Restaurant Review #171: Boule - CLOSED

Fromage blanc cheesecake

Boule is an upscale bakery, chocolatier, and gelateria with an unassuming, even drab brown exterior that gives way to an incredibly sunny, high-ceilinged light blue paradise. It's the perfect place for some pampering: after your car dies in the middle of a major intersection during rush hour and you have to spend $360 to get it fixed, on top of the $650 you've already spent fixing other stuff, what do you do? Spend more money to make yourself feel better, of course.
I don't normally like cheesecake, but I couldn't pass up a cheesecake this attractive and made with Cowgirl Creamery's fromage blanc. The texture was nearly fluffy and the fromage blanc added a unique flavor. The cheesecake was packaged so well that it made it home in my car still looking perfect. At $5.50, this was one of the most reasonably priced items in the store.

Pate des fruits

Pates des fruits, if you've never had them, are sort of like all-natural, homemade, oversized gumdrops. Fruit is cooked down to its essence, combined with lots of sugar, then cooled, shaped, and coated in more sugar. The meyer lemon saffron was incredibly sour--it must have taken me four tries to finish it. The Indonesian cherry pepper was very interesting. It didn't taste spicy or peppery, but it was much more interesting than plain old cherry. These cost a little over $1 each.

Clockwise from left: Grace, Isis, Baumaniere, Venus

Boule's chocolates are best reserved for special occasions (unless you're wealthy, in which case you should consume them daily). They're sold in sets: four for $10, 12 for $28, or 25 for $55. Stunned by the prices, I went with the four for $10 option--that's $2.50 for less than one square inch of chocolate! Could these chocolates possibly be worth that much to someone as frugal as I am?

Yes, they could.

Once you get home, you'll probably have forgotten what you picked out. Therein lies the genius of the little card you'll find tucked into the top of your chocolate box, which marks which chocolates your purchased and describes their flavors:

Grace - thyme honey
Isis - rosewater caramel
Baumaniere - cardamom coffee
Venus - lavender

I could really taste the flavors of each chocolate and savored each bite for as long as possible. Good luck choosing among the endless options!

My $10 box of chocolates

Though I don't usually spend the kind of money that Boule requires, I felt that I very much got my money's worth. At Boule, no detail goes unnoticed, from the friendly, skilled staff to the attractive boxes and bags to the gorgeous presentation of their desserts and chocolates. This is a great place to pick up a gift (you won't even have to wrap it!) or take yourself for a special treat. And if you're feeling really extravagant, get this--they deliver!

420 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Hours: Mon-Sat 10am-7pm
Sun 10am-5pm
Boule Website
Boule on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #170: Fina Estampa Authentic Restaurant, Chatsworth

Seco de Res

I'd never had Peruvian food before, though I think that eating all of the cuisines of Latin and South America really should have been a prerequisite for my degree in Spanish. Prior to writing this review, the extent of my knowledge of Peruvian food was that some of Nobu's dishes have Peruvian influences (specifically, the ceviche and tiradito, as I have learned). And that was it.

Little did I know that Peruvian cuisine is considered one of the world's greatest cuisines, owing to its incredible diversity. Peruvian food has been influenced by both the variety of its people (most noticeably Spanish, Japanese, Italian, African, and Chinese) and its incredibly varied climate, meaning that a cuisine that has a lot to do with meat, potatoes, and rice also has a lot to do with fresh seafood and. . . Chinese food. What?

From 1849 to 1874, the Chinese population in Peru grew rapidly when they were brought in to the then-European colony to replace recently banned slave labor (though they were not treated much better than the workers they replaced). As a result of this and several subsequent immigrations, today there are thousands of Chinese restaurants in Peru (locally referred to as "chifas"). Lima, like so many big cities, has its own Chinatown. How is it possible that I majored in Spanish and no one ever told me this?

Well, they didn't, so naturally I was a little freaked out by all the Chinese dishes on the menu and didn't order them. I wanted "real" Peruvian food. But now that I know. . . next time.

Instead of Peruvian Chinese dishes, I opted for the plate that most closely fit my preconceived notion of what Peruvian food was. I wanted to try to complete the old SAT analogy:
American: hamburger as Peruvian: _________. I stuck with the specials section of the menu, which lead me to the seco de res, a beef stew in a cilantro based sauce that came with my choice of potatoes or rice. The meat was very tender, though a little fatty, and the brothy sauce tasted so homemade that I was sure I was sitting in a Peruvian woman's kitchen, about to embark on yet another study abroad adventure. According to the menu, the food is indeed homemade and made to order (and you'll wait accordingly). Our waitress was so friendly that I wanted her to be my mom.

Aji de Gallina
Shredded chicken breast cooked in a tasty cream made of walnuts and parmesan cheese

According to my research, aji de gallina is normally a spicy dish, but this version was totally spice-free. The Italian influence is readily apparent in the creamy sauce, but the addition of walnuts, which you'd never recognize if you didn't know they were there, give it a flavor unlike anything you've ever tasted (unless, of course, you've eaten this dish before). As far as I was concerned, the chicken and rice were just vehicles for sopping up every last morsel of the sauce.

Chicha morada
Traditional homemade punch made of sweet purple corn and cinnamon

From the description, I was expecting a creamy drink, a Peruvian version of horchata, if you will, in the milky purple color of a taro smoothie. Here again, I was in for a surprise: chicha morada is what I imagine apple cider would taste like if it were made with sweet plums instead of apples. It doesn't taste a thing like corn!

By the way, I'm not sure how many of the staff speak English here, as all of my interactions took place in Spanish, but pointing and smiling will get you pretty far in any restaurant, and the menu does explain the dishes in English.

Helado de lucuma

Lucuma is a tropical fruit rich in beta carotene (hence its vibrant color). It's also one of the most popular ice cream flavors in Peru. Its mellow, sweet, faintly nutty flavor is not unlike the flavor of acorn squash. The ice cream had a slightly grainy texture akin to red bean ice cream. Since I've never eaten fresh lucuma, I'm not sure if the graininess was related to the fruit's texture, or if the lucuma flavoring came in a powder or paste form, which I understand is common. Either way, it was delicious.

We also tried the pastel de chocolate, otherwise known as a good old slice of chocolate cake. You may be wondering what a generic dessert like chocolate cake is doing on a Peruvian menu. Turns out that many of Peru's desserts have European influences, so it's not so strange after all. That also explained the creme brulee-like item and another cream-colored custard I suspected might remind me of flan or tocino de cielo.

The restaurant's large, open layout is clearly geared towards hosting live performances and viewing sports games on the big screen TV. When we first drove by on a Saturday night, the parking lot was overflowing. We went for lunch though, and it was hard to get a sense of the true atmosphere when almost no one else was there. Had it not been for seeing all those cars previously, we probably would not have falsely assumed the place was a dud and not gone at all.

If you're normally a bit gunshy about trying new cuisines, try Peruvian. I'm surprised it's not already more popular in the United States, given how much it has in common with foods even the least adventurous of us love to eat (namely, the "safe" ethnic cuisines: Mexican, Italian, and Chinese). With the recent signing of a free trade agreement between Peru and the U.S. in May 2006 and vows by the Peruvian embassy to make the cuisine as popular in America as Thai food, we may be seeing and eating a lot more of it in the years to come. So hit the Peruvian restaurant scene now, before trendiness can infringe on its authenticity. Nobody ever says, "let's go out for Peruvian," but they might soon.

Most Entrees $9-13
Frequent live entertainment--call ahead to see what you're in for

The early bird gets the whole place to herself

Fina Estampa Authentic Restaurant
21830 Nordhoff St.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Fina Estampa Authentic Peruvian Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #169: Angeli Caffe, West Hollywood - CLOSED

Fried calamari with arrabiata sauce

Update: This restaurant has closed. 

Since I'm a longtime fan of KCRW's Good Food, hosted by Evan Kleiman, I had long been dying to check out her restaurant, Angeli Caffe.

The restaurant consists of two rooms--it appears that the restaurant occupies two spaces that were not originally attached. In the main, more popular room, the tables are a little cramped, but in the second room, the one you'll walk into when you enter the restaurant, the tables are more spaced out. There's even a larger table that's perfect for parties and an isolated corner table that's perfect for dates.

Insalata Forte

To start, we tried the fried calamari appetizer. Thinking that all fried calamari is basically the same except for the dipping sauce and degree of rubberiness, I wasn't really looking forward to it (my calamari-loving friend picked the dish). One bite won me over though--it was the most tender fried calamari I've ever had.

I also tried the insalata forte, a salad of greens, fennel, Belgian endive, cheese, and kalamata olives dressed in a garlicky parmasean vinaigrette. Note that I (and the menu) said garlicky, not garlic--this dressing is not for those who don't enjoy the intense flavor of raw garlic. Like the calamari, I instantly fell in love with this salad. It was pretty easy to recreate at home, too! The servings of both starters were so generous that I could have made a whole meal of them.

Penne with turkey sausage

My friend had a penne with turkey sausage in a red sauce. Evan's menu changes seasonally (which is a hallmark of any great restaurant, in my opinion). The sausage was especially tasty, in his opinion, but I didn't like the texture. The dish overall seemed a little bland, like it needed more salt, at the least.

Ricotta gnochetti of the day-beet

I adore beets, but the beet gnochetti was disappointing. They were swimming in puddle of rosemary-infused olive oil, making them much too oily, and the rosemary flavor was overwhelming to the point was the beet flavor was barely discernable. The gnochetti were very soft and had a homemade quality, and would have been very enjoyable in a different sauce.

Peach and raspberry tart

I loved the soft, buttery crust of the peach and raspberry tart and the use of fresh, seasonal fruit. I didn't love that it took a long time to arrive because they were heating it up, according to a server, and yet when it arrived it was only room temperature.

Flourless chocolate cake

The flourless chocolate cake was moist and yet had an odd way of getting stuck in my throat, so it didn't win me over.

You can make reservations, but even on a Friday night, you might not need them--the restaurant was half empty when we got there around 8 (but strangely, when we left about two hours later, it was full). The clientele is hip without trying too hard or throwing it in your face.

We must have had five different servers, some of whom were quiet, some of whom were fabulous, and all of whom were very nice. However, about halfway through our meal, the service forgot about us completely, and it was a challenge to get the bill and get our leftovers boxed. Everything was very reasonably priced though, and the portions average to generous. Angeli Caffe also has an extensive pizza menu, and if you're visiting at lunchtime, check out the panini rustico.

Despite the disappearing service (a common phenomenon, I've found) and a couple of lackluster dishes, I was so wowed by everything else that I will definitely return.

Angeli Caffe
7274 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Angeli Caffe Website

Angeli Caffe Menu
Angeli Caffe Map
Angeli Caffe on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #168: Il Moro, West LA

Tortelloni d'Aragosta: lobster tortelloni in a creamy saffron sauce

I enjoyed my experience at Il Moro so much that I don't really want to tell anyone about it lest it become popular or crowded. However, I'd be deluding myself if I thought I had that much influence over the dining population of the world's sixth largest city. I can still get a table at Kiriko, after all, and I've done plenty of raving about it. So if you want to be let in on what appears to be a well-kept secret, keep reading.

Though we made reservations (it was a weekend, after all) we probably didn't need them--the restaurant is much larger than the average LA restaurant and has plenty of tables. Finding the door was difficult--we actually never found it, but instead ventured up a long delivery driveway and crept in through the patio. (Hint: try the Purdue side of the restaurant.) We asked for a quiet table, and despite being nobodies (as far as they knew) we were given what I felt was the best table in the restaurant--on the outdoor patio, in a corner.

Complimentary bread and black olive tapenade arrived at our table shortly after we sat down. The bread was moist and chewy, and though I don't usually like black olive tapenade because I think it tastes like the tin can the olives probably came in, this one had a bit more flavor than usual.

Outdoor ambience

Il Moro's patio is impressively secluded--you'll have no idea that you're only yards away from noisy Olympic Boulevard. The greenery, water, and twinkling lights, combined with the ample space between tables and heating poles, make this the best outdoor dining I've ever experienced.

Garga del Moro

I started with the Garga del Moro salad. At $10, it seemed a little pricey, but the quality and variety of the ingredients and the lovely presentation made it worthwhile. The salad consisted of watercress leaves, hearts of palm, diced tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, avocado, and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. The zesty lemon balsamic dressing really wasn't zesty, but I liked how its mild flavor didn't detract from the flavor of the ingredients. The tomatoes were mealy, which is pretty common, unfortunately. Here's a brief public service announcement in that regard: do not refrigerate your tomatoes! Ever! It destroys their flavor and texture. I was fairly full after the bread and salad.

Fritto misto

The fritto misto consisted of fried calamari and shrimp. The calamari were a tad chewy, and their batter was so salty that I could only eat a few pieces. Tomato sauce and aioli both went well with the crispy creatures, but couldn't tone down the saltiness. My friend had a different take--he thought it was addictive and polished off the whole plate, though he prefers Fritto Misto's version.


I've learned that gnocchi has as many variations as pad Thai. These gnocchi were on the chewy side, but not gooey like the frozen gnocchi from Trader Joe's. According to the menu, they were supposed to contain spinach, but didn't, perhaps due to the recent e. coli scare. Each piece was worth at least two bites. The tomato sauce tasted very fresh and had a slightly chunky texture from the bits of tomato, basil, and garlic, which created a nice contrast to the smoothness of the potato.

The lobster tortelloni (lead photo) came in a cream sauce that wasn’t overwhelming but had a unique flavor. It didn’t taste as rich as it sounded, which was a good thing--this dish could have easily been too heavy.

Pasta entrees range from $12 - $18, and meat dishes from $20 - $65, depending on what's being offered. The menu is seasonal, so don't get your heart set on anything you see here or on their online menu. The menu is also fairly short, and not particularly friendly to vegetarians or those who can't eat shellfish.

Our waitress did a good job of helping us pick wines to match our meals. Don't hesitate to ask for a recommendation or a taste of an unfamiliar wine. We ended up with a chardonnay and a merlot. Maybe she recommended them because they are safe wines for two people who clearly couldn't decipher the whole wine list (I am only familiar with California wines, for the most part), but they did match nicely with the food. My merlot was served in a huge glass that was perfect for enjoying the wine's aroma. Wines by the glass are very reasonably priced and range from about $6-9.

Choccolatissimo con pairfait al caffe

I was very skeptical of a chocolate and coffee dessert accompanied by apricot. I really wanted to be pleasantly surprised though, so I took the risk. The reward was worth it--the apricot came in the form of a light sauce that wasn't too apricoty, but was just tangy enough to temper the sweetness of the chocolate. The chocolate part of the dessert had both the density of flourless chocolate cake and the lightness of a souflee and was still super hot in the center, just the way I like it. The dessert was a tad expensive at $9.50, but worth every bite. Most desserts are $8 - $9. If sweet's not your thing, try the cheese plate. The dessert menu also includes a good selection of dessert wines, ports, and coffees.

A great way to check out Il Moro would be to try their wine tastings on Tuesdays from 6:00-8:00 for $25 per person. Wine tastings feature a single winery, and they serve a variety of appetizers that the enterprising eater can probably manage to make a meal out of.

The waitresses we interacted with seemed to have European accents. I'm not sure if they were real or contrived--we do live in a city of actors, after all--but it was a nice touch either way and didn't come off as cheesy at all. The service was excellent--we never had too many plates on the table or had to wait too long for a dish, and everyone we interacted with was polite, helpful, and friendly.

Il Moro
11400 Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Il Moro Website


Restaurant Review #167: Bamboo Village, Sherman Oaks

General Tso's chicken

Though I can recognize that the deep fried, gooey-sweet orange chicken I unabashedly adore is probably a far cry from authentic Chinese food, my knowledge of what makes Chinese food authentic is severely lacking. I'm familiar with dim sum, but I know that eating cow stomach and pork buns served from a metal cart isn't the way every meal is done. So when I read that a self-professed Chinese food snob loved Bamboo Village, I jumped on the recommendation.

Szechuan beef

On a Friday night, our food came so quickly that I jumped when I heard the knock at the door. Everything was steaming hot and the portions were impressive, especially considering that no dish cost more than $10. Bamboo Village also has smaller portions for a couple dollars less, which is great if you're a light eater, like to try lots of dishes, or are dining solo.

Chicken with cashew nuts

The restaurant made a good impression right away with its menu. Most Chinese menus leave me scratching my head because I don't know what Szechuan sauce is, for example. Bamboo Village describes each and every dish, so what you're ordering shouldn't be a surprise. However, I was surprised by my General Tso's chicken, which is prepared similarly to orange chicken at some restaurants. Bamboo Village's version is more akin to kung pao chicken.

All of the dishes smelled delicious. The vegetables mixed in with the meat were a bit different than usual: they included tender zuchinni and thick slices of succulent white mushrooms. The sauces were flavorful and neither too sweet nor too salty.

Hot and sour soup

The hot and sour soup was the highlight of my meal. I used to think that all hot and sour soup tasted basically the same, but I've recently had my share of soups that weren't hot enough or sour enough and had too much cornstarch. Bamboo Village gets the hot and sour soup base just right and crams it with shredded bamboo shoots, woodear mushrooms, egg, and tofu.

The restaurant's disappointing deal-breaker was the quality of its meat. While not the worst protein around (that's reserved for cheap Chinese buffets), rubbery and crunchy fat globules lurked within the meat, which was enough to make me stop eating all but the vegetables in the dishes. Why raise and kill a bird for food if it's not going to taste good?

With so many fine attributes, it's a shame that Bamboo Cuisine's meat, which is the main event in most dishes, is subpar. Not every bite was bad, but far too many were. Based on my experience with the meat, I wouldn't be inclined to try their seafood, either. I might order from Bamboo Village again, but I would be sure to stick with vegetarian dishes.

Bamboo Village
12910 Magnolia Blvd (at Coldwater Canyon Ave)
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
818 763-0083
Bamboo Village Chinese on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #166: Mama Voula's, West LA - CLOSED

Greek salad and lamb gyro

Despite being a hole-in-the-wall-in-a-strip-mall, Mama Voula's, decorated in vibrant shades of peach, light yellow, and light blue, is surprisingly airy and cheery inside. The service is friendly, the food comes up fast (my takeout order was ready in just ten minutes), and they even have a parking lot where you can usually find a space. Yellow paint makes this particular strip mall slightly distinguishable from West LA's many other strip malls, which you'll need to know since Mama Voula's itself is barely visible from the street, especially when you're headed west.
The menu is simple and geared towards meat-eaters, though they do have a vegetarian gyro with zuchinni and eggplant, a vegetarian moussaka, and a few vegetarian appetizers. I tried the lamb gyro, which was tasty, but the very thick slices of lamb were more than I could handle. The texture of this lamb was noticeably different from the lamb I'm used to eating in Indian curries in that it was more sausage-like. Though the meat was moist, the sandwich as a whole was a little dry--I wished I'd had more tzatziki sauce to moisten it. Tzatziki sauce, if you're not familiar with it, is a yogurt sauce with cucumber and raw garlic.

Tyropita - feta cheese pie

The tyropita was a new dish to me. If you like the concept of spanakopita but don't care much for spinach, this dish is a dream come true--it's similar to spanakopita, but is filled with nothing but deliciously tangy cheese. The Greek salad was fresh and flavorful, but didn't come with any dressing. Since it was a takeout order, it's possible that they just forgot to throw in the dressing. The feta cheese added enough flavor for me to still enjoy the salad, though. (Maybe it's meant to be eaten without dressing, but I don't think most people would go for that.) As far as drinks go, Mama Voula's doesn't sell alcohol, so make sure to BYOB if you'd like wine with your meal. I believe corkage is free.

Though some Chowhounders say the food isn't authentic, if (like me) you have no idea what authentic Greek food tastes like, I don't think you'll be disappointed. I do like my food authentic, but first and foremost I just want it to taste good. I'm not sure I would put this place on Jonathan Gold's list of 99 Essential LA Restaurants (as he did), but I would go back.

Mama Voula's
11923 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Mama Voula's Menu
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 11am-9pm
Mama Voula on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #165: Original Tommy's World Famous Hamburgers, Van Nuys

Double cheeseburger, no chili

Tommy's is a chain, yes, but if you haven't lived in southern California for a while, it's probably not familiar to you. Like me, you might be wondering, "what's so great about these burgers that they think they can call them 'world famous?' "

As far as I can tell, the only unique thing about Tommy's burgers is that they all come with chili on them. So if, like me, you're repulsed by the idea, smell, and appearance of chili on a perfectly good double cheeseburger, make sure you ask for your burger plain--or go somewhere else altogether. Without the chili though, the burger is a bit dry. The pickles add some moisture, but take away from the flavor of the burger, and the tomato slice was mealy -- one of my pet peeves.

If you need me to tell you what these are, you're in trouble

Tommy's fries are thick cut and a little soggy--I liked mine better after a few minutes in the toaster oven. However, I'm really more of a skinny fry gal, since I'm not much of a potato fan. The fries were nicely salted, though.

I also had a chocolate shake. The shakes come in one size (16 ounces) for $1.70 and were neither too liquidy nor too frozen. My chocolate shake tasted like it was made with real ice cream and was the highlight of the meal.

Overall, my visit to Tommy's didn't shake my loyalty to In 'n' Out, which remains my favorite stop for a fast food burger. Tommy's has been around for 60 years though and they're still opening new locations, so plenty of other people must love it.

Tommy's Burgers
14601 Victory Blvd
Van Nuys, CA
Tommy's Website

Multiple other locations throughout SoCal
Tommy's Original World Famous Hamburgers on Urbanspoon