Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lunasia (Alhambra, CA)

Lunasia Chinese Cuisine
500 W Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801
Sat 08/31/2014, 01:10p-03:00p

I don't get out to dim sum all that often, so it was nice to finally make it to Lunasia, which I'd been curious about for some time now. The restaurant is housed at the Alhambra Regency Plaza space that was once home to Triumphal Palace, one of the earlier second wave dim sum joints that eschewed traditional carts in favor of menu-based ordering. Triumphal debuted in June 2005 with considerable fanfare, and even secured a glowing three-star review in the LA Times from Irene Virbila.

However, the opening chef left not too long after, and the place entered into a steady decline, finally closing at the end of 2008. One of Triumphal's original co-owners, Betty Lau, bought out her partners and reintroduced the restaurant as Lunasia with the same kitchen, same FOH, and pretty much the same menu. However, she wound up selling the place in March 2009 to Shyi Kai Chang, whom I believe to be the current owner.

Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Steamed Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Steamed, Baked & Deepfried Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Baked & Deepfried, Rice Noodles Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Chef Specialty Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Chef Specialty, Noodle & Rice Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Noodle & Rice
As far as Lunasia's menu goes, expect the usual suspects, joined by a variety of non-dim sum items as well. Note that there are no carts here (à la Triumphal), and that dim sum is served all day, a rarity (I wish more restaurants would do the same). There are also banquet options if you're hosting a special event. Click for larger versions.

Victory Brewing Company Golden Monkey
The boozing situation at Chinese restaurants tends to suck of course, so I brought along my own to enjoy. We began with the Victory Brewing Golden Monkey, a tripel-style ale that worked pretty well with the food thanks to its subtly spicy, herby flavors over a backbone of malty, Belgian-y ester character.

B.B.Q Pork Buns (#21)
B.B.Q Pork Buns (#21)
B.B.Q Pork Buns (#21) [$2.88]
Kicking things off were baked cha siu bao, workable renditions of the dim sum staple, with tender, sweet 'n' savory shards of pork working nicely with the light, yet substantial buns.

Spareribs/Black Bean Sauce (#4)
Spareribs/Black Bean Sauce (#4) [$3.88]
Paigu were serviceable, tender and porky, though I would've liked a stronger black bean presence here.

Steamed Chicken Feet (#3)
Steamed Chicken Feet (#3) [$3.88]
I've never been a huge fan of feng zhua, and thus abstained from our single order here and let some of my dining companions have their fill on this one. They seemed to enjoy it.

Steamed Turnip Cake (#18)
Steamed Turnip Cake (#18) [$3.88]
The steamed variant of luobo gao was gelatinous in consistency, with a mild relish to it that was amped up by the various sprinklings up top. Pretty good, though I'd still go for the pan-fried version.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Far West Vlaming
Next up was a sour, the oak-aged Logsdon Far West Vlaming. Done up in the Flanders Red style, this one was quite to my liking, tart of course, but with a tasty woody, malty, cherried quality intermingled with a distinct vinous slant.

Sticky Rice Wrap (#13)
Sticky Rice Wrap (#13)
Sticky Rice Wrap (#13) [$4.88]
Lo mai gai was one of the surprise standouts for me, with the glutinous rice here really working well alongside the wrap's savory stuffings.

Egg Yolk Buns (#11)
Egg Yolk Buns (#11) [$3.88]
Egg yolk buns looked innocuous from the outside, but held a lush, runny, slightly gritty filling of sweet, runny yolk. I wasn't a huge fan of these, as they veered overly sugary.

Pan Fried String Beans (#49)
Pan Fried String Beans (#49) [$5.98]
Can't go wrong with green beans, crisp, crunchy, waxy pods that paired swimmingly with the deep, umami-rich flavors in the dish.

Jumbo Shrimp Har Gow (#1)
Jumbo Shrimp Har Gow (#1) [$4.88]
Xia jiao were indeed a bit larger than usual, with well-cooked, still briny shrimp that I quite enjoyed. In terms of the wrapper, it could've been sturdier, as I experienced some breakage.

2013 Southern Tier Brewing Company Grand Arbor
The 2013 Southern Tier Grand Arbor is a saison brewed with maple syrup. You got that typical farmhouse character here--citrusy, spicy, earthy, dry, light hops--but with a delightful undercurrent of sugariness from the incorporation of that maple.

B.B.Q Pork (#60)
B.B.Q Pork (#60) [$5.98]
Char siu pork showed off the classically sweet-savory flavors that you'd expect, making for a satisfying sort of eating experience, though I really wanted the meat more tender, juicier.

Shang Hai Pork Dumplings (#7)
Shang Hai Pork Dumplings (#7) [$4.88]
Xiaolongbao were passable, though not noteworthy. They were pretty good taste wise, though the wrappers needed to be more delicate, and the fillings soupier. I'm probably pickier now with my XLB given my recent experience at the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei.

Rice Noodle w/Spare Rib (#17)
Rice Noodle w/Spare Rib (#17) [$4.88]
This was nearly identical flavor-wise to the spare ribs above, but with the addition of rice noodles as a base to the dish.

Jumbo Pork Siu Mai (#2)
Jumbo Pork Siu Mai (#2) [$4.88]
We had to try the shaomai, natch, and the ones here were quite tasty, with the pork-shrimp combo really delivering. Their larger size did make eating slightly more awkward, however.

2013 The Bruery Preservation Series: Shegöat
Our last beer was the 2013 The Bruery Preservation Series: Shegöat, a German-style weizenbock. I wasn't a huge fan of the aroma on this one (it was somehow offputting), but taste-wise, it hit the mark, an expectedly hefty, malty brew displaying notes of banana, spice, and brown sugar.

Egg Roll Rice Noodle (#39)
Egg Roll Rice Noodle (#39) [$4.88]
Our first of three rice noodle rolls was the zhaliang version, filled with what amounted to youtiao. It was pretty interesting texturally, with the gummy, slippery wrapper working well with its crisp, slightly sweet stuffing.

Shrimp Rice Noodle (#37)
Shrimp Rice Noodle (#37) [$4.88]
The har cheong variant was your classic preparation, with the snappy shrimp eating well alongside the savoriness of the soy sauce.

B.B.Q Pork Rice Noodle (#40)
B.B.Q Pork Rice Noodle (#40) [$3.88]
Last up was the char siu cheong, stuffed with sweet slices of BBQ pork. I was sort of on the fence with this one, as I thought the actual barbeque character of the meat could've been more apparent.

Spinach Shrimp Dumplings (#19)
Spinach Shrimp Dumplings (#19) [$4.88]
Our last course before "dessert" managed to be one of my favorites, with the shrimp and scallop stuffing here doing a commendable job in conveying the ocean-y essence of the ingredients, all while spinach offered up a bit of a counterpoint.

Twin Sesame Balls (#27)
Twin Sesame Balls (#27) [$2.88]
Time for some sweet stuff. The jian dui were delish: crispy and chewy, nutty and sweet all at the same time.

Macao Egg Custard (#31)
Macao Egg Custard (#31) [$3.88]
Of course, we had to close with daan taat, and Lunasia's were a strong example of the staple, with flaky crusts and smooth, creamy custard fillings imbued with just the right amount of sweetness. Easily some of the strongest I've had.

Overall, Lunasia was a solid dim sum experience for us, above average, though not at the level of the top places (my personal best: Koi Palace). A lot of people appreciate the value proposition here, and indeed, it was a pretty damn good value, coming in at $16.04 a head pre-tip. Next up on the list: seeing what all the fuss is about with Shi Hai...

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ladies' Gunboat Society (Los Angeles, CA)

Flores & the Ladies' Gunboat Society
2024 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Fri 08/29/2014, 08:15p-11:45p

Ladies' Gunboat Society Exterior

The most curiously-monikered debut of recent times is probably Ladies' Gunboat Society, ostensibly a reference to Civil War-era women's clubs dedicated to raising funds for warship construction. Yes, LGS has taken over the old Flores space on Sawtelle, with Brian Dunsmoor replacing opening chefs Rob Lawson and Angela Hernandez, who left at the end of March. Dunsmoor, of course, was one half of the duo at The Hart and The Hunter, and although compatriot Kris Tominaga is unattached to this project, H&H GM Jonathon Strader is heading up front-of-the-house duties here. Sarah "Bearclaw" Lang is serving as Pastry Chef, and the kitchen is rounded out by CdC Dave McMillen and Sous Jeff "Poose" Figueroa. Given the Chef's Georgia roots, it's not too surprising that the menu at LGS tends Southern, though it is important to note that the food here's quite distinct from the offerings at the other restaurant.

Ladies' Gunboat Society Menu Ladies' Gunboat Wine List
The menu at Ladies' Gunboat Society is described as "Southern farm-to-table," and that's probably not too far off the mark, with smallish plates that, natch, are good for sharing; they also do a full brunch on the weekends. To imbibe, Strader has put together a small California-centric list of wines joined by a handful of sakes and the requisite craft beer (via nine taps). Click for larger versions.

The Commons Brewery Fleur De Ferme
We weren't charged a corkage fee, and so we were able to enjoy some beers from home, the first of which was The Commons Brewery Fleur De Ferme, which I'd picked up during my recent trip to Portland. It was a dark saison brewed with hibiscus, chamomile, and lavender, and conveyed wispy floral nuances over an herbal, slightly astringent base. I would've liked more of a farmhouse funk in the beer though.

potato yeast roll, maple butter, sea salt
potato yeast roll, maple butter, sea salt [$5.00]
One of The Hart and The Hunter's claims to fame was their butter biscuits, which were undoubtedly some of the best I've had. The rolls here, though, might just be better, coming out airy, light, yet substantial, with a perfect blend of salty and sweet flavors that kept me coming back for more.

bodkin sparkling sauvignon blanc
In addition to the beer, we were also in the mood for some bubbles, and ordered up a bottle of the bodkin sparkling sauvignon blanc [$48]. It was a dry, bracing sort of sparkler, very lively and effervescent on the palate, with a backbone of crisp lemon.

field pea salad, stonefruit, farmers cheese, summer herbs, jalapeno vinaigrette
field pea salad, stonefruit, farmers cheese, summer herbs, jalapeno vinaigrette [$13.00]
The pea salad, meanwhile, was the surprise standout of the night. I found it a gorgeous mélange of disparate elements that just came together flawlessly, with delectably sweet, savory, and herby nuances underscored and integrated by the creamy lushness of that cheese.

anson mills rosebank grits, cherry tomato, king trumpet mushroom, corn, basil
anson mills rosebank grits, cherry tomato, king trumpet mushroom, corn, basil [$13.00]
The grits were a must try of course, a hearty, homey presentation that superbly tied together its various ingredients, the classic combination of tomato and basil forming a great counter to the sweetness of the corn, all while mushrooms added further texture and heft to the dish.

Brasserie de Blaugies Bière Darbyste
Our next drink was the Brasserie de Blaugies Bière Darbyste, an ale made with fig juice (and named after botanist John Darby). Here you had a backdrop of light funk and tartness, with a Belgian-y character and just a hint of figgy goodness toward the back end. I actually expected the fruit to figure much more prominently here.

hoppin' john, braised collards, sea island red peas, carolina gold rice, ham hock, pepper vinegar, corn bread
hoppin' john, braised collards, sea island red peas, carolina gold rice, ham hock, pepper vinegar, corn bread [$14.00]
Naturally, we had to give the restaurant's unofficial signature dish a go, and it didn't let us down. The Low Country staple Hoppin' John brings together Sea Island Red Peas and Carolina Gold rice, both sourced from Anson Mills I'm guessing. It's a classic combo that definitely satisfied on its own. However, the dish was taken up a level by the inclusion of ham hock, which added blasts of salt and smoke to the fray, as well as the collards, which had an earthy bitterness that really underpinned the dish. You should probably order this; just make sure to add a dash of the included pepper vinegar to some of your bites as well (it's damn good).

shrimp & watermelon salad, chili vinaigrette, peanuts, summer herbs
shrimp & watermelon salad, chili vinaigrette, peanuts, summer herbs [$15.00]
Perfect for the summer was the Chef's shrimp and watermelon salad, a bright, refreshing plate that really highlighted the crustacean. Great mix of sweet, spicy, and herbaceous notes here, and I appreciated the Asian-y tinge to the dish imparted by the inclusion of fish sauce.

Russian River Sanctification
I hadn't had Russian River Sanctification in a long time, so I was really surprised at how good it was. A 100% Brett beer, this one was gloriously tart, with a delicious, distinct vinous quality to it intermingled with notes of citrus and oak. Yum.

grilled swordfish, red pepper, clams, olive, caper, basil, spicy sausage
grilled swordfish, red pepper, clams, olive, caper, basil, spicy sausage [$29.00]
I'm generally not a huge fan of swordfish, but quite liked the preparation tonight, one of the strongest I've had no doubt. The fish itself arrived firm, briny, and really juicy, a pleasant surprise given that it's often served on the drier side. Its inherent salinity was taken up a notch by the inclusion of clams, and I appreciated the counterbalancing zing of the olives and capers here as well. My favorite thing just might've been that sausage though, which gave up a great bit of savory, spicy heft to the dish.

2014 Beachwood Pride of cHops
Our requisite IPA was the 2014 Beachwood Pride of cHops, a one-time bottling (brewed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of O'Brien’s Pub in San Diego) that was released just earlier in the week. The nose was fantastic on this one, wonderfully aromatic, fruity, pine-y, and just beckoning you for a sip. Its taste was just as fresh, with more tropical fruit, spice, and a great bit of countering maltiness to even out the hops. Another fine effort from the folks over at Beachwood.

nashville hot chicken livers, pickles, white bread
nashville hot chicken livers, pickles, white bread [$12.00]
Chicken livers were playfully presented here, their deep, earthy, offal-y flavors effectively evened out by the sharp, sweet, heat present while the Vlasic pickles provided just the right amount of crunch and tartness to things.

grilled peads and barnetts pork chop, grits, sauteed mustards, grilled bacon
grilled peads and barnetts pork chop, grits, sauteed mustards, grilled bacon [$33.00]
Pork from San Diego area producer Peads & Barnetts managed to be one of the tastiest chops I'd had in a while, a tender, succulent, immensely flavorful preparation further enhanced by the intensity of the paired bacon. Great bitterness here from the mustard greens as well, and you can't go wrong with more grits either.

2013 The Bruery Bois
Last up was the 2013 The Bruery Bois, the brewery's fifth anniversary beer made in the English old ale style, blended using the solera method, and aged in bourbon barrels. It was a robust, heady beer to be sure, with an aroma redolent of alcohol-soaked raisins. That "port-y" quality continued to the palate, where you had more dark fruit, caramel, brown sugar, bourbon, and vanilla, all underscored by a not unpleasant boozy backbone. A doozy for sure.

chicken fried rabbit, spiced local honey, cilantro, benne seed
chicken fried rabbit, spiced local honey, cilantro, benne seed [$29.00]
Our last savory was rabbit done in the style of fried chicken, one of LGS' early hits. They were tasty morsels, quite flavorful and with a delightfully crisp crust. A brush of honey imparted intriguing spicy-sweet notes to the rabbit, though I'd prefer the sugariness turned down a notch.

Brian Dunsmoor
Dunsmoor made quick work of the remaining Bois.

chocolate mousse pie, caramel, sea salt
chocolate mousse pie, caramel, sea salt [$8.00]
Time for some desserts from "Bearclaw." The chocolate mousse pie was a spot on rendition of the dish, with the chocolate pairing swimmingly with pricks of sea salt while the topping of whipped cream imparted a touch of levity. Excellent crust here, too.

carolina gold rice pudding, stone fruit, pecan sandies
carolina gold rice pudding, stone fruit, pecan sandies [$8.00]
The rice pudding was on point as well, really showing off the sweet, satisfying nature of the rice while stonefruit added a juicy, summer-y note to the dessert.

cheerwine float, chocolate chip I.C., bourbon cherries
cheerwine float, chocolate chip I.C., bourbon cherries
cheerwine float, chocolate chip I.C., bourbon cherries [$8.00]
I was pretty enamored with the Cheerwine float, that combination of cherry and chocolate flavors really speaking to me, especially when enhanced by the boozy tint of bourbon.

old fashioned buttermilk pie, strawberry ice cream
old fashioned buttermilk pie, strawberry ice cream [$8.00]
We closed with the buttermilk pie, a lovely interpretation of the dessert that I was rather fond of. It was great texturally, and had a restrained sort of sweetness that worked well with the two forms of strawberry present.

I was very satisfied with my meal here, and was impressed by the direction that Dunsmoor's cooking is taking. Perhaps it's the singular focus he has now with Tominaga out of the picture, or maybe the nicer kitchen setup, but I think he's improved on what he was putting out at H&H (or its progenitor, Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, for that matter). The food's got a great base of Southern tradition to it, but the chef's twists and Cali-ish improvisations really worked for me. As for what's next, Dunsmoor and Strader are partnering up again for another restaurant concept, and let's not forget that Kris Tominaga's teaming with Freddy Smalls' Jeff Weinstein for a new place in Santa Monica called Cadet.