Dave & Buster’s Comes to West Los Angeles [Media Preview Event]

Blogging Community, Food Adventures, Los Angeles

[Sponsored] Billards. Draft beer. Giant LED TVs playing the popular sports game of the evening. Fried food. Burgers. Oh, and arcade games. While food and booze are awesome, Dave & Buster’s offers a unique experience previously unavailable on the Westside — namely, skee ball for adults 21+ only. And they found a great spot for their first Los Angeles location — the expansive ground floor suite at The Promenade At Howard Hughes Center in Westchester. The hype has been building since last year, but just yesterday, we were invited to attend a media preview event, joined by hundreds of their Facebook fans to fill the place and make it truly bumpin’ even before the big grand opening on Wednesday, February 19th.

Dave & Buster's Westchester / Culver City

Dave & Buster’s Westchester / Culver City

Conveniently situated between both entrances to the parking structure, Dave & Buster’s is hard to miss with its huge “Eat. Drink. Play.” slogans livening up an otherwise ordinary shopping plaza. We were surprised to see a very long line of eager fans waiting to get a sneak peek of the shiny new location. Luckily, we found the media check-in and were ushered inside expeditiously. We wove through the venue, jamming to More Than a Feeling, and managed to score prime seats at the impressively large bar counter. Michael, our friendly bartender, greeted us and pointed out his favorites on the menu as he poured our drinks — a 22 ounce Blue Moon draft for Martin and a 16 ounce Sam Adams Seasonal (Cold Snap) for me.

Our selections (of the nine available beers on draft)

Our selections (of the nine available beers on draft)

We went with Michael’s suggestion and ordered the Mountain O’Nachos. A mountain, indeed! This was the menu description: Fresh tortilla chips piled high and smothered with spicy ground beef and melted queso, topped with black beans, jalapeños, tomatoes, lettuce, fresh guacamole and sour cream. Serves three to four.

Mountain O'Nachos!

Mountain O’Nachos!

While every point was deliciously accurate, perhaps the most precise statement was the last line. It was WAY too much food for just two people, even ravenous eaters like us. Still, I couldn’t help but continue picking at the crispy chips slathered in cheesy, meaty sauce and scooping up bites of the refreshing guac.

Mountain O'Nachos!

Mountain O’Nachos!

The bar was quickly filling as the patient fans started trickling in. While I admired the twenty plus TVs that surrounded us, Martin counted the number of bartenders (12) all rushing to fill orders and greet guests. The service was surprisingly attentive despite the chaos. Before I knew it, our entrees had arrived. Martin selected the fried shrimp platter – a dozen crispy butterflied shrimp served with a chipotle honey sauce and fries. He was very pleased; I believe the sentiment was, “Fried shrimp and beer? Can’t beat that!”

Fried Shrimp Platter

Fried Shrimp Platter

I decided to go simple with the Buster’s Cheeseburger, rare. The half pound monster arrived topped generously with American cheese on a glistening bun. Sadly, it was definitely overcooked (medium-well to well done) but it was surprisingly juicy in the middle. Their burger meat has a great fat ratio, making for a super satisfying sandwich.

Buster's Cheeseburger

Buster’s Cheeseburger

Martin ordered another Blue Moon while I opted for a colorful cocktail I had spotted on the drinks menu — the watermelon snow cone. A stemless martini glass filled with shaved ice and layered with two different colored mixes (naturally, red and green in the watermelon’s case). The red layer was a mix of watermelon-flavored Smirnoff and sour watermelon mixer (DeKuyper, I believe), while the top was a blend of Midori and Sprite. Super pretty. Super girly. Super tasty.

Watermelon Snow Cone

Watermelon Snow Cone

Our bellies happy, we decided to wander the venue. After all, the best part about Dave & Buster’s (arguably) is playing arcade games without kids running around.

Onward!

Onward!

Skee ball, air hockey, even a giant digitized version of Connect Four. Of course, we looked for one of my favorites, Deal or No Deal, modeled after the game show. And we played a lot of those coin pushing games that had planted themselves firmly in Martin’s fond memories of childhood.

Giant Connect 4 Board Game!

Giant Connect 4 Board Game!

And then fate happened. We noticed free credits on the Pump It Up machine. For those not savvy to the dance (dance) revolution of the early 2000s, Pump It Up is essentially Korea’s answer to DDR. The most notable difference is that the arrows are in the NW, NE, SW, SE, and center positions in Pump It Up, making it exponentially more difficult. We had a great time making fools of ourselves to K-Pop tunes at 130 BPM. But that’s okay. I want nobody nobody but you!

The shiny, shiny coins!

The shiny, shiny coins!

By the end of the night, we gathered up our accumulated tickets and headed to the redemption area. I was suddenly brought back to my childhood visits to Chuck E Cheese and other similar play-and-redeem arcades. Through teamwork, we had earned enough for a big prize. Martin, being the gentleman that he is, let me choose. Of course, this meant that he had to share the passenger seat with a big fat Minion plush.

Our Cuddly Souvenir

Our Cuddly Souvenir

The conclusion? Dave & Buster’s Westchester / Culver City location infuses new life into the Howard Hughes Center. Now we Westsiders don’t have to drive all the way to Arcadia or Orange County or elsewhere to Power Up our D&B fix. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Disclosure: We were not compensated for this post; however, we did receive free food, beverages, and game credits at the event for the purposes of our review. All opinions are our own and were not influenced in any way.

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Check out Dave & Buster’s: daveandbusters.com

6081 Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90045

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Sixth Street Tavern – Downtown Los Angeles, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

The Financial District of Downtown Los Angeles, the iconic part with all the tall beautiful skyscrapers lighting up the horizon, is home to plenty of wonderful bars and pubs hidden among the street level retail of the towering buildings. At the corner of Sixth and Hope, Martin and I went out to Sixth Street Tavern one night after he got out of the office. Our conclusion? Sixth Street Tavern is an awesome example of LA’s great trend — the gastropub.

Weck jars, craft beers, and a menu that includes elevated pub food? Count us in!

Weck jars, craft beers, and a menu that includes elevated pub food? Count us in!

The decor feels trendy yet understated and every table is lit with a candle resting in a Weck jar. We were feeling pretty ravenous so we ordered a handful of dishes to share. I would definitely recommend going with a small group in order to sample more of the menu!

Duck Fat Fries - duck fat, hickory dipping sauce

Duck Fat Fries – duck fat, hickory dipping sauce

First, we started with the duck fat fries. Three words that were always meant to be spoken in harmonious succession. Duck. Fat. Fries. Super crispy and full of savory decadence, these were the perfect thing to start noshing on. I like barbecue flavors so the hickory was my sauce of choice, but the fries were delicious even with ordinary ketchup.

Bistro Burger - worcestershire onion compote, port salut cheese, arugula, aioli

Bistro Burger – worcestershire onion compote, port salut cheese, arugula, aioli

We wanted to split something substantial, so we agreed to get a burger. Martin let me pick and when I saw the Bistro Burger, with a description is suspiciously reminiscent of one of my favoritesThe Office burger, I had to get it. We ordered it rare and the burger arrived perfectly cooked to temperature. The cheese was melty but not too strong, and the worcestershire onion compote was mouthwatering. It was especially impressive served on the glistening bun.

Chicken and Donuts - buttermilk fried chicken, doughnut, maple glaze, tapatio whipped cream

Chicken and Donuts – buttermilk fried chicken, doughnut, maple glaze, tapatio whipped cream

We agreed to select a small plate to share as well. I saw the chicken and donuts and gasped. Sweet and salty with… do my eyes deceive me? Tapatio whipped cream?!?! DO IT, my stomach roared. The chicken was crunchy, hot, and super juicy. The doughnut was crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and piped full of that fascinating Tapatio whip. The entire bite was glazed in maple, transforming into an awesome combination of breakfast and dinner in one bite. So. Freaking. Good. This is the kind of dish you dream about and then return to a restaurant specifically to devour. Martin did, with one of his friends. I’m still dreaming…

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Check out Sixth Street Tavern: sixthstreettavern.com

630 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90017

See their Yelp reviews here!

Mariscos Chente – Del Rey, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

I know what you’re probably thinking. Where the heck is Del Rey? That’s okay. We didn’t know either until we moved here. And it took over a year of living in this teeny tiny region bordered by Culver City, Mar Vista, Marina Del Rey, and Venice to finally discover the wonder that is Mariscos Chente. At this hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant specializing in mariscos (seafood), the small menu boasts two pages of shrimp dishes, a third of fish dishes, and a final page dedicated to ceviche.

Camarones Borrachos - shrimp in a tequila garlic sauce

Camarones Borrachos – shrimp in a tequila garlic sauce

We’ve returned on multiple occasions since our first fateful visit less than a month ago. It’s that good. The camarones borrachos (above) were like a “drunken shrimp” dish packed with a strong tequila punch. A bit too strong for me, but Martin enjoyed it.

But first, the chips and salsa... and our drinks

But first, the chips and salsa… and our drinks

Shortly after we place our order, the friendly waitress brings out a basket of freshly fried tortilla chips and a small bowl of salsa verde. Tangy from plenty of limes and tomatillos, with just the right amount of kick, this snack is the perfect way to whet our appetite for the delicious meal to come, especially when paired with Mexican Coke and tamarindo Jarritos.

Camarones a la Diabla - shrimp in a spicy red sauce

Camarones a la Diabla – shrimp in a spicy red sauce

As I’ve mentioned on this blog, I LOVE spicy food. Absolutely love it. If I’m not sucking in air and making that hissing sound by the end of my meal, it was not done right. Of course, I had to try the camarones a la diabla, so spicy that it even bears the devil’s name. Full of garlicky, salty, spicy flavor, this dish definitely wowed me.

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo - shrimp in butter and garlic salt

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo – shrimp in butter and garlic salt

Swimming in a sauce that’s bright red from all the tomalley hidden in the succulent shrimp heads, these camarones al mojo de ajo are excellent in their simplicity. I think this dish is the best way to really taste the shrimp… and butter. Martin and I both love it, so when we’re struggling to venture out and try something different on the menu, we’ll usually order one of these and one of something else to share.

Suck the goodness out of those shrimp heads!

Suck the goodness out of those shrimp heads!

The best part is that the shrimp are served head-on. Each order comes with 12-15 shrimp (about a pound I’d wager), which means 12-15 delicious shrimp heads from which to harvest tasty, tasty brains. The good stuff that tinges the sauce a brilliant crimson. My favorite part is the “thigh” of the legs. Sweet shrimp meat covered in a thin crispy layer of (edible) shell, it’s totally worth the crunch.

The Graveyard

The Graveyard

Let the heads pile up as you devour the entire platter. For $15, the portion is generous, especially for lunch. Sometimes I even push a shrimp or two onto Martin’s plate to help me finish.

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo - shrimp in butter and garlic salt

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo – shrimp in butter and garlic salt

As you can see in the background, each plate comes with a mound of rice. The garlicky rice is deceptively, impressively flavorful and the texture is fluffy but chewy. So good! From the shrimp to the shrimp to the shrimp to the rice, Mariscos Chente is definitely worth a visit. If you remember to call ahead, you could even order an awesome fried fish by the kilo (the pescado sarandeado) which takes at least 30 minutes to prepare. We honestly lack the foresight, but someday we’ll definitely try it and update this post. And if you go here for dinner, there are plenty of cerveza offerings on the menu to pair with the camarones¡Salud!

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Check out Mariscos Chente:

4532 S Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90066

See their Yelp reviews here!

Thai Boom – Palms, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Thai Food Friday. One of my and Martin’s favorite food traditions. We try to cook at home as often as we can, but sometimes, after a long week, you just want to unwind and let someone else bring you some hot, delicious, ready-to-eat food. We used to live less than a block away from Thai Boom, a little hole-in-the-wall mom & pop restaurant located right on the busy Venice Boulevard thoroughfare, and luckily, our new place is still within the delivery radius. Thanks to its impressively extensive menu featuring typical Thai dishes (pad thai, pad see ew, rad na, and the like), more traditional Thai dishes (tod mun and fish maw soup, anyone?), and even pan-Asian cuisine such as Vietnamese hainan chicken, Chinese roasted char siu pork, and Japanese gyoza, we frequent Thai Boom so often that all three delivery guys recognize us and we are on first-name basis with the cashiers who take our phone-in orders. We’ll occasionally eat at the restaurant as well, hence the varied backgrounds and lighting for the photos below.

Kra Por Pla (Fish Maw Soup)

Kra Por Pla (Fish Maw Soup)

Martin and I are admittedly creatures of habit; when we find something we like on a menu, we’ll keep ordering it until we get sick of it (if that time ever comes). But even so, over the past three years, we have been able to sample a great variety of dishes. Arguably the most daring is the kra por pla — a thick soup filled with fish maw, crab meat, hard boiled quail eggs, congealed pork blood, and bamboo. Fish maw, a euphemism for the swim bladder, is the offal of the sea. With a soft and airy yet chewy texture, the essentially flavorless collagen takes on the bold flavors of the spicy broth. Another “unusual” ingredient is the congealed pork blood, known as huyết in Vietnamese cuisine, basically a steamed blood cake that resembles tofu or pudding in texture. Altogether perfect for a cold night, but not for the faint of heart.

Fried Tofu

Fried Tofu

Another starter we’ll order on occasion is the fried tofu. Super crispy, golden triangles that are silky smooth on the inside, dipped in a homemade sweet and sour sauce, these are a great splurge – worth every calorie. On other visits, we have also ordered the tod mun (fish cake patties) and som tum (papaya salad). The tod mun are crispy and fragrant with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. The som tum can be ordered extra spicy (“Thai spicy”) and arrives with finely julienned green papaya swimming in a fish sauce, chili, and dried shrimp dressing. Two traditional Thai favorites!

Tom Kha Gai with flat rice noodles

Tom Kha Gai with flat rice noodles

I love Thai soups. The trifecta of galangal (similar to ginger in appearance but with a much more potent flavor), kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass impart their aroma to create a broth unlike any other. Tom yum is a clear broth soup while tom kha gets its opaque creaminess from coconut milk. I make a Vietnamese spin on tom yum (actually tom khlong, which is tamarind-based instead of lime) at home so I like to order tom kha when dining out. Thin slices of chicken breast or cubes of fresh tofu serve as the proteins, and I order my soup with a side of flat rice noodles (the ones used for pad see ew) to add a carb element. This is my go-to dish here!

Pepper Assortment

Pepper Assortment

When we dine at the restaurant, the waitresses are always quick to bring us (well, me) this cute basket featuring pepper in many preparations. I always go straight to the sambal – a paste of ground Thai chilies, garlic, and vinegar.

Tom Yum with Tofu

Tom Yum with Tofu

Luckily I have my own stash of sambal at home, manufactured by the same lovely people who make Huy Fong Foods sriracha. It adds a tangy and spicy kick to the soup, tinting the broth a tinge of red. (In case you noticed, I had leftover vermicelli rice noodles after making spring rolls one night and I poured my tom yum soup over those instead.)

Pad See Ew with Squid

Pad See Ew with Squid

Speaking of flat rice noodles, Thai Boom of course sells one of the most popular dishes — pad see ew, flat rice noodles pan fried with Chinese broccoli (gai lan), egg, and a “brown sauce” (oyster sauce and soy sauce based). All of the noodle dishes including pad thai (which is generous with the fish sauce and not too sweet here) and rad na (basically pad see ew but with a more saucy “gravy”) come with your choice of protein: chicken, beef, pork, tofu (fried or steamed), shrimp, squid, seafood, or vegetables. The sweet and savory noodles and crunchy greens are surprisingly not very greasy for having been pan fried. Martin’s favorite is the fried tofu; when you order it, they always ask if egg is OK as many tofu requests tend to come from vegetarians or vegans. I appreciate that extra bit of consideration.

Hainam Chicken

Hainam Chicken

Martin’s all-time favorite dish from Thai Boom has to be the Hainam chicken, a Southeast Asian specialty that is essentially chicken and rice. The chicken is steeped to create a stock which is then used to cook the rice and to serve as soup to accompany the final product. The chicken meat itself is shredded and piled on over the bed of rice. Sometimes simple is best.

But the sauce...

But the sauce…

But the dipping sauce… oh the dipping sauce. This is what really makes Thai Boom’s hainanese chicken stand out from the rest. Packed with minced garlic, chilies, muddled lime, and I have no idea what else, this sauce adds a huge burst of flavor. We would love to replicate it someday, but the layering of flavors is so complex that the task seems daunting.

Trout Fish

Trout Fish

Once in a while, we dare each other to branch out and order something new. Last night, for example, I opted for the crispy fried fillet of trout, served with a mango salad. Oh. My. Fish. One bite into the crunchy, crumbly fillet and I was immediately transported back to my childhood. You see, at the Asian grocery stores that are very prevalent in Orange County (but sadly absent in West LA), you can pick out a live or fresh-frozen fish and have the crew clean it, gut it, and deep fry it for a few extra bucks. Bring it home, drizzle with nuoc cham, and serve with mounds of steaming hot jasmine rice – I was a happy camper. The edges were especially satisfying to crunch into, and what luck – they left the tail! (When I was a kid, my mom and I would take turns letting each other have that prized piece.) The mango salad was similar to the som tum with the substitution of tart green mango. Marinated in fish sauce and chilies, this was a great punch of acid to cut through the grease of fried fish.

Mango Season!

Mango Season!

If we’re lucky, Thai Boom would have tracked down some extra ripe champagne mangoes, the narrow bright yellow kind. When we eat in the restaurant, we can do a quick recon for them by glancing over at the counter where they are always on display, but when ordering by phone, have no fear! They are brutally honest about the quality of their mangoes; I remember once I asked if they had mangoes in season and the girl replied that yes, they did, but they are not particularly ripe so she would not recommend it. I’m still thankful for her saving me from the disappointment.

Sticky Rice & Mango

Sticky Rice & Mango

But sometimes, luck is on our side and we get to finish our meal with one of these – a plate of coconut milk infused sticky rice, fresh slices of mango, and extra coconut milk for drizzling. And when the mangoes are just right, they are as sweet as candy. So good!

So if you’re in the mood for Thai food, or if you are feeling too lazy to cook and happen to live within a few miles of Venice and Overland (in which case, howdy neighbor!), be sure to check out Thai Boom. There’s something for everyone!

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Check out Thai Boom: thaiboomla.com

10863 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034

See their Yelp reviews here!

Marugame Monzo – Little Tokyo

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

We’ve been talking about ramen on this blog quite frequently lately, but with my insatiable love for noodles of all sorts, we did not forget about another one of Japan’s specialties – udon. Thick, white strands made from a wheat flour based dough, udon is like a blank template for a variety of serving methods. Hot or cold, soupy or saucy, the best udon dishes start with the best udon noodles, and for those, be sure to stop by Marugame Monzo in the heart of Little Tokyo. This tiny storefront is located adjacent to the Downtown location of Daikokuya with its characteristically long lines weaving onto the sidewalk. Marugame Monzo is quite popular as well, though we were lucky to be immediately at prime seats at the counter one late Wednesday night. Thankfully, not too late to catch the Noodle Master making his last batch of handmade udon. I’ll repeat that one more time — HANDMADE UDON.

The Noodle Master

The Noodle Master in Action

I had bookmarked Marugame Monzo since earlier this year when they took Little Tokyo by storm, opening up shop in the former Fat Spoon. Martin boasted that he had the opportunity to have lunch here sometime this summer with his coworkers, but I had the last laugh – their signature sea urchin cream udon is only served on the dinner menu. And that one dish, my friends, is a powerful motivator to get me in my car on a weeknight and brave traffic all the way to DTLA. So when I got to choose our dinner destination, Marugame Monzo was first choice on my list.

Hand-cutting the Noodles

Hand-cutting the Noodles

We were both mesmerized by the swift and deliberate movements of the Noodle Master at work. He rolled out the dough flat, folded it onto itself, and rolled it out again. Then he centered a piece of equipment that looked like a custom built swinging-arm paper cutter. With an (unnecessarily?) large blade and a very watchful eye, he cut dough into noodle like a machine. With each cut, I could see the hinge of the blade slide over just the tiniest bit, allowing him to make the next cut with absolute precision. Using his hands to measure out portions of noodles, he grabbed bundles by the fistful and twirled them, distributing the excess flour and ensuring that none of them stuck to each other. Amazing. Somehow we managed to tear our eyes away from the magic and place our order.

Chicken Karaage (Fried Chicken)

Chicken Karaage (Fried Chicken)

First, an appetizer. I was tempted to try the beef tataki but we both were swayed toward the idea of fried chicken. Japanese style fried chicken, known as 唐揚げ (chicken karaage) or simply フライドチキン (furaido chicken), is often lightly battered, very crispy on the outside but juicy on the inside, and well seasoned. Such was the case here, as our server explained that the chicken could be eaten on its own or with the optional condiments of sweet Kewpie mayo or curry salt.

Chicken Karaage - a closeup

Chicken Karaage – a closeup

Martin enjoyed the chicken it its purest state – savoring the slightly salted and not at all greasy coating that surrounded the moist morsels of poultry. I really liked the curry salt and dipped the corner of each piece to get that extra flavor boost. The mayo was a bit much (fried AND fatty?) but I love sweet Japanese mayo so I didn’t mind using a teeny bit to help the curry salt to better adhere.

Mentai Squid Butter Udon

Mentai Squid Butter Udon

So as I mentioned earlier, udon is served in many ways — in a steaming shoyu-based broth (kakeudon), cold with a tsuyu dipping sauce (zaru udon), in a stone pot with a thick curry sauce, and perhaps most creatively, in the style of Japanese spaghetti (blanched noodles dressed with a sauce made from otherwise traditional ingredients). Ume (pickled plum) and cod roe are common spaghetti toppings, which are even sold in Asian grocery stores as prepackaged sauce packets for regular ol’ boxed pasta. But we opted for some fairly unique fare. Martin had the mentai squid butter udon, tinted pale pink from the generous serving of mentaiko (Alaskan pollock roe). The shredded nori is a must to add a bit of crunch to the otherwise very rich sauce. The squid is impressively tender and plentiful.

Uni (Sea Urchin) Cream Udon

Uni (Sea Urchin) Cream Udon

My selection was the long-awaited udon with a sea urchin cream sauce (うにクリームソースうどん). It was every bit as amazing as I’d hoped it would be. A balance of briny sacs of sea urchin roe swimming in an Alfredo-like cream sauce, this decadent dish was accentuated by the chewy texture that only comes with fresh, handmade udon noodles. There was a LOT of uni, so despite being the most expensive dish on the menu (at $15.95 per plate), I really felt like it was a great deal.

Showcasing one of the (many) pieces of uni

Showcasing one of the (many) pieces of uni

I had never had cooked uni before, only nigiri-style atop perfectly formed mounds of rice at sushi places. When cooked, the roe shrivels a bit and firms up, yielding an almost brittle texture. A stark contrast from the lush mouth-feel when eaten raw. Overall, I loved it and would certainly order it again, but be forewarned, there was a bit of diminishing return by the time I finally devoured the last strands of sauce-coated udon… or perhaps it was my rising cholesterol levels begging my hand to stop lifting fork to mouth.

If you can get seats at the counter, take them. You’ll have the best seats in the house to observe the Noodle Master at work. If you sit along the side of the glass enclosure, you can even peek into the kitchen, where a female chef is manning the burners and sauteing multiple orders simultaneously. An awesome experience rounded out by friendly service and amazing eats, Marugame Monzo is a must-try destination in Little Tokyo!

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Check out Marugame Monzo:

329 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

See their Yelp reviews here!