Sunday, June 17, 2007

June 14: Saddle Ranch Chop House at Universal Citywalk

After enjoying our fun day at Universal Studios, we decided to meet up with some friends at Citywalk for dinner. It had been a while since I had been to Citywalk and I had remembered it being a fun place for dinner, with some stores to look at and overall have a nice dinner/night.
Once I began perusing the menus of the different restaurants in Citywalk, I soon realized that I may have made the wrong choice. Chain restaurants...chain stores closing at 9pm... what was I thinking???
But my friends were driving down from Santa Barbara and someplace off the 101 to hang out was a reasonable choice, I suppose. Of course after hearing about all the traffic they had to get through to GET to Citywalk, I felt quite bad...

So after looking through most of the restaurants' menus, we decided that we would go eat at the Saddle Ranch Chop House - none of us had been there before and it had a nice patio dining area and why not watch people fall off the mechanical horse?

The original Saddle Ranch Chop House is at located on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles

Fun decor... wagons on top of the roof with fake cowboys!

The patio area was quite nice on this beautiful So Cal night

So we went inside and asked for a patio seat and got a nice seat right by the lamp heater and with the perfect view of the bar, the mechanical bull and the overall area. We looked through the menu and were instantly intrigued by the list of appetizers! They have your average appetizers as well as.... a kettle of steak chili! So we ordered the steak chili and we each ordered an entree.

The first thing that came out was a basket of buttermilk biscuits and cornbread muffins with a side of honey. Yum.. I love cornbread muffins with honey!

Our basket of buttermilk biscuits and cornbread muffins

Then as we were waiting for our kettle of chili to arrive, we saw another group of people at table near us getting their chili. Their kettle was about 5 inches in diameters, served with a side of some onions, cheese and sour cream. We watched the waiters give the guy his chili and started to get worried... what if our kettle of chili is that? Maybe its not as exciting as we want it to be???
So, we flagged down our waitress and asked her if that was the size of our kettle... She smiled and reassured us that our kettle was MUCH larger and would be about 10 inches in diameter and about 3 inches deep! Ahhh... that made us very happy =)
A few minutes later, our waitress brought out our chili and she was not lying when she said that our kettle would be huge! Served with a side of cheese, onions and sour cream, it was also topped with some tortilla chips. It was filled with beans, steak and ground beef as well and was delicious! My friends said that they were hoping for some more heat, but since I don't like things too spicy, I was totally fine with the very mild chili.

Here's our kettle of chili!

Our kettle of chili - the tortilla chips were the perfect
accompaniment to the thick, rich chili

After feeling very satisfied with our steak chili, we waited for a few minutes until our entrees came. Most of us were pretty full by that point already but we were enjoying the beautiful night and the occasional bull rider!

Tri-tip sandwich with fries

Steak and eggs with sausage and potatoes

The Cowboy Cut - Prime Rib with garlic mashed potatoes

Our entrees were good - nothing to RAVE about but nothing too bad. My tri tip sandwich was a little bit dry but my friends' prime rib was HUGE and was served with what looked like a whole broccoli =) and some garlic mashed potatoes. My friends were only able to finish about half their food and then our waitress was back to ask us about dessert.

We had all agreed before the start of our meal that we were going to be having some dessert. Interestingly enough, the dessert menu was what made me want to try this restaurant. They have a "create your own smores platter" on their dessert menu! The menu said that we would be roasting our own marshmallows in their outdoor fire pits and it was quite an exciting prospect. But then when we looked over the dessert menu, we saw that they also have a "deep dish cookie." The waitress said that the cookie was PHENOMENAL and way better than the smores so we decided to trust our waitress and order the cookie.

Here's the cookie!

The warm cookie was served in a small cast iron skillet with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on top. It was the perfect way to end dinner! It was warm and gooey and sweet and just perfect.

Overall, Citywalk is not the place for gourmet food. The prices on the menus reflect their location in Citywalk - its a high-tourist area, you can't really help it. But Saddle Ranch was fun... they were a little short-staffed it seemed (our waitress was serving about 3-4 tables outside on the patio as well as some tables inside). It was fun watching people fall off the mechanical bull and we were able to enjoy the beautiful night... its not somewhere I would go back to, if I could help it but it served its purpose for the night.

Saddle Ranch Chop House
Universal CityWalk
1000 Universal Studios Blvd.
Universal City, California 91608

Saturday, June 16, 2007

June 14 - Philippe's

Since we were driving on the 101 freeway up to Universal City, we decided to stop by in LA for some lunch. After debating about where to go, we finally decided to go to one of our favorite sandwich places in Los Angeles - Philippe's The Original: French Dipped Sandwiches! We made a left into the bigger parking lot and walked on over to Philippe's.
Philippe's has been a local favorite for about 100 years (their 100th anniversary is next year!) and is a favorite for tourists and locals alike.

Philippe's at the corner of Alameda and Ord
At night, the sign becomes a bright, welcoming neon glow,
beckoning sandwich lovers from all over!

The lines were pretty long but it was prime lunch time on a Thursday afternoon. There were lots of business people looking for a good lunch. We waited for a few minutes and got to the front of the line and ordered our absolutely favorite sandwich on the list - the lamb sandwich!

The interior hasn't changed ever since they opened this location

Philippe's offers pork, beef, ham, lamb and turkey sandwiches. Ray and I have tried all of them (except the ham) but we love the lamb the best.

Yummy lamb sandwiches!

Our waitress takes our order, grabs the meat and begins to slice it to put on our sandwiches. She then dips our bread into the au jus sauce and places it on cardboard/paper plates. We could not resist adding a side of cole slaw and some pumpkin pie for dessert to our order!

Our wonderful lunch: lamb sandwich, cole slaw and pumpkin pie

After getting our sandwiches, we went to go find a good place to sit. Usually we like the booths at the back but they were full. There weren't any other seats downstairs either so we had to walk upstairs, which was quite full too. But we found two seats at the end of a long table filled with shirt and tie-d business men and squeezed ourselves in. The lamb was juicy and tender as we always know. We could have used a little extra au jus sauce but one side had more sauce than the other. We should have asked for it double dipped but we forgot!

Who could resist this sandwich?

Overall, Philippe's is always a great experience. We love coming here and love their food - we wish we were in Los Angeles more often so we could stop by here more often!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

June 7 - Spice Market Buffet : Planet Hollywood

For brunch, we decided to try out the Spice Market Buffet inside the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino since we were staying there and had received a 2-for-1 buffet coupon. The lunch buffet is regularly $17 a person, so getting two buffets for that price was a super deal! They had everything including seafood, mexican, chinese, middle eastern, italian, meats, and desserts.
Some of the best items on the buffet line were probably the tomato basil soup, stuffed pork, french fries (that came with the bratwurst), salamis and cheeses, grilled vegetables, mexican dishes and desserts. Overall, it was a good brunch.. nothing over-the-top terrific but a great place with lots of choices. The service was good and we had a very good time!

The buffet is located below the casino level. For those who cannot find the buffet,
there is a very brightly lit sign telling everyone that it has been voted "The Best of Las Vegas!"

At around 11:30am on a Thursday, there was no line!
But as we were leaving, the line had grew a bit.
After being used to waiting for the Bellagio buffet,
it sometimes comes as a shock to me when I don't have to stand in line for a buffet!

I like the survey the entire buffet before going and grabbing a plate, trying to figure out where I should start and what items I want to eat. Eating at a buffet doesn't mean that you have to eat everything - it just means that you get a really good variety of food, which is great. I actually found the Spice Market Buffet to have more vegetarian options (like having vegetarian quesadillas, grilled vegetables, hummus, etc) than most other buffets and although I am NOT a vegetarian, appreciated that this buffet offered these options!

Some salad, salami, cheese, grilled vegetables, quesadilla, guacamole,
saffron rice, cheese bread.

Stuffed tomato, grilled vegetables, mushroom pizza, seafood, chicken, prime rib, fried shrimp

Unlike some of the more upscale buffets like The Buffet at the Bellagio, I think the Spice Market Buffet is a great place to bring a large family. With kid-friendly menu items like fried chicken, quesadillas and tacos, pizza and hamburgers, I think that kids can have fun with the food items here as well. This is not to say that the level of food at the Spice Market is any lower than some of the other buffets. They just offer a different variety. The stuffed pork here was my absolute favorite dish.

Made-to-order hamburgers. The meat was a bit dry but the french fries were crunchy and perfect!

They also had made-to-order bratwurst. I love bratwurst so I was very excited about this but it was a bit burnt and the bratwurst was not bursting with flavor as I was hoping for.

Sometimes I think I should start with dessert. The dessert here at the Spice Market Buffet were quite good. I thought the strawberry tart was delicious and equivalent to any strawberry tart that you might buy at a french bakery. The cream was light and sweet, strawberries perfect, and the tart nice and crunchy. The cookies were okay.. not the best. The pumpkin pie filling was perfect (I love eating just the pumpkin pie filling)!

Some salad, fruit, cannoli, fruit salad and an apple turnover.

Strawberry tart, cinnamon cookie, macadamia/white chocolate cookie,
pumpkin pie and soft serve ice cream.

Spice Market Buffet
(located inside the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino)
3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV

Reservations? no

June 6 - Bellagio: The Buffet

So for dinner, we decided to go to the Bellagio Buffet. Since we had show tickets, we went to the Bellagio a little bit early to make sure that we could eat and still make it to our show. We got in line at about 7pm and the line was about 20minutes long. We entered the buffet and got a seat towards the sushi end of the dining rooms and began our glutinous feast!

Ah, the entrance to the Bellagio Buffet...
if only it were the weekend, then I could eat rack of lamb and kobe beef!

One of my first dishes - pesto pizza with shrimp, california rolls with real crab,
salmon sushi, chicken wellington and leg of lamb roast.

I love making my own seafood caesar salad -
Bellagio caesar salad with some shrimp and crab!

Some broccoli rabe, prime rib and seafood

Eating dessert at the Bellagio is one of the best parts of the buffet.
Here is a strawberry tart, white chocolate/macadamia cookie,
creme brulee and peanut butter brownie.

Overall the experience at the Bellagio Buffet is always good. Its never bad. But once you've had the buffet on the weekends and like the food on the weekends, its very difficult not to long for the rack of lamb, kobe beef prime rib, chocolate covered strawberries and all their other special dishes they have on the weekends.

The Buffet at the Bellagio
3600 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Reservations? no

June 6 - Mon Ami Gabi (Paris Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas)

Ray and I decided to take a short trip to Las Vegas last week and kept making and canceling reservations for various restaurants in Vegas. First we wanted to eat at Mon Ami Gabi, then we decided not to... then we thought about just going to the New York New York food court area... but then we decided not to. Then we thought about trying the new Caesar's Palace food court areat.. but in the end we wanted to have a nice lunch in a nice atmosphere so we went back to our first choice - Mon Ami Gabi inside the Paris Hotel and Casino.

With no wait, we were able to get a lovely seat inside, right by the window looking out towards the Strip. We were happy to be inside because it was already starting to get hot outside and we weren't sure if we wanted to be sitting outside in the sweltering sun as we ate.

We looked down the menu and decided to get Onion Soup au Gratin, Steak Sandwich and Asparagus, Ham & Cheese Crêpe.

We were first served with a warm french baguette which was delicious and then our soup came out. It didn't have as heavy an onion flavor than I remembered it but the gruyere was about an inch thick and gooey and just fabulous!
Onion Soup au Gratin - what can I say, I love cheese!

Asparagus, Ham & Cheese Crêpe
Soft crepe, salty ham, cheese and a cream sauce. Yum!

Steak sandwich and Frites with carmelized onions
Soft bread, really sweet onions and soft juicy steak meat.
These crunchy fries were addictive!

Mon Ami Gabi
Paris Resort & Casino
3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Opentable reservations? yes

Sunday, June 3, 2007

June 3: Taco Rosa Brunch Buffet

Today was the day... our very first visit to Taco Rosa in Newport Beach! We were originally planning on going to the one in the Tustin/Irvine marketplace but they aren't offering Sunday brunch just yet (supposedly, they will be starting brunch soon). So we drove to Newport and enjoyed a wonderful brunch at Taco Rosa. We started off with an omelette, some fruit, different entrees ranging from enchiladas to tamales. Their freshly cooked tortillas were good and so were their freshly cooked churros! ( i think I ate like 5 of them). I loved the chocolate covered strawberries and everything was just so good!

Taco Rosa on a beautiful June Sunday morning

Our first plate of all of the entrees. Sorry, not quite sure what was what...
but there were tamales, enchiladas, a beef dish, a pork dish...

Cooked-to-order tortillas (both corn and flour), some salad, freshly cooked churros and fruit!

Ray's first omlette.. with avocados, chicken, ham, onions, peppers, etc

Second plate of fruit and churros. Lots of chocolate covered strawberries this time!

Ray's second omelette! This time with avocado sauce and beans on top

I loved this buffet - its not something we'd do EVERY Sunday (especially because with tax, it came out to about $40+.) I did find it a little bit strange that they charged for freshly squeezed orange juice but the champagne was complimentary.. hrmm.....
Overall, super duper, would definitely go again!

June 2, 2007: Taiko and Yogurtland

Ray was craving sushi so we decided to go to Taiko in Irvine. Ray stopped by around 6:30 to put his name down on the list and was told that the wait was around 45 minutes. So he put his name down and left to come meet up with me.

Here's the sign at the entrance to Taiko. Sorry its a little dark.

It had been right around 45 minutes once we got back to Taiko and what do you know, that had actually already called our names! But, the let us know that we would be next and what do you know - in like two minutes, our name was called and we were led to a table in the back.
After looking over the longer sushi menu and the regular menu, we decided to start off with the sesame chicken appetizer (which is SO not an appetizer portion), get some fried calamari (one of my favorites!) and a variety of sushi.

Does this look like an appetizer portion of sesame chicken to you? =) What a fabulous deal!

Here's my favorite fried calamari. Crispy calamari on top a bed of cucumbers
with a light ponzu sauce. Yum!

Our order of a variety of sushi -
salmon, egg, yellowtail, sweet shrimp, california rolls and eel.

And here's the fried sweet shrimp head.
Taiko is the only place that I know of that does this!

We always like the sushi and other stuff at Taiko although we don't quite know why the line is always SO incredibly long. Maybe its because everything is good and pretty reasonably priced. Plus all of the portions are HUGE!

So, we left Taiko and were met with the sight of a brand new yogurt store next door. We peaked in and there was a HUGE line! We got in line and tried to figure out how this store works.
Its actually a pretty simple concept - its basically "Create your own yogurt." You first pick a container (plastic-smaller or styrofoam-bigger). Then you put as much frozen yogurt you want into your container - whats so exciting is the number of flavors! I think there were about 12 last night - strawberry, vanilla, mango, peach, blueberry, raspberry cheesecake, green tea, sugarless vanilla, chocolate.... i can't remember the others. And then you move over to the "toppings" area where you can choose your toppings. Here again, there are TONS of choices. Fresh strawberries, fresh mangos, fresh kiwi, black bean paste, mochi, chocolate, candy bars, cereals, etc etc!
Then you give your container with yogurt to the cashier, who weighs it and you pay. It is 30cents per ounce.
The store is bright and nicely decorated with glass partitions everywhere.
There's about maybe seats enough for maybe 30-40 people?

Here is our creation - mango, strawberry, raspberry cheesecake, blueberry
and chocolate yogurt on the bottom. Fresh strawberries and mangoes on the top!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Taco Mesa and Mrs. Knotts Chicken

May 31, 2007: Thursday

So Thursdays are my favorite Taco Mesa days now because a few weeks ago I found the best item on the menu! It was on the specials of the day board and it sounded so appealing that I could not resist... they are the Tacos de Cangrejos $9.99 - five crispy tacos filled with crab meat and tropical (mango I think) salsa! Just thinking about it again makes my mouth water!

So here is the Taco Mesa in Ladera Ranch where I usually go.

This is my favorite item on the menu. Carne asada torta (no beans and no peppers!).
Soft bread with juicy carne asada with the right amount
of avocado, tomato and lettuce.. what more could a girl ask for?

These are the tacos de cangrejos - ONLY AVAILABLE ON THURSDAYS!
Super crispy shells... crab meat in every single bite.. laid out on a bed of rice..

Then after a day of wandering around Orange and Anaheim, Ray and I got a craving for Knotts chicken! So we drove up the 5 freeway, into Buena Park and went to go get some chicken. The line for the restaurant was kinda long and Ray was really hungry so we decided to take the chicken to go from the store/bakery next door. Although they forgot to include a piece of chicken and gave us extra potatoes, corn and bread, it was a great dinner! By the time we started eating, both of us were so hungry that we forgot to take pictures of the food! By the way, I got a double chocolate cookie from the bakery and it was the best cookie I have had in a LONG time! Super cravable!

Chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, soup, corn, and soft bread. Such a great dinner!