Katsu Sando’s Melt In Your Mouth Wagyu

Katsu Sando Pops Up on Sunday nights at Kura Japanese Restaurant located in the corner mall at Sunset and Crescent Heights. Katsu Sando translates to cutlet sandwich and that’s basically the entire menu, four Nama Panko crusted sandwiches and a couple of extras. But what extraordinary sandwiches they are.

Daniel Son, head chef at Kura fell hard for the Japanese convenience store snack in Tokyo and decided to craft his own elevated version. He has succeeded.

The A5 Wagyu-Katsu Sando is an expertly seared melt-in-your-mouth wonder that reminds us so much of the highest quality sushi, that we were officially awed. The marbling ratio of fat to tender meat in Japanese Wagyu beef is the secret, and the direct result of the immense care taken in the raising of the cattle.

In addition to the pricy but worth it Wagyu Beef-Katsu Sandwich, we strongly recommend the Mushroom Katsu Sando. It’s the perfect thickness for an unforgettable bite past the super soft House Made Honey Milk Bread slathered with Sando sauce, into a layer of Shiro-Wafu Frisee, through to the fried to perfection crunch of panko crust and deep into the meaty fungi. It’s a truly scrumptious journey.

Pork and Chicken are also in the line up and if you pull back the wrapping paper you are rewarded with a glimpse of the Pop Up’s name branded into the bread.  Very cool.

And don’t forget to indulge in the hot sauce found on every table. It adds a hit of heat that you may or may not feel inclined to incorporate. It definitely enhanced the pork, but we were resistant to even attempt it atop the flawless Wagyu or Mushroom Sandwiches.

For a taste of the real deal, elevated Wagyu beef and other varieties of Katsu Sando, you have to visit Kura on Sunday evenings (the rest of the time it’s their regular delightful Japanese menu) and let the flavors transport you straight to Tokyo.

It’s Worth Investing Time in Historic Old Sacramento

I was born in California and never made it to the state capital, until now. One crucial part of that oversight is missing out on the Historic Gold Rush Town of Old Sacramento. For those interested in avoiding the same mistake, it’s a good idea to invest some time exploring this spectacularly preserved piece of California History. A good way to start is by moving right in, with a stay aboard the Delta King Riverboat Hotel. This gracefully refurbished paddleboat floats on the Sacramento River adjacent to Old Sacramento State Historic Park and is the ideal home base to immerse oneself in the slower pace of mid 1800’s California.

First and foremost, don’t rush. Give yourself some time to explore because there’s a lot to see and do. Two days would be the minimum and try to include a weekend which preserves the opportunity to experience the underground tour.

Established in 1849, Old Sacramento is alive and well with the spirit and fervor of the gold rush. Handsome turn of the century buildings are well tended and house a variety of businesses you can explore. Traipsing through the streets and shops is a full day excursion in itself.

Rest assured if you need to revive anytime during your wanderings, they offer the illusive pineapple soft serve frozen treat, Dole whip, also available in mango. Unlike Disneyland, it’s self-serve here, so you can crank out as much of the icy concoction as you can handle, baring a serious case of brain freeze.

And of course no self-respecting gold rush town would be complete without an assortment of saloons. The River City Saloon claims to craft the best bloody Mary’s in Sacramento, but you need be the judge of that.

And Fanny Anns has to be one of the most captivating memorabilia stuffed bars in California. Stopping in for lunch, a cold one or just to browse the wild collection should be high on your to do list.

But the absolute highlight of Old Sacramento, is the California State Railroad Museum. This is a must see appropriate for the entire family.

Start you visit  with the informative movie which explains the back breaking labor and dedication that went into building the North American transcontinental railroad system. If you time it right, call first to be sure, the movie will be followed by a free half hour tour of the museum. No matter how you feel about trains, the amazing dioramas, restored trains, exhibits, dining car, heavy china display and simulation of a nighttime traveling sleeping car, are truly momentous experiences.

Recognition is paid to the workers who slaved through bone-chilling winters and blistering summers from 1863 to 1869 in order to make the dream of connecting the east and west coasts a reality.

Guest can pass through glistening trains of the era that look ready to hit the rails, reminding us of the romance and ease the railway system brought to U.S. travel.

Many cars are manned by costumed docents eager to share how their particular train was instrumental in facilitating everything from delivering mail to providing fine dining for guests.

Mannequin run kitchens and period china recreate the rigors and necessitates of a continually operational system of public transportation.

Be sure to search out the night train sleeping car simulation which is rigged to feel precisely like the real thing.

You can also hone your skills driving the same simulator used to train bullet train drivers. See how well you do manning the helm, followed by the challenging maneuvering of a speeding trains glide into the station.

The California State Railroad Museum is at the top of its game, being both technologically advanced, while also preserving their unique vantage point in the history of railroad travel and California’s involvement in its evolution.

We have to say that Old Sacramento offers such an inspiring glimpse into the past that we wouldn’t mind falling back in time over and over again.

Delectable Surprises in Sacramento’s Little Saigon

2010 was the year Sacramento officially designated Stockton Boulevard between Riza Avenue and Fruitridge Road, Little Saigon. And anyone visiting the area should definitely stop by for an authentic bite at one of the scores of Vietnamese restaurants located in the area. We found a real winner in Quan New Ninh Hoa, located at 6450 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95823.

House Special No. 1, at the very top of the menu, is a fun opportunity to roll your own Vietnamese summer rolls. An abundant assortment of tantalizing morsels show up on your table and you get to organize them any way you choose. First pick your protein, which can be Charbroiled skewers of  pork, chicken, shrimp or fried fish. We went with the traditional BBQ pork and were beyond thrilled.

Also on the plates delivered, you will find slim fried egg rolls, angel vermicelli sheets, fermented pork with garlic, assorted greens, pickled radish and carrot salad, green onion, crushed peanuts, a homemade, mildly-sweet dipping sauce and an ingenious rice paper softening system that we wanted to play with all evening.

To start the process, remove a dried rice paper wrapper from the side pocked and gentle dip it into the warm water bath section. The firm rice disk will begin to gently soften while being turned in the half circle mini tub. Be sure to turn at a slow, steady pace. It doesn’t take long and you don’t want to leave the translucent sheet in the water for an extended period. Allow it to soften and become flexible before removal from the water. Place the rice paper on your plate where it will continue to relax just a bit more.

Fill the now pliable wrapper with sheered off pieces of protein, one egg roll, an herb selection, pickled and fresh vegetables. Then roll like a burrito, being sure to turn in and secure the ends prior to the last fold so the filling doesn’t fall out.

Dip you cigar shaped package into the sauce, add a smear of chili paste from the table condiments if a spicy kick is your preferred flavor profile.

Your hard work will pay off when you bite into your crispy, smokey, fresh roll which is a texturally complex flavor bomb of pure pleasure.

Another specialty of the house found on on every table in the restaurant is Banh Beo which on the menu is referred to as Banh Bot Loc La. This well loved rice cake dish is served in small white ceramic cups and topped with bright orange pureed shrimp, green onion, fried shallots and pork floss.

They are eaten by topping with a bit of fish sauce, using your spoon to release the steamed rice from the dish and slurping the entire contents into your mouth for a creamy, crunch, savory, rich bit of umami goodness. These two traditional dishes are great representations and an opportunity to savor a bit of Vietnam right here in Sacramento, California.

The Quintessential Hostess Gift

While in Sacramento, we were introduced to Nothing Bundt Cake and we have to say it was love at first bite. The great news is that they are a nationwide franchise. That means you are most likely situated near a local shop.  But if not, you can always go online and have one dropped off right at your doorstep.  Or make life easy and have the distinctively shaped cake delivered to a very deserving friend as a house warming gift, Christmas present, birthday surprise, hostess thank you or any other event worth celebrating.  Wednesday sounds like a great reason for bundt cake to us.

The locations are charming and filled will all manner of inspiration. We sincerely hope you visit a bakery near you. Not only to sample the latest flavors (we love free samples), but also to get a gander at the exquisitely gorgeous cakes in a variety of sizes from bite-sized buntinis to personal sized bundtlets to 10″ full bundts serving up to 20 people.

We visited at Halloween when the Sacramento store was decked out with fun bundtinis all costumed and ready for little monsters to devour.

The shop addresses the confusing questions of how to honor someone at a major milestone. The answer is presented within a number of sumptuously designed displays that color coordinate their cakes with accessory options, making the gift even more special.

Of course the main reason to visit is to taste their supremely moist and flavorful bundt.  On our first introduction we were immediately taken with the birthday cake version, which is packed with a spray of multi-colored sprinkles nestled in classic vanilla cake. Another visit had us swooning for the Pumpkin spice with cream cheese frosting. But if those don’t float your boat not to worry, they have red velvet, chocolate chip, lemon, pecan praline, cinnamon swirl and a long list of other delectable flavors to choose from.

We are tickled pink by Nothing Bundt Cake’s aesthetic, simple yet powerful design elements and cake shape which make for an impressive hostess gift sure to wow not only on presentation but throughout the savoring sure to follow. #IFBC17

Homestyle Azerbaijani Cuisine Has Arrived

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New cuisines light us up, so when Feride Buyuran and Melissa’s Produce teamed up to host a tasting celebrating her new cookbook, Pomegranates & Saffron, A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan, we jumped at the opportunity. Azerbaijan is surrounded by Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Georgia and Russia, and we found nods to all the neighboring countries in the beautifully prepared dishes.

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Feride’s award winning cookbook features a very accessible cooking style that celebrates Eastern European, Russian and Middle Eastern flavors. Ingredients and spices from the region are presented with a special flare we attribute to Ms. Buyuran’s culinary skills in her adaptation of recipes culled from family and friends.

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Dishes such as tender Meatballs in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce (page 71), have pristinely balanced flavors that make them comfort food well suited for a main course as well as a substantial party appetizer guaranteed to keep guests happy from a warming tray perch.

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Ganja-Style Chicken with Eggs (page 98), gives credit to Azerbaijani’s second largest city where this satisfying dish originated. The tender dark meat chicken and egg casserole is ideal for breakfast, brunch, lunch or a new spin on dinner.

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For a serious sampling of the Mediterranean table, the Vegetable Kabab Salad (page 42) is both refreshing and healthy.

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We were also impressed with the abundance of dill that spikes Feride’s perfectly cooked basmati rice, reminding us of the famous, aromatic Persian rice dishes celebrated internationally.

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The final treat that won our hearts and palates was the layer upon layer of pastry dough, not filo, that is the secret to the scrumptious Azerbaijani walnut baklava.  A mild sweetness and loads of crushed nut meats packed between layers of melt in your mouth pastry, is a labor intensive endeavor that is worth every minute put into it.

For those looking for something unique that is easy on the eyes, nose and palate, we strongly recommend purchasing Pomegranates & Saffron, at least until Feride opens her first restaurant.

Old School Italian In Burbank

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We can’t seem to get enough of the old classic restaurants. They remind us of a simpler time, firmly rooted in great food, exceptional value, local community and service with a smile. Pinocchio Restaurant in Burbank has been a neighborhood institution since the 60’s. The restaurant is only half the story. The expansive corner establishment also houses the Monte Carlo Deli, which has been providing in house, locally sourced and imported Italian delicacies to an appreciative customer base for over 40 years.

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The restaurant is set up cafeteria style and we hopped in line to view both the menu on the wall, as well as the steam trays overflowing with freshly prepared, enticing dishes.

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Standing in line we also found sides and salads to accompany entrees, pizza and sandwiches.

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We are huge fans of eggplant parmesan and couldn’t resist an order. The hefty slice comes submerged in their garlic heavy marinara which we chose over the meat sauce. The rich and satisfying layers are enhanced by the soul of tomato, herbs and spices blooming in a sauce cooked down to its thick, chunky essence, that can only be achieved by hours bubbling away on the stovetop.

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Prices on entrees, pizza and salad all fall into the exceptionally reasonable category and dishes share easily.

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The homemade Italian sausage is a fennel punctuated, Italian herb and spice heavy blend that is bliss in a casing. We chose ours with grilled onions and peppers, over pasta topped with their house meat sauce.

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Don’t forget to check the specials board at the beginning of the chow line to see if any additional options call.

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Three vintage dining rooms are warm and comfortable, providing plenty of seating in various configurations, accommodating everything from a dinner for two to a family affair.

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Either before or after your meal a visit to the attached Monte Carlo deli is a must.

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Well organized rows of almost everything one could need or want for an Italian feast are displayed.

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Refrigerated cases overflow with an abundance of pepperoni and salami.

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Dried pasta in shapes that grab on to rich sauces and a profusion of olive oil fill the back of the shop.

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We tried some of the imported chocolate and appreciate the flavors and texture of Kinder brand.

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Behind the deli counter, loaves of freshly baked breads are the precise tools for sopping up the sauces or making garlic bread.

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While the counter itself displays a wide variety of deli meats and sausages for those wanting to fill their homes with the smells and flavors of Italy.

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Surprises line every shelf and counter, so give yourself enough time to search for delicious indulgences.

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And of course no Italian meal is complete without a nice bottle of wine and Monte Carlo has a well laid out selection to chose from.

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For a homestyle taste of Southern Italy, inside a space that feels welcoming and hospitable, Pinocchio and Monte Carlo warm the heart and the soul in a way only Italian cuisine can.

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Monte Carlo Deli & Pinocchio’s Restaurant, 3103 West Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505
Phone – 818-845-3516          web site – montecarlodeli.com

Philippe’s Is As Classic LA As It Gets

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One of our favorite Los Angeles classics is Philippe The Original, which has been in business since 1908.

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The charming deli/counter ambiance is enhanced with sawdust on the floor and shared high tables surrounded by stools. They also have booths in the back if that type of seating is preferred.

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For over a hundred years Philippe’s has been a cash only establishment and recently altered their policies to accept credit cards.

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The menu above the counter is small yet full of the favorites that have kept them going strong for 108 years.

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Philippe’s “French Dipped Sandwich” is the specialty of the house and consist of either roast beef, roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey or ham served on a light, freshly baked French roll which has been dipped in the natural gravy of the roasts. Swiss, American, Monterey Jack or Blue cheese may be added.

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To accompany your sandwich Philippe’s offers options such as tart, tangy cole slaw, homemade potato and macaroni salads, hard boiled eggs pickled in beet juice and spices, large Kosher style, sour dill or sweet pickles, black olives and hot yellow chili peppers.

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Daily soups are warm and comforting, like the navy bean on special the night of our visit.

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A crumbling of saltine crackers brings the down home feel.

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We are addicted to the lamb and have it with either blue or swiss cheese.

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We prefer it double dipped with both the lower and upper halves of the roll dunked in roasting juices.

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The pièce de résistance is the addition of their hot mustard which clears the sinuses and adds a mustard, vinegar spice tang that is the perfect accompaniment to the roasted meats.

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We simply can’t get enough of the mustard and purchase jars of the stuff to take home.

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The sour dill pickles feel right at home alongside the sandwiches.

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Cakes are moist and flavorful and the coconut cake is high on our list of great ways to complete a Philippe’s meal.

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For a taste of classic Los Angeles from one of the first purveyors of the French dip, Philippe’s is the spot to go retro.

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Philippe the Original, 1001 North Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone – 213-628-3781          web site – philippes.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hidden Santa Monica Chinese Hole-In-The-Wall

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Chinese food has many incarnations in Los Angeles. There is exceptional regional cuisine available in the San Gabriel Valley, smatterings of the more well known Chinese dishes in the San Fernando Valley and Westside Chinese restaurants that run the gamut from old school to hipster interpretations of mostly Mandarin and Cantonese food.

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Dragon Palace in Santa Monica is old school California Chinese from top to bottom.  A fish tank with sparkly goldfish welcome guests at the front door.

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Past the aquarium is the most basic of dining rooms with pink formica tables, green carpet, floral wallpaper and a mirrored wall to reflect all the dated color right back into the room. But we don’t eat out for the decor, we go for the food and Dragon Palace reminds us of the Mandarin cuisine we experienced in the 70’s.

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Dragon Palace embraces the concept of the lunch special fully, with prices reflecting back 20 years.  Eighteen options on the daily lunch special menu all run $5.50, include rice and fortune cookies and keep the dining room full during midday hours.

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We quenched our thirst with the special Chinese iced tea.  A cold metal teapot and a glass full of ice with lemon were presented. We love the pour your own option, which avoids having to call the waiter over repeatedly for refills.  Nice touch.

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The assorted appetizer plater reminds us of the pupu platters of our youth.

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Paper wrapped chicken, bar-b-que spareribs, egg roll and fried wonton have the flavors we remember all too well.  The only thing missing was the rumaki, a bacon wrapper liver and water chestnut of the Trader Vic’s era that is hard to find on the menus of today.

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Paper wrapped chicken is super soft dark meat marinated in a slightly sweet and teriyaki flavored sauce with a nice pop of ginger.

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Crisp fried egg roll wrappers burst with cabbage and vegetables.

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Guests are provided with spicy mustard, chili sauce and sweet and sour dipping  sauces to enhance the appetizer plate with heat and sweetness.

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Along with great prices on lunch specials the most expensive seafood on the menu tops out at $11.50, prices we can definitely live with.

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We kept with the old school theme and went with the moo shu pork.  The soft wheat flour wrappers are served with rich, sweet hoisin sauce to add as needed.

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The crunchy, flash cooked vegetables are a delightful contrast to the tender flavorful pork. They were nice enough to offer to make it spicy, an inspired addition from this menu which also includes the hot flavors of foods from the Szechwan school of cooking.

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For a trip down memory lane with prices that match the time period, Dragon Palace in Santa Monica, is a homey, sweet spot to savor old time Chinese food.

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Dragon Palace, 2832 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90404
Phone – 310-828-7744