Pinotxo Bar - Barcelona, Spain

Mercado de la Boqueria, paradas 66 y 67
Barcelona, Spain

When you think of Mercado de la Boqueria you think of great products. When you think of Pinotxo Bar you think of great food. Great Product + Great Execution = Great Food. This is the kind of math that I don't mind doing.

Pinotxo Bar is always mentioned when people talk about places you must eat at while in Barcelona. Is it strictly because of the food or is it the always smiling and cheery owner Juanito Bayen?

Garbanzo Beans or chickpeas. Usually I am not a huge fan of these beans, but this flavorful preparation was very good. I can see why so many people end up ordering these chickpeas. I liked that they added some course salt to bump up the flavor and add a little texture.

Sausage with mixed greens
Nicely browned and greasy in a good way sausage. The sausage was perfectly cooked leaving the sausage juicy and full of flavor. The mixed green on the side was nice to cut the grease of the sausage and to add some veggies to this solo sausage dish.

Whenever we see tripe on the menu, we usually end up ordering it. This tripe was stewed in a tomato and spiced broth that allowed the tripe to soften. The tripe was not tender and soft as I imagined it to be, but was still a good dish. 

Sitting there at the bar, I noticed a basket of fresh eggs that had just been brought in by a local vendor from the Boqueria. The omelet was served with a piece of pan con tomate. The omelet was good but wasn't anything extraordinary. The pan con tomate was pretty standard, not one of the better ones I had on this trip.

Since it was still morning we opted to have a bit of coffee to end our meal and give us some energy to walk around the beautiful city of Barcelona.

As I wrote in the beginning of this blog post, Great Product + Great Execution = Great Food. In my opinion, this is how I would change the equation for Pinotxo Bar. Great Product + Great Execution = Good Food.  Pinotxo Bar gets a lot of love from foodies around the world but I wasn't wowed with any of the dishes that I had on my one visit. Don't get me wrong - the food was good, but not great. Based on this one visit, Pinotxo Bar in my opinion isn't a place that warrants all this attention.


Inopia - Barcelona, Spain


How does a restaurant opened by Albert Adria, the brother of Ferran Adria of El Bulli end up closing its doors? How does a restaurant that is always busy and always has people waiting outside end up closing its doors?

Inopia was one of the few tapas bars that we were lucky enough to eat at while in Barcelona. Inopia is a little more lively, brightly lit, and high energy than most tapas bars. The restaurant is so lively that there is a doorman/bouncer guy that controls the velvet rope.

The Eixample "Bomb" (3.50E)
Eixample is a part of Barcelona. Not sure what the correlation between Eixample the part of Barcelona and the Eixample "bomb" was, but this was a larger version of a croquette. This bomb was stuffed with meat and encased in potato, then fried to a crispy golden brown and topped and bottomed with an almost ketchupy like sauce and an aioli/mayonnaise sauce.

Tomato, burrata, olive, and microgreens
This was one of the specials for the day. Super fresh burrata topped with tomato, microgreens, and some sort of olive, then drizzled with olive oil. This was a super simple yet extremely fresh dish in all aspects.

Iberico ham, cheese, and truffle
Guess how big this sandwich is by looking at the picture? Subway foot long? Not even close. This sandwich was about the size of sharpened pencil and slightly wider than an AA battery. I guess I should have expected that, considering there was iberico ham and truffle in this sandwich. I wished this sandwich was a subway foot long. This was delicious!!!

Homemade Iberian ham croquettes (1.90E)
This croquette came to us fried to a perfect golden brown and nuclear hot, just the way I like it. I couldn't really taste the flavors of the Iberian ham all that much, but still really enjoyed this croquette.

Mini Inopia Burger (3.80E)
Judging from this picture, guess how big this burger was? 1/4 pound? 1/2 pound? Nope... this burger was slightly larger than a French macaron. The burger was cooked to a perfect medium rare/rare. This was one delicious burger and wished it was a 1/2 pound burger.

Pineapple with lime zest and sugar cane liquor (4.20E)
Since it was so warm in Barcelona during our time there, we wanted something refreshing for dessert. What's more refreshing than fresh pineapple. The pineapple had freshly zest lime skin and was then drizzled with a sugarcane liquor. I loved this dessert!! The zest of the lime really added a freshness and citrus kick to the pineapple and the sugarcane liquor added a bit of sweetness and depth to this dish.

By the time we finished eating, which was really early by Barecelonian standards, there were still long lines outside of the restaurant. Not sure why Inopia ended up closing its doors but I am sad to hear that the restaurant is closed. Word on the street is that the brothers are looking to open a few new restaurants in the Barcelona.


Tres at SLS (Bazaar) - Los Angeles

465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Chef Jose Andres

Tres: The #3 in Spanish or tres in the French word for "VERY."  

Tres is The Bazaar's version of brunch. On a Sunday afternoon we decided to head over to Tres for brunch. We wanted a place that was different from the normal ho-hum brunch but still serve some of the brunch elements. Would Tres fit what we were looking for?

Tres and the Bazaar are located in the ultra hip, too-cool-for-school SLS Hotel. Brunch is only served on Saturday and Sunday from 11:00A.M. to 3:00P.M. At the time, brunch cost us $38. This is a long overdue blog post from months back, and unfortunately for you, and fortunately for me, the price is now $42. Glad I got in there before they raised the prices.

The SLS hotel is designed by none other than Philippe Starck. Talk about eclectic and an interestingly designed space.  I felt like I was in a candy boutique.

When I think of brunch, I think of egg dishes, breads, fruits, smoked fish, mimosas, and bloody mary's, just to name a few. Tres has most of the basic brunch items covered, but with a twist. One of the things I didn't like was that egg dishes were supplements, meaning it would cost me more money on top of the brunch price. At $42 for a brunch, which isn't a exorbitantly high price nor is it a low price, I figured some egg dishes would be included. Come to think of it, they did have a form of egg that was included: surprisingly, it was caviar.

Coffee and Teas, fresh squeezed juices or aguas frescas (water infused w/ fresh juices)
What I did like about the brunch was that a nice selection of teas were available included in the brunch. They each came out in individual pots. Also appreciated the various fresh squeezed juices that were available for self service.

Caesar "Cardini" Salad - Baby romaine hearts, parmesan cheese.
Although a simple salad, I really enjoyed this version of a Caesar salad because of the grate yourself parmesan cheese, the freshness of the romaine hearts, and my favorite part - little pillow shaped croutons.

Crudite Cups - seasonal vegetables, romesco sauce
Nothing really out of the ordinary with these crudite cups and romesco sauce, but the display presentation was nice.

Gazpacho with traditional condiments
Wouldn't be a Jose Andres brunch without some Spanish influences. Here, a fairly standard version of gazpacho with diced bell peppers.

Charcuterie- A selection of salamis, chorizo, and prosciutto.

Cheeses- Four cheeses available on this particular day.

 Selection of Marmalades, Organic Butter and Cream Cheese

Caviar display - American Paddlefish caviar, salmon roe, steamed buns
Underneath the bamboo steamers in the picture were the steamed buns for use with the various types of caviar and creme fraiche. An upscale touch to this brunch.

SLS Carving Display - Chef's selection with accompaniments
Hangar steak with piquillo pepper. The hangar steak was nicely cooked to a medium rare, but lacked enough seasoning.

Smoked Salmon Display - Russ and Daughters Diamond Selection served with caper berries, minced red onions, quail eggs, chives, greek yogurt

Greek Yogurt Parfait - apricot, mixed berries or plain. Fresh fruit in cups with either kiwi and raspberries or watermelon and orange segments. Also pictured is sliced fresh fruits, watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe.

Chef's Selection of Assorted Pastries: croissant, muffins, pain au chocolat, danishes
One of the things I was most impressed about was the quality and selection of pastries and desserts.

Flan with orange segments - The desserts were one of my favorite aspects of the brunch at Tres and the flan was no exception.

Chocolate mouse with berries, madeleines, gelees, and various assortment of cookies. I think the dessert selection at this restaurant is enough to last me for a whole month...

There were some elements of the brunch that I felt were lacking. In my opinion, the brunch lacks the comforting items normally associated with brunch, such as the egg dishes and pancakes or french toast. I realize that these items can be ordered a la carte, but to spend $42 without these items is bit much personally.  The brunch had an interesting mix of various and quality foods, but were kind of all over the place.

We enjoyed the overall experience of the brunch at Tres, especially sitting amidst the whimsical design and ambiance of the restaurant. Everything that was served during the brunch was of high quality. The highlight of the brunch was the selection of desserts available and the quality with which they were made. Based on food alone, I'm not sure this brunch would warrant a return, but taken together with the whole experience, I believe it is definitely worth trying out.


Break of Dawn (Laguna Hills, CA)

24351 Avenida De La Carlota
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
Chef/Owner: Dee Nguyen
8:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday

As the former executive sous chef at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, Chef Dee Nguyen was on the path to opening his own fine dining restaurant one day.  But Chef Nguyen had to reevaluate his professional career track when his son became permanently disabled. Chef Dee left the Ritz and opened his own restaurant Break of Dawn and has gained much acclaim from the culinary folks ever since.  Break of Dawn opens only for breakfast and lunch so that Chef Dee could spend more time with his son and wife. His inspiring story is one that tugs at your heart. Read more on their website.

His dishes reflect his attention to detail and artistry.The menu is split into two categories: Traditional and Savory.  He creates the classic American hearty breakfast dishes inspiring them with his Vietnamese and French influence.

 Skillet - roasted new potatoes, bacon, cheddar poached eggs, guacamole and chipotle sour cream. (11)
My two friends each ordered their own Skillet. Here's your classic comfort breakfast food. You got everything you always wanted on a fiery hot skillet, steaming with lots of savory flavors.  They thoroughly enjoyed the dish as I remembered.

Benedict - poached eggs, grilled potato bread, smoked ham and Asian pesto hollandaise (11)
I was quite amazed at this simple, yet artistic presentation of my dish.  Country potatoes were nicely seasoned and fried. The pesto and Hollandaise sauce was pretty light and mild for my taste.

The poached eggs were perfectly shaped with a nice little tail at the end.  As I pierced my fork through the egg, the yellow yolk oozed out over the seared ham. Chef Dee once said, "There are at least five things one needs to balance for the poached egg: heat, salt, vinegar, water and the pot." (OC Register)

French Toast Creme Brulee  (12)
What a concept! French toast with Crème Brûlée? Several thick slabs of raisin and cinnamon brioche with generous amounts of creamy chocolate drizzle was sitting atop this huge round dish of a thin layer of crème brûlée.  The crème brûlée had some coconut and Kahlua flavors and the nicely caramelized crust finished the dessert well.  Do share with others because it's a lot and was a bit sweet and rich for me, especially if you are eating it after a savory breakfast.  Just a few bites would be enough to satisfy the sweet tooth. At least for me it did.

Break of Dawn is located in the plaza next to the Laguna Hills Mall. I wouldn't have imagined this gourmet breakfast-brunch restaurant being in this suburban type setting (ie. Trader Joe's is right next door) but I'm glad that there's a restaurant where the chef fuses different heritage influences into classic dishes, creating culinary works of art.


Eat Chow - Costa Mesa

1802 Newport Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Orange County is a place with many, many chain restaurants so it's nice to find little gems here and there.  Eat Chow is a quaint and hip little restaurant that doesn't serve your typical fries, but serve you truffle Parmesan garlic fries; or it doesn't have just regular hamburgers with ketchup and mustard, but burgers with housemade sauce, crispy onions, bacon, gouda cheese on a brioche bun.  There were many interesting items on the menu and I would probably just have to come back again to try them out.

Truffle Parmesan Fries
These fries were wonderfully crispy with minced roasted garlic and Parmesan cheese with, of course, bold hints of the truffle oil. Yum!

Spanish Style Roasted Chicken Salad (7.50 for a small) - Romaine, Shredded Cabbage, Avocado, Sweet Corn, Goat Cheese, Marcona Almonds, Medjool Dates, Peanuts with Smokey Tomato Vinaigrette
This was a nice fresh salad with all the ingredients I wanted. Minus the sweet corn. They forgot to add in the corn! And I knew the salad wouldn't be complete without the taste of that sweetness. All the components went well with each other, making this not your usual order of green salad. 

Chow BBQ Burger (10)  - Housemade BBQ sauce, smoked gouda, crispy onions and bacon on a toasted brioche bun
The height of this tasty burger can be intimidating at first, but just pressed it down and take one big bite to indulge in all the wonderful flavors at once. Call me crazy but whenever I see a burger with bbq sauce, crispy onions, and bacon, I always compare it to my beloved Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl's Jr. Yes, you heard me right. One of my favorite fast food burgers next to In-N-Out. This burger could have been excellent but the bbq sauce wasn't bbqey enough. I wanted more of that boldness that comes from bbq sauce. 

After dining, we ventured into the connected hipster clothing store, The Closet. There seems to be a hipster-ish theme at the restaurant so it makes sense for the two to be connected. And I think there's a discount at the clothing store if you dine at Eat Chow.


Thai Nakorn (Garden Grove, CA)

12532 Garden Grove Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Ask pretty much anyone in Orange County where the best Thai restaurant is and invariably the majority will say Thai Nakorn. Being a self-professed Thai food lover and coming from a family that once owned a Thai restaurant, I'm with the majority on this one.

Thai Nakorn has two locations, one in Garden Grove and one in Stanton. Both restaurants are large with ample seating for large parties. Come to think of it, every time I come here I always see some type of celebratory meal going on.

Thai Beef Salad 
Thai Nakorn isn't one of those restaurants that really tones down the spice level, although they can if you want, but they can also "kick it up a notch" (sorry Emeril). The Thai beef salad is always a great beginning to the meal. I love the interplay of flavors and textures in Thai food - crunchy, sweet, spicy, and sour.

Chicken Satay - $8.45
Who doesn't like grilled meat on a skewer? Chicken satay is no exception. The satay is marinated in curry and other spices and then grilled. To top it off, literally that is, is the simultaneously sweet, spicy, and peanutiness of the peanut sauce. The slightly pickled onion and cucumbers add a crunchy coolness to this dish.

Pad See Ewe
I never go to a Thai restaurant without ordering Pad See Ewe or Pad Thai. Thai Nakorn has a delicious Pad See Ewe. Just the right consistency on the noodles and perfect ratio of noodles, meat, to veggie ratio.

Nam Sod with Crispy Rice - $8.45
For those of you who aren't familiar with Nam Sod, this dishes' ingredients are ground pork, onion, ginger, peanuts, lime juice, and sometimes with or without the crispy rice. I prefer ordering with the crispy rice because it gives the dish an added texture and flavor. This is a "sod" after dish anytime I come here. 

Fried catfish with mango salad/sauce
The catfish is battered and then golden-fried like a fish and chip without the chip. The dish is to be eaten together with the mango salad. Any fish dish with the mango salad is always a good thing at Thai Nakorn.

I have been going to Thai Nakorn back in the days when it was located near Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park. The restaurant has been in business for many years, a testament to how good Thai Nakorn is. Ask me where the best Thai restaurant in Orange County is and I'll answer with Thai Nakorn too.


Langer's Delicatessen - Los Angeles

704 South Alvarado
Los Angeles, CA 90057
Mon-Sat 8am-4pm

Situated across the street from MacArthur Park, you don't really want to cruise the streets at night or hang out here too long. But step inside and it's a whole different world with a nostalgic feel of a mom and pop coffeeshop back in the 60s, but more on a larger scale with about 7-8 cooks behind the counter, piling on the meat on top of the sliced breads.  And many, many waiters and waitresses running around the restaurant to serve the hungry customers.

Langer's is always crowded, especially during lunch time.  Lines out the door is pretty common. The huge menu could get overwhelming with different selections of sandwiches, steaks, and salads. Even grilled liver is on the menu if you dare try.  But whenever I come here, I just order their most popular item: #19. 

Pastrami sandwich with swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian style dressing served on rye bread (14.95)
The outer crust of the rye bread is crispy while the inner part of the bread is quite soft.  I love sinking my teeth into the generous portion of the smokey flavored pastrami and swiss cheese.  I would think the cole slaw would come as a side, but piled atop of the pastrami just completes this delicious sandwich altogether. Every bite is scrumptious!

The famous #19 pastrami sandwich is a pricey $14.95 but really worth it for the hefty pile of meat. I wouldn't share this sandwich with anyone, don't want to be giving death stares at each other. This delicatessen is a place worth coming back to over and over again.  Langer's is notably THE place for the pastrami sandwich in the West Coast; Katz's being THE place in the East. I would say that Langer's beats Katz's in the battle of East coast and West coast. (The parking lot is on 7th Street and Westlake.  Get your parking ticket stamped for a 1 hour validation).


Mo-Chica - Los Angeles

3655 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Chef: Ricardo Zarate

Mo-Chica is a contemporary Peruvian restaurant that has gained quite a following over a very short period of time with every blogger and their mother having blogged Mo-Chica. Ricardo Zarate is the talented chef and owner and is also about to open a new restaurant called Anticucho. 

Located near USC, the restaurant is in the Mercado La Paloma.  The inside opens up to a warehouse that houses an eclectic assortment of restaurants, gift shops, a florist, computer supply store, and an alterations shop. Among this random mix, Mo-Chica is definitely what I would call a hidden gem.

The menu is small and concise. They know what they are good at and for the most part, they do it very well.

Toasted Corn Nuts - complimentary
To start off, diners are given a small bowl of toasted corn nuts. These aren't the corn nuts that normally come to mind in the ranch, chile picante, and barbecue flavored, but real large corn kernels that are toasted and salted. I personally prefer the flavored ones. 

Mo-Chica has an assortment of non-alcoholic beverages to choose from such as Maracuya (Passion fruit juice) Cebada (barley iced tea) and the Chicha Morada (purple corn iced tea). I chose the Maracuya, which was sweet, refreshing, and definitely passion fruity.

Ceviche del dia - 5
Mo-Chica is probably best known for their ceviche, with some proclaiming it as the best Peruvian ceviche in all of LA. The ceviche del dia was a sea bass on this dia. Included with the sea bass dish were red onions, seaweed, sweet potato, corn, and toasted corn. The sea bass was definitely very fresh and the flavors of all the components came together very nicely, texturally and flavor-wise. I can't say I am a big fan of the white corn pieces, not much flavor. 

Here is a close-up of the sea bass. Beautiful. 

Lomo Saltado - 13
Mo-Chica serves its lomo saltado with prime beef filet, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes. I've had this dish quite a few times, but never with prime beef filet. Being a huge fan of lomo saltado, I was really looking forward to this dish. Although the dish was good with tender pieces of filet, I wished there was more sauce to be eaten with the rice. Plus, the portion size was quite small for $13. I guess that's the price to pay for the prime beef filet. 

Not having a whole lot of experience with Peruvian food, with the exception of a few restaurants and food courts, we enjoyed our experience at Mo-Chica. Not everything was a hit, but the hits outweighed the misses. Do I want some mo' Mo-Chica? Sure, give me some mo'!