gigantic sandwich out of it.....ok ok, I am getting carried away. But I have had a lot of fried pork (my poor arteries) in my lifetime, mostly in Japan, and I tell you- even they would be impressed with the deftly prepared perfection of this kotlet schabowy. After the lovely owners got everyone in the restaurant to sing "Happy Birthday" to my dad, we left stuffed and happy. And with no corkage on our 3 bottles of wine, the total for 5 entrees, 1 order of 5 pierogies and 2 bottles of water came to barely $90.00.