Coffee Tomo - Flash

>> Monday, May 28, 2012

Date of Dining: 3/31/2012 
Price: < $3 per cup
Location: 11309 Mississippi Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90025

The Quick Bit:

+ high quality single origin coffee
+ japanese slow brewing methods
+ coffee roasted in house
Δ parking can be difficult

While waiting for Tsujita, we arrived a little early on a cold and overcast morning. We decide to spend some of the time by getting some coffee from the shop next door.
When I walked into Coffee Tomo, I wasn't expecting much, but I ended up getting something much more in line with Bird Rock. The coffees were roasted on the premises and of single origin. To top it off, they had a slow brew method like Bird Rock's V60, except it was a new model.
Seeing that they had the slow brew method, I new I would be ordering one of the single origin coffees. As they were lacking the Southeast Asian variety, I settled for Ethiopian.
After weighing the coffee, the water, and making sure the temperature was the desired brewing temperature, the barrista settled on making my coffee. First, the grounds are just wet slightly before the more complex brewing takes place.
After the grounds are wet, the coffee is brewed at a slightly faster pace
The coffee drips down into a waiting canister below.
Meanwhile, we ordered a more traditional vanilla latte as well.
latte (left), slow brewed ethiopian (right)
The final product was delivered surprisingly almost at the same time.
The latte was a well done latte; the flavor of the espresso was nice and strong and I preferred this one over Starbucks.
The single origin slow brewed Ethiopian was really nice. The slow brew system really allows the caramel, mocha, and floral notes of the coffee to come through. I did find that I liked the chemex better as the metal filter allowed more oils of the coffee to come through. While the head of this coffee was nice, it was lacking in finish due to the lack of oils.


Overall, I was really surprised and happy to find Coffee Tomo readily available next to Tsujita. It was a great one-two punch. The availability of slow brewed single origin coffee is always nice. On the other hand, I prefer a slow brew system that does not rely on paper filters as I enjoy the oils in the coffee.


Walmido - Fish Feast

>> Sunday, May 20, 2012

Date of Dining: 12/11/2011
Price: Medium Fish feast (4 people recommended) $120 (but we shared with 10 people)
Location: 4367 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

The Quick Bit

+ ridiculous quantity of food for low price
+ wide variety of dishes
+ live fish sashimi
Δ protein quality could be better
Δ service could be more attentive
Note: Since the restaurant prices the meal as $120 for 4 people the tone is taken as if 4 people each have to pay $30 for the food. When taken with 10 people, this might have a different tone.
One of my friends has always been talking about the fish feast at Walmido saying that it was a great deal. However, I didn't really believe him because of Walmido's relatively low rating on the 4-letter. One day in December, he finally convinced me and a group of other friends to check out the deal.
Walmido is actually a Korean restaurant that happens to serve Japanese sushi/sashimi. While that doesn't really sound like a good thing (and for the most part it is not), one key difference (and perhaps Walmido's claim to fame in San Diego) is that the fish is literally swimming in a tank and can be butchered live for your enjoyment.
The restaurant recommends that their fish feast be split among four people (for the medium size), but when we brought ten people, we weren't even able to finish all the food. What I thought was going to just be one fish cut up turned into a bunch of other side dishes that came as part of the feast.

Non-Feast Items:

The following items were ordered in addition to the fish feast:
seafood pancake
This was the standard Korean seafood pancake containing some octopus, oyster and other greens mixed into a pancake batter. The only thing remarkable about this seafood pancake was that it was a huge pancake for the price we paid.
live octopus
Walmido's other main attraction is the live octopus. While you can't see it in the photo, the tentacles of the octopus were still moving while they were on the plate. The octopus is completely raw and served with a mixture of a sesame oil with gochujang marinade. If you can accept that you are eating a live moving piece of protein, the octopus is actually full flavored and enjoyable, but also a little chewy. I did not find that the suction cups of the tentacles clung to anything as I was swallowing.

Fish Feast

Since we had 10 people and a long table, I didn't manage to take photos of every item on the fish feast. I've covered the items that I got photos of, but be assured that there were even more items that I don't have photos of.
assorted ban chan
There was a large selection of ban chan, but the prepartions were somewhat uninspired.
rice porridge
The amuse was a rice porridge that contained a hit of sesame oil. This broth of the porridge was flavored with fish stock as to prepare the appetite for the coming seafood onslaught.
mussel soup
The soup was made primarily with mussels and mung bean sprouts. There was a fair amount of mussels and the broth had a nice deep flavor from the mussels.
korean "chawanmushi"
This korean take on the chawanmushi had the egg cooked more done than the japanese part, and perhaps had more egg (or was cooked at a higher temperature) so that the egg mixture didn't really combine well. Still, the flavor of the chawanmushi was nice.
oysters on the half shell
The idea of the oysters was better than the execution as these oysters have seen better days. It's a shame that bad oysters are served in San Diego when great oysters are so accessible for a relatively cheap price.
sea snails
These were very interesting as you are given toothpicks to fish out the protein from the shells. I didn't really master this technique so I wasn't really able to get a good read on the flavor of this.
fried fish
This was one of four fried fishes we were given. There was a fish for each person and resembled the one given as ban chan at places such as BCD. The fish was well fried and full of succulent fish flavor.
fried mackerel
The next fish dish was a long mackerel. There wasn't a lot of meat on this one, but the flavors were on the stronger side.
fried sardine and garlic
Another friend dish dish was a sardine with garlic. These sardines were fried well and my favorite of the fried dish courses. I was able to completely consume these sardines even with the bones, so that made it a highly enjoyable experience for me.
live halibut sashimi
While I want to say that the halibut was great, I didn't really feel that the flavor was any better than a high quality halibut from a high quality sushi restaurant. The only benefit of the halibut was that there was a lot of it to go around. Further, I really did miss the ponzu dipping for the halibut and felt that the wasabi dipping wasn't the ideal form for consuming halibut sashimi.  Overall, having a lot of fresh halibut was still a great experience.
fish stew
If you were wondering what happens with the rest of the halibut, a large pot of fish stew is prepared using all the bones. The depth of flavor in the stew is especially deep as it is fortified with the flavors of the fish bones. The fish stew was my favorite dish of the night as it contained a variety of other ingredients as well as the bits of fish. I felt it was the most complex and well prepared dish of the entire meal.


While the fish feast isn't some super gourmet meal, it is a relatively cheap way to feed a fairly large group of people with some good food. The total bill came out to something like $20 per person after including the extras and tax and tip. While the fish feast isn't going to beat any quality sushi restaurant, it is nice for a change of pace and a wide variety of dishes. 



>> Thursday, May 17, 2012

Date of Dining: 4/7/2012
Price: 3 tacos or bowl $9, sides
Location: 1026 Wall St, La Jolla, CA 92037

The Quick Bit:

+ wide variety of toppings
+ tacos are reheated to order
+ great tasting salsas
Δ menu could be simplified to some set combos
Δ all items could be prepared fresh

Puesto is a Mexican taco restaurant in La Jolla whose concept is to offer slightly more upscale Mexican food than Chipotle. In short, it is about the Burger Lounge improvement over Red Robin except that Puesto does the improvement over Chipotle.
my taco order
The main concept of Puesto is to offer made to order tacos with certain fillings and toppings and then prepare the food fresh in front of your eyes. Puesto claims that all the ingredients are natural, made fresh, and of higher quality than other Mexican places. When you order, you are given a laminated menu and marker and there is an employee dedicated full time to explaining the ordering process; when there is an employee that has to explain the menu to every customer, that is usually the sign of an overly-complex menu.
After placing my order, I was able to watch the chef prepare the food.
chef prepares my order
Another trait that makes Puesto unique is that they use melted cheese to create a wrap for the taco filling. Inside the cheese wrap are the two main ingredients that one selects for the taco.
tacos are finished
After the tacos fillings are created, they are placed inside "freshly ground" corn tortillas and topped with various toppings and salsas of choice.

The Food:

chips and guac
Ostensibly, there were no problems with this. The chips were the standard tortilla chip and the guacamole was a nice freshly made guacamole. However, I do object to the $5 price tag for this item. While the concept is generally to be more upscale than Chipotle, this dish is no different than the same item I can get at Chipotle for $3.
3 tacos - beef & nopales, shrimp & zucchini flower, fish & huitlacoche
While I did enjoy the flavor of the tacos, I did realize that despite ordering 3 completely different tacos, the flavors were about 85% the same; I realized that the flavor I was getting was mainly from the salsa, onions, cilantro, and cheese wrap. I elected for the mango salsa, which happened to also be the spiciest, and it had both a strong spicy kick as well as a gentle sweetness that was full of flavor. Of all the proteins, the one I was able to most distinguish was the fish because it was cooked in an ancho-based sauce to give extra flavors. For the shrimp and beef, the only real difference I detected was in the texture.
Why do such different proteins produce the same flavor? I believe it has to do with my biggest concern when I saw the operation; all of the main ingredients are pre-cooked and simply reheated. By the time the items have been cooked and reheated, most of the good fresh flavors from the fresh ingredients has died in the hot table. While I enjoy the made to order concept of Puesto, I believe their food would taste much better if it was all prepared fresh.


While I did enjoy the flavor of the mango salsa at Puesto, I hesitate to recommend the restaurant to others on the fact that the proteins are not prepared fresh. When they are left sitting out, the extra premium that is supposedly going towards higher quality ingredients is lost. Additionally, it would help if they come up with 4-6 "set" 3 taco combos that people can order. This would make the ordering process much easier.


Ramen Yamadaya (Costa Mesa) - Interrupt

>> Sunday, May 13, 2012

Date of Dining: 4/14/2012
Price: $4-6 per appetizer, $8-11 per bowl of ramen
Location: 1175 Baker St., Costa Mesa, CA 92626

The Quick Bit

+ great rich tonkotsu flavor broth
+ quick friendly service
+ good selection of ramen toppings
Δ broth was a little thick when cooled
Δ noodles where a bit too thin

While it has only been a month since my last ramen post, I was again impressed enough by another ramen-ya that I felt the need to report it. Even more exciting is the great ramen can be found about half the distance to LA and it is service all day every day.
Within all the different types of ramen, I have to admit that I am partial to a really good tonkotsu ramen. I love the richness and depth of flavor in tonkotsu ramen moreso than the other types of ramen. At Yamadaya, the pork for the tonkotsu ramen is boiled for at least 20 hours prior to service. The result is an extremely thick and rich tonkotsu broth. 
Yamadaya also continues the trend I noticed at Tsujita where the noodles for the tonkotsu were of the thin variety. On the website, it is mentioned that the noodles are thinner so that they absorb more of the pork flavor. While I'm somewhat skeptical of this are still partial to thicker alkaline noodles, I can see where the thin noodles to work.


agedashi tofu
I started the meal with some agedashi tofu. While the dish is very simple, I feel that a great agedashi tofu speaks volumes about the quality of a Japanese restaurant. The dashi in the tofu was really rich and flavorful, which suggested a good thing to come. Unfortunately, the tofu was a bit firmer than I expected. Additionally, the deep fried coating of the tofu seemed a bit soggy. Overall, the dish was still above average.
The last great takoyaki I had was in Japan. While this particular takoyaki didn't compare to the ones from Japan, this was the best one I've had in the United States. These takoyaki were made fresh and the middle had that signature hot boiling temperature expected from a takoyaki. The octopus filling was both generous and cooked properly.


yamadaya ramen - tonkotsu kotteri
For the ramen, I ordered the Yamadaya ramen, which includes a mix of toppings. From there, there is the option of having the ramen as just tonkotsu, shoyu, spicy, or kotteri. I opted for the kotteri, which is an extra scoop of all the pork fat/drippings/leftover on the bottom of the pot after the tonkotsu broth is cooked. The result was an extra infusion of pork flavor in the broth.
The soup was thick, creamy, and flavorful. While the soup was not as good as Tsujita's, it is close enough to suggest the drive to Little Osaka may be unnecessary. The pork toppings and the egg were well prepared as well. Overall, the ramen was a very impressive bowl of ramen - had I not just visited Tsujita, I would be calling this the best ramen stateside. 


Although the ramen at Yamadaya isn't as good as Tsujita, it is pretty close. With a closer driver, easier schedule to work around and cheaper prices, it is an extremely attractive second option when you don't have to absolutely have the best. The takoyaki is also a reasonable substitute for what you would expect when ordering that dish.
For the great tonkotsu flavored ramen at affordable prices, Ramen Yamadaya is awarded a bit award.


Cavaillon - Farewell to Foie

>> Friday, May 11, 2012

Date of Dining: 5/5/2012
Price: $79 for 4 course foie tasting menu, $6-15 per appetizer, $22-30 per entree
Location: 14701 Via Bettona Suite 200, San Diego, CA 92127

The Quick Bit:

+ large portion sizes
+ classic french inspired cuisine
+ great bread service
Δ most dishes could have used less oil
Δ the chef could have stayed in the kitchen more instead of constantly surveying the dining room

When I last visited Cavaillon, I enjoyed a five-course black truffle tasting menu. Since that visit, the restaurant has undergone many changes. Chef Phillipe Verpiand has left the restaurant and sold his ownership to Chef Michael von Euw, the menu has been changed, and the dining room layout has also changed.
As the Chef/Owner the current Cavaillon is the vision of Chef Michael von Euw. Chef Euw received his training from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and previously worked at The Capital Restaurant in London. Chef Euw is also the Executive Chocolatier of VE Group, a post he continues while running Cavaillon. Chef Euw's culinary philosophy is the update French classic dishes with modern technique.
While I hate to say that I only visit Cavaillon for special events, it seems like that is the modus operandi; since March, Cavaillon has been running a "Farewell to Foie" tasting menu in advance of the upcoming ban on the sale of foie gras in California. While I personally discourage any force feeding and inhumane treatment of animals, foie gras has been shown to be created in very humane methods for the ducks. Provided that the foie is sourced from humane production standards, I will continue to enjoy foie when I can.
Since nobody really thought they could eat four foie courses alone, we decided to order one foie tasting menu and then some additional item a la carte and share everything.


carrot soup
Being a little too anxious, I missed getting the photo for this. The carrot soup had great flavor in that it really highlighted the sweetness and creaminess of the carrot. I believe it was created using the recipe from modernist cuisine. The texture of the soup was extremely thick and creamy and very decadent. Overall I was very happy with this dish.
bread - baguette (bottom), viennoise (top)
The amuse was followed by the bread service, which offered a choice of several breads. The breads were generally excellent and everybody enjoyed them immensely. My personal favorite was the baguette, which had a nice flavor and the perfect mix of crunchy exterior and soft fluffy interior.

First Course:

wild mushroom veloute 
The veloute was extremely thick and contained a nice concentration of mushroom flavor. The soup appeared to contain a mixture of several mushrooms including white mushrooms and shiitakes. The consistency of the soup was extremely thick and creamy. The only minor complaint about the soup was that I felt the extra oil added was unnecessary as it gave the soup somewhat of an oily consistency.
foie and winter truffle torchon - fig & honey compote, house made brioche
The torchon contained a relatively delicate approach to the foie flavor. On the other hand, the fig & honey compote had an extremely bold expression of fig and sweetness. The flavor was so bold that the flavors stuck on my palate long after swallowing the compote. Overall, the two components of the dish did not seem to be in harmony or even in syncopation, but they were enjoyable on their own.
truffled pomme frites
The fries did contain elements of truffle flavoring, but they suffered from some technical difficulties - they were a bit under-fried and soggy as a result.

Second Course

escargot - butter & garlic, ciabatta, parsley
I felt the escargot was excellent. They were cooked well with a nice texture, and the butter, garlic, and parsley sauce was a great balance of flavor. Others at the table felt that there could have been more garlic, but I was happy with the presentation as I enjoy tasting the escargot. The only real surprise to this dish was that they escargots were not still in the shells.
seared foie - du pui lentils, quail egg, bacon
I enjoyed the butter sauce that the lentils were served in. The foie was seared well and really showcased what a good piece of seared foie can taste like. Having the runny egg yolk ooze over the foie was a nice touch. The bacon was very nice and crisp, but I felt that it was out of place - the flavor of the bacon overwhelmed the flavor of the foie, and really covered up all the other elements of the dish. However, enjoyed independently as a bacon chip after the foie was consumed, the bacon was excellent.

Third Course

foie gras terrine - house made curried bread, date mousse
This was my favorite dish of the evening. The foie terrine contained a much more concentrated foie flavor than the torchon, and the silk mouth feel of the terrine made it work as well. The date mousse was much more restrained in flavor while still conveying the fruity sweetness that really enhances foie flavors. Finally, the curried bread provided an excellent contrast in flavor as the curry really accentuated the richness of the foie even more.

Fourth Course

braised lamb shank - cous cous, carrot puree, lamb au jus
The lamb shank was braised very well to the point of tenderness. However, the game-taste inherent in lamb was absent or covered by the curry in the cous cous. As I really enjoy the gamey flavor in the lamb, I felt that this dish was missing something. The carrot puree was another great presentation of carrot that really had a nice sweet contrast to offset the other parts of the dish.
cocoa coated foie - seared foie, exotic fruit compote
This seared foie was superior to the previous one. While the cocoa flavors could not be tasted individually, the cocoa gave the foie an extra exterior coating to provide textural contrast. The fruit compote was both sweet and sour, which seemed to complement the richness of the foie well. The only slight complaint about this dish was that it felt like the foie was swimming in a pool of oil.


While I enjoy foie immensely, I cannot really recommend the Farewell to Foie dinner to others. The foie dishes generally seemed to suffer from certain balance issues, and the entire four-course menu is too much for a single person to enjoy. Most of the time, the individual elements of a dish were good, but the overall composition of the dish did not see those individual elements come together well. Further, most of the food seemed as if too much oil was used during the cooking process.
Meanwhile, Chef Euw's approach at Cavaillon seems to be offering larger sized portions at low prices. While this seems like a great value, this generally signals larger problems for the restaurant in general, so it is ultimately not a good indication of what is to come. 


Kyo Bahn - Interrupt

>> Sunday, May 6, 2012

Date of Dining: 4/29/2012 
Price: $10 for gam ja tang, $12-18 for entrees
Location: 13925 Yale Ave, Ste 140, Irvine, CA 92620

The Quick Bit

+ authentic homestyle korean food
+ great flavor on kalbi
+ gam ja tang is a great deal
Δ limited ban chan selection
Δ spice level highly varied

With the popularization of Internet reviews, it seems hard to find that neighborhood hole in the wall restaurant that only the locals know about. Luckily, I found that restaurant in Kyo Bahn.
Nestled in a small quiet strip mall containing a church, convenience store, and veterinarian, one would not expect to find some korean gam ja tang that really satisfies the soul in comfort and taste. One would also next expect to find what seems to be the best kalbi in Irvine.
ban chan selection
As with any Korean meal, one starts with the ban chan; while the selection here was extremely limited, the dishes were still satisfying. However, with restaurants like BCD including a complimentary fried fish with the banchan, it is hard for other smaller restaurants to compete.
brown rice and  ssam dipping sauce
Another interesting aspect of Kyo Bahn is that upon ordering, you are given the choice of white or brown rice. It turns out that the brown rice was really more "purple" in color. I'm not exactly sure what was different about the rice, but I was a big fan of the preparation.
gam ja tang
When the gam ja tang arrived, I was worried it would not live up to my expectations. Luckily the flavors were very nice. While the pork bones could have been cooked a little longer to have more of the braised flavor, the goodness of the bones had cooked in and integrated with the soup. The soup was a little spicy and contained all the braised flavor of the pork bones. My only complaint was that there wasn't really that much soup.
kalbi ssam combination
For the entree, we shared the kabli ssam combination. The soup came out boiling hot and had a nice soy flavor to it, but I felt it was a bit salty. Luckily the kalbi quickly made me forget the soup. The marinade on the kalbi was just perfectly sweet and maintained a large amount of savory flavor. They were also cooked perfectly so that they were not overcooked, yet retained a nice charred crust to really have a nice flavor.


Kyo Bahn is a great neighborhood Korean restaurant for those looking for authentic Korean food. The gam ja tang is a really home cooked korean dish, and the kalbi was marinated and cooked to be very enjoyable. While I do recommend visiting this restaurant, a warning to those going that this really is home style food and that the food should not expected to be restaurant quality. If you can get past the meager ban chan and the home cooked quality of the meal, your experience at Kyo Bahn is sure to be enjoyable.


About This Blog

gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
If any special treatment is provided to the blogger, full disclosure is presented at the beginning of the post.

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