Restaurant Reviews

Restaurants that have made a good impression on me.

Sushi Nozomi: An unexpected surprise

As my regular readers are aware, I eat a lot of sushi; I am pretty picky about the sushi I eat and there are only two people (Song and Alex) that I go to when I want it. Unfortunately, neither of my friends is currently available so I was prepared to abstain for a while. Tanya, on the other hand was not. Tanya is an interesting case because she only recently started eating sushi and she was only familiar with Song\’s fusion style of preparation. Since we knew Song was selling his business, Tanya had been talking about visiting a new sushi bar and has been looking around and asking friends for recommendations. A couple of weeks ago she picked up a Los Angeles magazine that had an article that discussed the top 15 locations for sushi in Los Angeles; one of them was Sushi Nozomi in Torrance. I took a look around their website and was slightly uncomfortable; it was apparent they are more traditional sushi than the fusion style I had introduced Tanya to so I really was not sure she was going to like it. In fact, I had so little confidence on this being a positive experience that I did not bother bringing my camera. Tanya mentioned that if nothing else we can have some sake and beer, so the worst case scenario was not all that bad.

I have frequently said that the best restaurants are in strip malls, so I wasn\’t taken aback by its location. It you want a seat with a view, sit at the bar and you can see how fresh the fish is. Their hours were the typical lunch (11:30-2:00PM) then closed until dinner (5:30-10:00PM). We got there shortly after they opened for dinner and there were already people seated. They have a very long sushi bar with three chefs at the ready; they all welcomed us with \”Irasshaimase\” as we entered. It was our first time there so I was prepared to sit at the first seats but there was a \”Reserved\” sign for the first 10 spots so we just walked down to the end where we met Toshi, our chef for the evening. Continue reading

Some of our favorite places to eat

I was going through some photos I have taken over the last nine days and decided that since I had not put them online yet, I would take the opportunity to talk about three locations Tanya and I visit on a pretty regular basis; and always have a good time. These locations are Beachwood BBQ & Brewing in Long Beach; Abigaile Restaurant in Hermosa Beach and Benihana Restaurant in Torrance.

The first batch of photos are from Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, a brewpub in Long Beach that specializes in barbecue style foods. As you might imagine, because it is the furthest away, I don\’t go there as frequently as I would like. Every time I go in there and read the boards listing the beers brewed on location and the boards listing the numerous high quality guest beers, I wish I could just go spend the day and not have to worry about getting home. They have an amazing tap list. Last week they were having a bottle release party for their Thrillseeker IPA Bottle Release & Spontaneous Hop Frolic and since I am a definite hop head, we decided to head down there for some lunch and lots of hops. I like their fried pickles a lot; if you go there, give them a try.

The next set of photos are from one of our favorite locations in the South Bay, Abigaile Restaurant and The Brewery at Abigaile. You have probably seen many of my posts that mention The Brewery at Abigaile because I am such a fan of the beers they brew; but the restaurant deserves similar accolades as there are always tasty and interesting items on their menu. They have an R&D Hour, which is their happy hour, which starts at 5:00 PM. They have a \”Testing Area\” menu that is made up of items the chefs came up with \”on a whim.\” The Gogi Chicken Tacos were great. Continue reading

Schooner at Sunset, Sunset Beach

These photos were taken Saturday at a new gastropub, Schooner at Sunset, which is located at 16821 Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Beach, CA. For those not sure where Sunset Beach is, it is the very north end of Huntington Beach, just south of Seal Beach. Your car\’s GPS is most likely going to call it Huntington Beach, so don\’t worry, it is all the same place.

To be honest, I am not really in the habit of going down there unless I am taking a weekend motorcycle ride down the coast. The fact of the matter is, when I initially left the house this afternoon I was headed north; but since the destination I had in mind was not to be found on the Charger\’s GPS, I remembered hearing that Schooner at Sunset had opened, and put their address in the GPS instead. The only reason I knew of Schooner at Sunset was that a friend of mine, Daniel Drennon, told me he was involved as their Director of Craft Beer. Having met Daniel during the last American Craft Beer Week when he was the \”beer guy\” at LA Weekly, I knew that the craft beer menu would be something I could get into. When I saw his list of available craft beers on tap for their grand opening I was very disappointed that I was going to have to miss it due to a schedule conflict with a couple event photography gigs I had. Continue reading

The Rockefeller Gastropub, Hermosa Beach

Last month, during American Craft Beer Week (ACBW), I accidentally discovered The Rockefeller Gastropub on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach. I will never forget our first visit there. It was day six of ACBW and it was my goal to find as many American craft beers that I had never tried before as possible. The fact that I was able to come up with 12 new brews at that point of our adventure truly said something about the quality of the brews they pour. As Colleen, the manager, said, \”We try to keep a good turnaround of quality brews.\” They are doing a great job. I think it was at The Rockefeller that I first heard the term \”gastropub.\” For those wondering, a gastropub is a restaurant that specializes in good food with upscale beers brewed by others. A brewpub serves food and their own beer.

I let Tanya chose our meal since we were splitting it, and she opted for the Arugula Parmesan Salad with a Royale Burger. Both were pretty tasty, with my leaning towards the salad. As it turns out, Hangar 24 was doing a beer tasting, so Daren, another manger asked me if we wanted to join in. You can probably guess our response. Since we were staying a little longer we decided to try the Cinnamon Apple Bread Pudding for dessert. I know if we have dessert again, I will be urging a repeat try. Continue reading

Matsuyama Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar Grand Opening!

The residents of Orange County, Westminster to be specific, have a new sushi restaurant in town, Matsuyama Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar. I am here to tell you that if you are a fan of great sushi, you do not want to hesitate checking it out. I promise you, you have never had a sushi experience like this. In my youth I looked forward to things like Christmas and getting my driver\’s license. As I got older, things like tax refunds and stock dividend checks were anticipated anxiously; they all pale in comparison to how much I was looking forward to last Saturday and the Grand Opening of Matsuyama Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar.

Friends and followers at Facebook thought that I turned vegetarian because most of my food photos lately have been of fruits and vegetables that we either juice or barbecue. For the previous three years, those photos were all of the various sushi rolls that my friend, Song Kim, invented; each a true work of art. In October, the sushi photos stopped. Many put one and one together and came up with vegetarian. The fact of the matter is that Song decided he wanted to open his own place. I tried going back to the establishment I met him at and enjoyed for more than three years, but it was not the same. It is one thing to know the ingredients, but if you do not know how to put them together, it is not going to be the same. I decided I was going to have to wait for Song to open his new place. Continue reading

Rock and Brews, El Segundo

A couple of weeks ago, my buddy Phil told me about a new restaurant in El Segundo that had 50 beers on tap, so it did not take much convincing to get me to head over to Rock & Brews last Saturday to check it out. Rock & Brews is partially owned by Gene Simmons, so it was a safe bet that with the combination of rock and roll and 50 beers on tap this was going to be a pleasurable experience.

The weather was so-so, but we wanted to go for a bike ride and I figured it would be easier to find parking with motorcycles than with a full-sized car. As it turns out, Rock & Brews has plenty of off-street parking, which was a pleasant surprise. The building of the restaurant itself reminds me of an auto repair garage. I was told it was supposed to resemble being backstage at a concert venue. All I can say is that I must be getting asked backstage at the wrong places. Rock & Brews was bigger than some venues I have attended. That being said, when it is open it only has three walls as the north side opens into a large patio. While this is not a problem when the weather is nice, it will be interesting to see what it is like when the weather is foul. Continue reading

China Tea House Torrance

I enjoy being introduced to restaurants I have never tried and I really like Chinese food, so when we were invited to join some friends at the China Tea House in Torrance I was quite eager to try it out. Besides, free dinner is always good. I was told that the place always had Chinese people dining there, so it had to be authentic.

When we arrived there were not many people there and the only Asian that was not an employee or in our group was getting something to go. It was early, so I was not going to let the lack of customers influence me. We let our host order since he was familiar with the menu. We started off with some egg rolls and hot sake. The egg rolls were okay, nothing special, but there is only so much you can do with an egg roll. The hot sake was not hot. It was barely warm. They put the sake bottle in a teapot of hot water which warmed it up a little, but lukewarm sake is not very tasty. Continue reading

Thirsty Bear: Tapas and craft beer

A couple weeks ago I went up to San Francisco to attend Ad Tech and the Marketers Ball. As I only went up for the day, I did not have a room to go to while killing time between the two events; I had a parking spot and there was no sense moving, so I called Tanya and had her do a search for a micro brewery that might be within walking distance. After a few minutes she came up with the Thirsty Bear, which happened to be just a couple of blocks away from where I was at the Moscone Center. A micro brewery that serves tapas and Spanish food, how can I beat that?

As I approached the establishment I realized I had been here before, but it must have been for a private party that was upstairs or in the back somewhere because I had never noticed that they had a wide selection of craft beers on tap. Come to think of it, I never realized they sold food. It was around 6:00 PM, so the place was pretty packed. The bartender, Noe, assured me I could order dinner at the bar so I grabbed a stool and ordered a beer sampler. They had everything from pilsner to stout; however, they were out of the Howard Street IPA. Judging by all the frowns I noticed in my time there, it must be pretty good. I will be back; hopefully they will have some in stock. Continue reading

A touch of Germany at the Alpine Inn in Torrance

This review is of the Alpine Inn at Alpine Village in Torrance, CA. A couple of weeks ago, Tanya and I had lunch at the Alpine Inn during a networking event with the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce. We were impressed enough with the lunch that we figured we would have to make a return visit. As we were exiting I noticed a large chalkboard with numerous micro-brewery beers on tap listed. An Oatmeal Stout caught my eye, and I knew we would return. As it turns out, it was sooner than expected as we returned this past Sunday. I think the fact that it was a Sunday meant that there was a large dance floor and music was provided for dancing. It may have been a special event, I do not know. I tried to find some information on their website, but was unsuccessful. If dancing is your thing, you might try calling for information. If you like German food, then I would recommend the Alpine Inn with no qualms.

When we came for lunch, there was a special menu for our group. We got salads but had no choice on dressing, so got the vinaigrette. I had ranch on my subsequent visit. I should have stuck with the house suggestion of vinaigrette as it was much better. Tanya got the Whiskey BBQ Sausage Sandwich which she thought was great. I ordered the Pork Milanese, mainly for the sauteed spinach. The spinach was great and the pork was good. I am not really a pork guy, but wanted to order something different than Tanya for the comparisons. The strudel was delicious. Continue reading

Big Itzik Grill, Encino

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I were invited to experience an authentic Israeli meal. Since our host is Israeli, when he told me it was the real deal, I really had no reason to doubt him. After all, he wanted us to experience what a true Israeli meal was like, and if this was the best example he knew of in the Los Angeles area, I was game. We were not disappointed.

We met him at Big Itzik Grill, which is located in a strip mall on Ventura Blvd, in Encino. I have to say, I am beginning to think some of the best kept secrets in the culinary world seem to be located in strip malls. I used to shy away from even considering a strip mall for a location, preferring a restaurant with a view, but it seems that every time I eat at a restaurant in a strip mall I walk away extremely satisfied. Big Itzik Grill was no exception.

To be honest, I was not sure what to expect. Since I needed an address for the place, I headed over to Google and read some reviews. Naturally, the [presumably] college age kids that frequent Yelp were complaining about the price. Since I have yet to see a review there that did not have someone complain about cost, I took it with a grain of salt. I read what the menu consisted of to be sure there would be something Tanya would eat and decided that as long as they had lamb we would be fine.

Once seated, our host ordered what I thought was a salad for us to share. Well, if you saw the pictures I linked to above you will see that the \”salad\” was about 20 different salads. The waitress just kept coming out with more and more food. There was eggplant, cucumber, carrots, potatoes, eggs, hummus, falafel, and a couple different kinds of bread. Each of the salad dips came in small bowls that were immediately refilled upon request. The amount of food was almost overwhelming.

Since we were told we had to try some kabobs and skewered meats (not exactly the same thing), we dove in. Delicious! I know we had lamb and I am pretty sure there was some chicken and beef involved along the way, but the food just kept on coming, so it would have required that I take notes to be able to list everything we had.

As we were guests I did not see the check, however, I read that a meal like that runs between $20 and $25 per person. For the amount of food and the quality, I do not know how anyone could complain. The hot tip seems to be to eat up, let them refill your order, and then pack that to go. They do not have a problem with that and will pack it nicely for you. In fact, there were so many leftovers that the next day we headed to the Arabic market down the street to pick up some pita bread and we enjoyed it for lunch the next day. It was just as good then as the night before.

Will I go again? You can bank on it. One nice thing about this restaurant is that if you have a group of people and some of them are vegetarian, you are not going to have a problem since all of the salads are all vegetables, even if they do taste like they could have meats involved. One was an eggplant dish that was a faux chicken liver (or that is what I gathered). All I can say is that chicken livers never tasted that good when I was a kid.

If you are in the Encino area and want to try some great mid-Eastern food, Big Itzik Grill gets two thumbs up from me.