I had three dining experiences this past weekend. Two of them were directly related to reading this board and they turned out to be superior to the third, IMHO.
Thurs night, Shiro, So. Pasadena -- http://www.restaurantshiro.com/
Nice space, I hadn't been in 10+ years and was really looking forward to it. Overall, I was disappointed in the meal, mainly because I thought it was overpriced. Service was fine, no specific complaints but not really suited to a special evening at a high-end restaurant either. Just lackluster overall.
App: Lobster'ish spring roll. Nice, maybe even great but ONE spring roll for $12.50? Hmmm. Entrees were a scallop dish for me and the famous catfish for my friend. Both dishes were $26.50, I believe. The catfish may have been close to worth it, but my dish for that rate was disappointing. We skipped dessert and the rest. Not sure on the bill total but you can add up the above and include $9 for my glass of pinot grigio (if memory serves.) If I had been paying I may have not minded the prices as much and been satisfied overall, but considering the meals to come I think I was right in feeling a bit underwhelmed.
Friday night, Mako - Beverly Hills -- http://www.makorestaurant.com
Amazing space, amazing place. Just great, professional and very personable service with even the host checking on our table at times to be sure we were happy. I don't remember ever having such good service anywhere. Felt very much at home, and we were made to feel quite special. I was freaked-out when we were seated next to a table set for 25-30. And we about died when we realized that this monster table was for an incoming sweet sixteen party! Yes, we had a real-life 90210 episode right next to us with literally - t h i r t y - 16 year-old kids enjoying their evening along with a 90% full house. I must say I was pretty surprised at how well behaved they all were, and the staff handled it (and everything else,) without any trouble. It was loud, but not bad considering how many people were in the space. And I think if it had been 30 drinking adults at the table it would've been exponentially louder. ; )
A friend and I shared five dishes plus a dessert.
Duck Gyoza: A+ -- Really good duck-stuffed potstickers each with it's own dollop of thick plum sauce. Yum.
Seafood salad: A -- Also really good, coulda used more octopus specifically, but I'm nit-picking.
Pad Thai w/ Shrimp: B -- I was expecting an authentic dish here and was surprised. I really missed the
flat noodles and texture and flavors I was expecting, but it sorta grew on me by the end. The shrimp saved it for me, they were somehow crispy but didn't appear to be battered/fried. This dish was a really good value, relatively cheap. (Friend really loved this dish, so maybe it was just me.)
Szechwan Green Beans: A+ -- Just, yum. So simple, and not authentic IMHO, but GREAT anyhow. Big hit.
Sake Salmon: A No complaints, very solid and what you'd probably expect, except after having this and finding that I was quickly running out of room, I wished we'd tried the black cod special instead.
Macadamia Tart w/ Banana Ice Cream: B -- This may well have been better than a "B" but I was stuffed by this point... Next time maybe one less plate and the yuzu tart or valhrona cake instead. Heck, one less plate and then BOTH the tart and the cake instead. : )
Speaking of next time (which will be soon I hope,) I'll be sitting at the counter which overlooks the kitchen and going all-in on the specials, trying a sashimi dish and/or the scallops and baked uni, which sounded great. I can't think of a restaurant I'd rather go to than Mako right now. I had never had a meal in Beverly Hills before and I thought for sure I'd feel second-class or worse in this setting, but I found quite the opposite at Mako. If I caught the bill total it was $111 before tip, including $52 for four glasses of champagne (didn't catch the name other than it was the more expensive of the two by-the-glass choices and referred to as J) and a big bottle of fiji water. I felt the experience was well worth it.
Sunday night, The Blue Hen - Eagle Rock -- http://eatatbluehen.com/
Cool little space with interesting textures all around. Fresh, fresh, fresh! I have only seen one brief mention of this place in my limited time here on chowhound but based on that I found an article (below) and their menu online and I had a good feeling about it. Although I love Thai food this was my first foray into a Vietnamese kitchen and I wasn't sure what to expect.
We shared three dishes and two desserts, starting with The Blue Hen Salad -- ($6.75) Organic chicken, cabbage, carrots, peanuts, and herbs in a shallot-garlic dressing (fish sauce or soy optional) -- This was pretty good, could've used more varied textures but I liked it. Don't order it if you're not a fan of fish sauce though, I guess this is not a surprise for those familiar with Vietnamese food, but I just thought I'd mention it. Once we got some chili paste, which I believe was sambal olek, we were good to go on this one.
Friend had the Pho -- ($8.75) Noodles and organic chicken in aromatic broth, served with bean sprouts and basil (vegetarian stock on request.) Yep, it's official, I do like pho. Served with limes, really fresh bean sprouts, sliced onion and some fragrant basil including a stem of flower buds all of which we dumped right in the mix after adding a bit of sambal.
When we asked for some chili sauce the waitress brought out the aforementioned sambal, some sriracha as well as some sort of plum sauce (tasted like a concentrated soya sauce with a hint of plum.) Friend remarked it was sorta like "eel sauce" as is typically seen on unagi. As someone who likes sweet with their savory the plum sauce was a nice surprise extra for me.
I had the Caramelized Ginger Chicken and Tofu -- ($8.75) Braised organic chicken and tofu served with steamed rice (brown for $.50 extra) and a side of market greens. I enjoyed this quite a bit, especially with some added plum sauce. A bit of chicken (soooo damn fresh,) a bit of the greens, some of the perfectly cooked brown rice and a touch of plum, super yum.
Tea was good and I also had the organic coffee w/ condensed milk ($3.25) served Vietnamese-style with an individual press which was new to me. This was great (although it could've been served a bit hotter.)
This place has REAL chopsticks on every table! I thought this was a nice touch, seeing as Mako and just about every other asian place I've ever been to relies on the cheap throw-aways,,,, the chopsticks were simple yet very cool with carved handle-ends. Maybe it's silly to mention, but I liked it.
Dessert: We shared the rice pudding and a banana bread pudding, each was $4.50. I'm sick of writing at this point so I'll just say I will most definitely leave room for dessert next time too.
I was worried when we got there as it was quite slow but we were early (to catch a 7:30 movie,) and business was actually very steady for a Sunday night while we were there. The place was almost full when we left. Service was quite good, and I'm going back soon for the Grandpa's Porridge and/or a Banh Mi (and dessert.) All in, $52.
Here's a great article on The Blue Hen. http://wholelifetimes.com/2005/wlt270...
Many thanks to my three very kind pals for a great birthday weekend.