Friday, February 18, 2011

DineLA Restaurant Week Wrap-Up

In the usual fashion of me doing everything several weeks behind, I wanted to do a little write-up of DineLA Restaurant Week, which happened the last week of January and the first week of February.

Being as I am broke, but with a significant appetite, DineLA's specialty-priced menus appealed to me. There were three price brackets, of which I stuck with the lowest one. For $16 per person at lunch and/or $26 per person at dinner, we were presented with a menu where we could choose one from each of several appetizer, entree, and dessert options.

The first of the restaurants I tried was Starry Kitchen, a precious Asian-fusion cafe with quite an interesting back-story. My appetizer was the Pandan Chicken, which was juicy little bites of chicken wrapped in pandan leaves and then fried. As I was eating this chicken, I was thinking to myself "This could be my whole meal!" it was so good. But before I had the chance to get too caught up in thinking that the chicken was gone too soon, I tried the Spicy Korean Pork Belly Sandwich with onions:

So freaking good. You know I can't argue with pork belly, and their spice blend was pretty awesome. I'm not cultural enough to know exactly what it was, but I do know that it took me less than 5 minutes to eat it. Finally, for dessert, amongst the options, the one that stood out to me in a "I really have to try this" way was the Durian Flan Cheesecake:

Just in case anyone isn't familiar, durian is that notoriously stinky fruit used primarily in Southeast Asian cooking. The smell is strong and offensive to so many people that it's actually banned in a lot of public places in SE Asia; however, many people do enjoy its distinctive flavor. I have not traditionally been one of those people, but I still wanted to try the cheesecake on the principle of trying something new. It tasted pretty much what I expected it to taste like - the durian taste was not overpowering, but just off-putting enough for this non-believer to not want to go clamoring after another piece. Still, I am glad that I tried it.

Overall, Starry Kitchen gave us a lot of food for our measly money, which I was very happy about, particularly since my two proteins and salad were most delectable.

Next, for dinner, we tried Magnolia, a "new American" restaurant downtown right next to The Original Pantry. My appetizer, the Burrata and Artichoke Crostini, was right up my alley and also my favorite part of the meal, which was (unfortunately) otherwise mediocre.

My entree was the Steak Gorgonzola. On the menu it said "Steak Gorgonzola over pappardelle". Even though I recognized that there would be pasta involved, what I was not prepared for was a pasta dish with little chunks of steak in it, smothered in a gorgonzola cream sauce. I mean, from reading that, I was expecting a steak, with some noodles. I guess it makes way more sense the way it came out from a price standpoint, but I still found the dish title to be very misleading. I might have gone for something like "Gorgonzola Pappardelle with Steak" if I wanted to convey that this is, in fact, a pasta dish. Finally, for dessert I had the Marscapone Chocolate Toffee Bar with salted Caramel Ice Cream. The ice cream was good, but I found the toffee bar to be too sickeningly sweet, and I suppose I was just expecting more out of it in general since I really love marscapone.

Finally, we allowed ourselves one last lunch before laying our wallets down to rest. We stopped in at Soi 7, also downtown, which claimed a Thai/fusion menu. On this last trip, we made much more of an effort to try to order different things and get to try a bit of each (not hard to decide on, since everything sounded so delicious.) For the appetizer, I ordered the Spicy Yellowtail Crudo, which sounds Japanese, but the spice was all Thai. Hoo-boy! I was able to handle it, partly because it was otherwise soooo tasty and partly because I'm less of a spice wimp than I used to be. I also was able to try the Tom Kha Gai coconut soup, which was insanely tasty. I'm a huge fan of coconut, which is partly why I sometimes go apeshit for Thai food, and this soup just did it for me. A+, would order again. My entree was a late addition to the DineLA menu, and unfortunately I don't remember exactly what it was called. I know that it was beef/steak (probably to make up for the steak disappointment from the night before) with caramelized onions and SOME MORE OF THOSE OBSCENELY HOT THAI CHILIS (it's kind of like they were trying to kill me.) I would say the sauce was teriyaki-esque, but that description doesn't really do justice to what it actually was, frankly. Bottom line is, it was really good.

I also was able to try the Fish Panang, which was good, as expected, if you're into panang curry. Finally, for dessert, I was able to try the Rua Mit (chilled coconut milk with "exotic" fruit) while others ordered Banana Samosas with green tea ice cream.

The Rua Mit was so good - coconutty, with a hint of what seemed like rose water - although I am a bit picky about textures and got a little squicked at the gelatinous fruit in the bowl. So I just drained the liquid and let my compatriots have at the weird fruit (some of which was lychee, I understand, which - no thank you. Lychee looks like fetus and eating it I cannot abide.) Since I'm not a nanners person, I also refrained from trying the samosas, but the green tea ice cream was very good and not too sweet.

Overall grades:
Starry Kitchen: A. I plan on returning, and since their menu rotates, I'll be interested to see what they've come up with next!
Magnolia: C. I don't plan on returning, and based on how empty the restaurant was at peak dinner hours during DineLA week, I wouldn't be surprised if they don't last much longer.
Soi 7: B. Good food, but given that they're trying to do "upscale Thai" and their prices reflect that, I would really have to consider whether or not I want to pay their prices when I could just go to the hole-in-the-wall Thai in Silverlake that I love and pay half as much for.

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