Monday, June 29, 2009

Shaab Japanese Cuisine

This restaurant for some reason, is an exceedingly intriguing place. Have you ever been to a restaurant where it is almost hard to find the logo of the place, or a business card at the front waiting area? Probably not for many of you. But this is one of those places. If you don't look carefully, you really don't know what restaurant you are in. Only the menu has their name, as well as on one of the walls of the exterior and one of the shade places. Why? I do not know. But it is a busy place with plenty of people, even though its signage is not the best.

Logo

Parking is available pretty close by, but there isn't any validation (or at least Shaab doesn't talk about it) available from what we have seen. Plenty of parking, but it is a pretty crowded multistory parking structure.

When you arrive, there are two doors that split up a tea place and then to this restaurant. Make sure you enter the right place, which is to the left when you enter, and you will be fine.

Interior

In general, the restaurant is pretty dark and not too bright. The lights are pretty yellow, which doesn't help for taking photos- decent photos need plenty of editing or different option settings on the camera. There are plenty of tables though. We have never encountered a wait at this place before.

Menu

Above is the lunch menu, which we like to go to restaurants for (after all, you can save a lot of money, like Embassy Kitchen, for the same food that you get later on during the day). Plenty of options to choose from, and there is a "new menu" and the existing menu. Main difference? Different combination of foods. That's it.

Service is pretty slow here, so if you plan on needing to go to somewhere within a hour of arriving here at Shaab, pick somewhere else to eat. Our meal took us almost two hours to finish. About half of the time was waiting for our food. Yes, we definitely got extra hungry by the time the food came.

Salmon Shaab

Luckily, the first dish was the Salmon Shab or Shab Shab, a dish that was easy to share among several people. Basically, it is just a shabu-shabu with a flavored soup base already in it, which was a salty miso soup. There was plenty of items to cook in the hot pot, like plenty of thick salmon slices, tofu, several types of vegetables, and clear glass noodles. Served alongside was some ponzu sauce, as well as a thick sesame sauce.

We liked this dish because we could cook everything to our liking. So, our outcome of cooking the salmon was really good, as the salmon was still pink and still rare in the middle, but it was already warmed through and cooked on the outside. Very tender and yummy, especially with some of the dipping sauces. The glass noodles were filling, and as time progressed the salty miso soup didn't get as salty, but still was a bit salty.

Sashimi, Termpura, and Broiled Black Cod

One of my dining companions ordered a lunch set from the main lunch menu, which consisted of tempura, sashimi, and broiled black cod, along with some miso soup and rice. I wasn't able to try any of the black cod but my dining companion seemed to be happy about it. The tempura was very nicely cooked, with a crispy and light exterior. Everything was cooked nicely on the inside and with the dipping sauce it was a great treat.

Special Lunch

I ordered the Special Lunch, which had a lot of different additional things compared to the black cod, sashimi, and tempura combo which one of my dining companions ordered (only ten cents more). This had more sashimi, a very good chawan mushi, steamed rice, miso soup, broiled salmon, agedashi tofu, and a cucumber and seaweed salad. The broiled salmon was very nicely cooked and was tender, but the sauce was unexpected. It tasted a bit sweet like teriyaki sauce but wasn't as sweet compared to the food court teriyaki sauce. The salmon was pretty much good by itself though.

I dumped a bit of the sashimi into the shab for fun and the results were the same as the salmon pieces before that we dumped to cook in the shab. The octopus was very tender and not too chewy, and the salmon was just as fresh as the salmon pieces in the salmon shab. Tuna was flavorful and meaty. All good sashimi- nothing was fishy tasting.

The seaweed and cucumber salad was dressed up in some sesame dressing and was served cold. A nice bite during the day.

The agedashi tofu surprised me a bit, as I didn't know it was fried tofu (yes, I have very little Japanese food knowledge). There were plenty of very lightly fried pieces of soft tofu, which were then placed in a pond of light soy sauce similar to the tempura dipping sauce. Although light in flavor, it was very good.

And I did know what chawanmushi meant, and I was surprised that they also gave me a special spoon to eat it in. Wow. It was nicely flavored and was very soft, and there were little goodies inside, like shrimp, meat, and other things. Very nicely done.

Salmon Teriyaki Combination

Lastly, my other dining companion ordered the Salmon Teriyaki Combination from the new menu, which consisted of salmon teriyaki, dynamite (mushroom), tempura, mixed vegetables, rice, miso soup, and some cut melon. I was able to try a bit of the salmon Teriyaki and it was tender in the middle, but a bit dry near the outside. My broiled salmon was more tender. There was also skin attached, which was slightly burnt. The teriyaki sauce wasn't ultra sweet like some fast food places which was good, and the dynamite was a mixture of masago, various mushrooms, and mayo which was then baked. Yum.

Overall, it was a great visit! We'll return soon to show you more items. Another plus: lunch specials are available on all seven days during the week, unlike some places.

Shaab Japanese Cuisine
7 N Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91103
(626) 683-1150

Shaab on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 26, 2009

China Southern Business Class: PEK to CAN

I've been so off in my post these days. When I first started this blog, I had already wanted to write this post. Gee...I already even posted my photos beforehand onto Photobucket (which I deleted later on) and Biggest Menu. Talk about spoiling the blog post! Well now, it's almost 7 months later, and here I am with the post. Finally.

*Note- This is going to be long with the many photos*

Background info before we start: This trip was taken as part of our summer trip last year in wubibiAsia during July/August. We were taking this flight mainly because we needed to go back towards Hong Kong so that we could fly back to LA due to our roundtrip fare for Cathay Pacific, and we went to Guangzhou as well due to the fact that we would pick up our luggage which we had left some of at our hotel in Guangzhou.

Photos for this trip were taken by our P200, just a few days before the Carl Zeiss lens broke down and could not open anymore. You can tell its age with the many scratches in the photos which are scratches on the lens. Smaller photos this time around because I edited these photos beforehand and back then I made them sized to 800 by 600 pixels (which is oversized for many of my readers). And since Flickr's options for the "large" size photo is the original size, I can't switch the size to 640 by 480 unless I change each photo's html code to 640 by 480. So...medium it is at 500 and 375 pixels. Now everyone can be happy...even people with smaller screen resolutions!

Start of Trip: It was a great morning to begin with in Beijing. Amazingly, it was sunny and bright. The sky was blue. Obviously, this was for the Olympics (usually it is all just grey and foggy looking), but for us, it was a great way to send us off away from Beijing. Our hotel, the China World Hotel, was preparing for the Olympics as well. A new planter was at the port cochere, and the rooms were diligently being renovated and cleaned, as well as the public spaces. Events even started occuring for the Olympics people, and there were also a fair share of cars with the Beijing 2008 logo on it. But, we had to leave, and after check out, we drove off in a taxi.

And on the taxi, there was a fair share of things to see. Tons of Beijing 2008 stuff all over the place.

DSC05500-1

See how that lane to the left was so empty? Well, that is the "Olympics" lane, which is designated for the Olympic cars to travel on. And look all around. Each light had a banner for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. That is a LOT of those banners.

DSC05497-1

And look here. Due to the fact this building was still in construction and didn't have its facade over the building yet, they covered the building...well most of it, with a huge Beijing 2008 ad. How nice is that?

Signs

There were tons of these Beijing 2008 countdown clocks all over the city too. You would also find them in parks as well as airports and other places. One was actually even decorated in flowers.

Terminal 2 Check In

Soon, we arrived at Terminal 2 of Beijing Capital Airport, and it was most certainly decorated with tons of Beijing 2008 things. What used to be for us that looked like a okay looking terminal now looked much more beautiful.

Signs

Near the terminal, there was a red ad again on the Olympics. This one though had the Paralymics mascot on it.

PEK

There was also a circular area with tons of flags connecting to the center pole. Interesting thing, but I didn't know what it was for at all.

Terminal 2
Terminal 2 Check In

We walked further away from the taxi drop area, and what did we see while on the bridge? A picturesque landscape which...you guessed it, also was just for the Olympics. The displayboard on top of the photo also seemed like something new.

Terminal 2

Does this give a better view of the garden?

London Taxi

And look at this! A London taxi in Beijing? Unheard of. I've never seen one of these before in Beijing. But it is probably one of the taxis made by the Chinese manufactuers rather than the original manufacturer that makes them.

Anyway, after all this photo taking, we entered the terminal, only to find out we needed to go through one of the security scannings. Anything metal that beeped (one piece of our luggage) was wiped with a cloth and checked if there was something dangerous. We ended up being fine and got an okay to the terminal, which was pretty bright and airy.

Check in Hall Terminal 2

We also noticed in the terminal that there were people doing decorations on the spot for the Olympics. Why not do it when there is less peak traffic I do not know! They could have done it in a closed off room. Instead, they did it in the terminal check in area where the space was emptied off with no people walking through it.

Time Clock

In the terminal there was yet another countdown clock, but this time it was by Omega, the watch maker. We would actually see some more of their ads across the terminal.

We then walked towards the China Southern check in area and checked in. It was very smooth, with the exception of a problem we encountered with something we bought, which later on got cleared off. We also found out we got the benefit of going through a special VIP area for the security check, as well as lounge entries.

Sponsors

And you guessed it. There was more Beijing 2008 stuff along the way. Like a big board of sponsors in the check in area...

Ad

As well as another Omega ad for the Olympics. I think I shot everything Beijing 2008 while I was there in the Terminal...with the exception of some more ads and posters, like the control tower which had Beijing 2008 stuff too.

Beijing Signs
Smile

But these "Welcome to Beijing Capital Airport" signs could also be considered as a Olympic item too. I've never seen these before, and the smile you see in the lower photo actually has a Air China "Fuwa" Boeing 737 on it.

Anyway, the VIP security area was mainly just a special line that was separated from everything else. It was very small and efficient, with several people manning the process. We got caught again, and they told us what it was, and we had to take it out. After asking a few questions though, we were okay again and were permitted to go to the lounge, which we happily did.

The lounge wasn't too special or beautiful, compared to extravagant airport lounges like Air New Zealand's LAX location, Emirates' DXB location, or Cathay Pacific's two lounges in HKG, but it was okay, and had plenty of food offerings. No, not all of them were of a great quality (China Southern's lounge in Guangzhou is better), but there were many things, including porridge, instant noodles (which I got plenty of), snacks (like chinese beef jerky which we snatched a lot for the flight later on as well as for general snacking in the lounge), bakery items (wrapped in plastic), and a wide selection of beverages. And plus, there was a good view, as well as many outlets for people with laptops.

You could also see the new Terminal 3 from the lounge. Here are some pictures I took:

DSC05535-1
Terminal 3

Airport
Looking farther right

Terminal 3
Zooming in to part of Terminal 3

After staying in the lounge for about an hour or so, we walked towards a small, but airy satellite building, and were whisked away by bus to go to the aircraft. However, we got onto a special Toyota bus which was for business class passengers/Sky Pearl members with elite status, and inside there were some comfy leather clad seats. Our route gave us some nice views of aircraft, like a Hainan Airlines A330, aircraft that were sitting in remote areas with engine covers on them, as well as good views of terminal two. However, the windows were tinted, which would make photo taking difficult. Plus, very little people were in the bus, and they were all business people. Hmm...a random person taking photos when everyone else is quiet would be really weird!

China Southern A321

We then arrived at the footsteps of the aircraft and were dropped off, and we were allowed to board by stairs! Usually, I have gotten off the plane by stairs, but never gone onto the plane with stairs. So...this was definitely something special.

And some photos of going up the stairs:

China Southern A321
China Southern A321

Once on board, we settled into the business class cabin, which was right in the front of the aircraft. The plane felt very new, and the seats were all clad in the standard China Southern fabric which you can find on many of their aircraft. Each seat had a metal footrest in front of it and had plenty of legroom to stretch out- five foot people could extend their feet horizontally with no problems. Recline was the standard amount for a domestic flight- the same as China Southern's long-haul premium economy product. In addition, there was a audio system in the seat where you could plug in your headphones and listen to the LCD TV screens above, or listen to music. We also received slippers and shoe bags as well, but no amenity kit. (Photo below taken in flight, not before flight)

Cabin Interior

The flight was full, but we actually left the boarding area on time. But, we had to wait in a long taxi line. And what was worse? A delay, with little movement on the plane. We were ordered to sit down, as it was unknown when our plane would ever move. But, we did know it was raining- sprinkling is the better word. No sign of saying it was a delay, but we sat around for as long as 20 minutes in one period of time. And so, with the luckiness of having a window seat, I entertained myself by taking photos. You see, this is why I recommend window seats on long flights:

Rainbow
"Nice to meet you United 747-400!", say the China Southern Airbus.

Rainbow
"Sorry! I have to go now.", says the China Southern Airbus.

Rainbow
"Bye!", says the China Southern Airbus.

No, I didn't take those photos for your entertainment pleasure. Instead, I was trying to capture the rainbow you see in the background. Anyway, we departed soon enough after this China Southern Airbus and United Boeing 747 encounter. And so, a selection of take off roll photos:

PEK
PEK
PEK
PEK
PEK

And off we went, smoothly into the air. Right?

No. Instead, it was a load of bumpy turbulence that was very harsh on the plane. It obviously wasn't light turbulence; the turbulence shook the plane wildly, almost like as if a monster was lightly shaking something they didn't like. In other words, the plane waddled back and forth, at times feeling like the plane was stuck mid air. The nose of the Airbus went up and down.

Soon enough though, it was fine, and service soon started. We were asked what entree we wanted from the menu which was large, and drinks started to flow around. The lead flight attendant in the flight served the left side of the plane, which I was in. She was very friendly to me and called me with names like "Cool guy" in Chinese, and she also was the person who did all the on-board announcements.

Food started to come and it started out with an appetizer, soup, bread, and salad.

Appetizer

The milk and the bag of mixed nuts were from the round of drinks, but everything else came later. The appetizer plate was cold, and there were pieces of roast beef, smoked salmon, a meatloaf, and a tomato and a orange segment. I didn't touch the smoked salmon though, due to its off putting color- it looked artificially pinkish red. Garlic bread was good as usual on China Southern- a bit crisp, chewy, and soft. And the soup, even with its clear looking color, was very flavorful, like a slow cooked soup in a Chinese restaurant. So far, so good, with the exception of the main appetizer plate.

Appetizer and Soup

And if you can notice in this photo, a moist towelette and metal silverware went along with the meal. No plastic forks, spoons, and knives.

Salad

A small bowl of salad was also served with Kewpie Thousand Island dressing. Although simple and easy to make, the ingredients were fresh (other than the corn which was canned obviously), and there was enough dressing for the salad. Yum.

Beef Stew

The main entree then arrived after cleaning up the extra plates from the appetizer round, and it was some black pepper beef stew served with carrots, potatoes, and broccoli. What saved the dish was the sauce. Otherwise, the potatoes had barely any flavor, and the broccoli the carrots would taste as if it was by itself. The beef was a bit tough but otherwise, a okay dish.

Dessert

And lastly, dessert came, which was some red bean bread pudding, snacks that said to be from Lao Beijing, or Old Beijing, a selection of cut fruit, and a small wedge of President cheese which was creamy, sweet, and yummy. Unexpectedly, the bread pudding was very good, although it was served cold. It was not too moist, and it went great along with the red beans and the vanilla sauce. There was some dragonfruit in the cut fruit bowl which was nice too. Certainly it was a great way to end the meal. The food service wasn't rushed, and they went along by how you finished your food.

The rest of the flight, we looked at magazines, which some talked about the Olympics, of course. There was Beijing 2008 peking duck, a Bird Nest dish, as well as other fun dishes. And also, there was plenty of sleeping after the delays and such. We arrived at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport at night and went back to our favorite hotel in Guangzhou, where we had another great, but short stay.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Los Gueros Mexican Restaurant

Exterior

Focusing back to exactly a year ago:

I had just redeemed some airline miles from United for our Boston trip so that we would have some gift certificates to use in Boston. I was able to redeem four certificates (worth 25 dollars) at Restaurant.com with my miles, but I only found three restaurants for our Boston trip. I didn't know what I would do with the last one.

Then, I looked at the restaurants near my local area and one restaurant that popped out was Los Gueros Mexican Restaurant. It didn't look familiar (haven't seen it before), but it was right in our area!

Months pass, and then I finally notice where it is. The gift certificate is still on the back burner, not used yet.

And what does it mean when I am now doing a blog post? It means we visited it. Finally :).

Interior

After parking at the adjacent parking lot, we went in and were immediately greeted by some of the Los Gueros staff. They seated us and their services came along. Our server came and gave us chips and salsa (the salsa had lots of juice in it and not too much of the ingredients (at times- later refills had more salsa and less juice), but was still flavorful, and the chips were freshly fried). Afterwards, he asked about what drinks we would order. We just asked him what he had available, and he promoted drinks like horchata and other beverages like a margarita. He didn't seem to want to settle with just plain old water. We ended up ordering a iced tea, which didn't have free refills.

And while we settled in, we also noticed the many awards, plaques, and thank yous for Los Gueros on the wall. The colors were certainly festive, and it almost felt like we were in Mexico.

Guacamole Cart

The guacamole cart came by our table (we were the only customers at the time...), and another server asked if we wanted guacamole. We agreed, and the server continued onto cutting avacados and taking the pits out, and then putting them into a stone looking bowl (actually it was plastic). Then, he mashed the avocados with two spoons. Meanwhile, he also asked us what we wanted- we picked everything on the cart, and told him not too make it too spicy. He applied the applicable ingredients from the tubs into the stone bowl and then mixed everything together, and to finish, he used the two spoons to create a flat top, and then used a piece of lime to wet the edge of the bowl.

Guacamole

Next, we used the existing tortilla chips to scoop up some of the guacamole, and one bite of it told me it was well made. There was no oversalting- it was a great mix of flavors, and you could taste every single ingredient the server put into making the guacamole. Most certainly it was better packaged than the stuff at the grocery store, but I could have made this at home easily. This was 5 dollars for not such a big serving- our server used about 2 avocados only.

We ordered our food after we had gotten the guacamole, and again we asked the server for some specials. He seemed to guide us more towards their seafood items rather than their other items. When we ordered the NY Steak, he also said, "I'll add some shrimp for you." I don't know if that would mean extra cost or it was for free. A nice gesture anyway though!

Speaking of being nice, the servers were really nice to us throughout the visit. There were constant refills of the chips and salsa (we had 3 refills...but they refilled with a new container even when we had just eaten 60 percent of the chips- did they throw it away (no!) or keep it (yikes...), I do not know), and constant watching of us.

Soon, all the three items we had ordered arrived at once. However, they also had corn tortillas being cooked on the griddle just for us. Weekends= freshly made tortillas.

Fish Tacos

I ordered the Fish tacos, which were one of the specials on the outside wall. Somehow, I seem pick a plate of fish tacos everytime I go to a Mexican restaurant that serves it. Anyway, the fish tacos were not of the fried variety- instead the fish was pan fried and then put onto two corn tortillas (you can pick flour tortillas too if you wanted to), which then was complimented by some salsa, white sauce, red cabbage, and cojita cheese. Unlike fast food company Rubios, Los Gueros didn't add too much red cabbage (yes!), but the cabbage was cut a bit thick and was a bit bitter too. The flavors melded together very well, although the cabbage sometimes stood out a bit. I think personally though that Zapata Vive!! Mexican Restaurant & Cantina's (a Mexican restaurant on First Ave. in Arcadia) version of the dish is slightly better.

Served alongside were some beans and rice, which were pretty flavorful and not completely bland. And on the dish was more than half of a lemon. We were happy with the lemons- I added them into my water glass for a refreshing drink :). Now...some sugar please? (not)

NY Steak with Shrimp Fajita

One of my dining companions ordered the New York Steak, after confirming with our server that it wasn't just a piece of regular steak you could have gotten at places like Garden Cafe or JR Cafe. And it was truly different. The steak was marinated in a blend of spices which you could taste, and the steak was pretty tender for the most part, with a good bite. Like promised, there was some shrimp fajita on top, and the shrimp was very juicy, and in general it added more flavor to the steak. Served alongside were guacamole and salsa (which made us feel like we shouldn't have ordered the guacamole...), rice and beans, a cheese enchilada, and a radish and a pepper, which looked more like a garnish rather than something to eat.

Seafood Fajita

My other dining companion ordered a big plate of seafood fajitas for us to share. It was a big dish with lots of bell peppers, onions, and pieces of halibut, shrimp, squid, and scallops, and the dish was seasoned with various flavors and spices. But that was just not the end of this dish.

Side plate for Seafood Fajita

On the side was a full plate's worth of nicely piped sour cream, shredded lettuce, various shredded cheeses, rice and beans, and diced tomato. Tons of food!

Corn Tortilla

Then came a cylindrical piece of plastic which housed at least 5 freshly cooked corn tortillas inside, which were certainly different than your normal corn tortilla. There wasn't any weird stale flavors, and the tortillas weren't thick like some commercial ones. Filling the tortillas with the fajitas from the hot plate as well as the plate of toppings was a very fun task, and was very fun to eat too. Enough to say, it was good enough for at least 2 or 3 people. And so, we had to take some home.

Any complaints? Well, later on, we found out that a whole chunk of the New York Steak was all fat. Yikes. We at the restaurant thought some of the fish in the fajita was not too fresh; however my fish tacos were fine.

Overall? The experience was very good, but a bit pricey due to the things we ordered. Unlike some places, this place doesn't have a lunch special menu, but the food was alright. They were pretty good in their seafood offerings- a wide variety compared to some restaurants, and the food was for the most part abundant and fresh. Service at Los Gueros was probably one of the best in the Mexican restaurants we have eaten at.

Will we return? Maybe. It is a bit farther out from most of the other Mexican restaurants that are pretty much equally as good as them (e.g. Paco's or Zapata Vive). But we'll return if we end up getting a good discount/ gift certificate. There are tons of their coupons, whether it be in the local coupon book, ad flyer, or online. And plus, on restaurant.com, there's 10 and 25 dollar certificates which sometimes cost really cheap. Definitely, there are some positives on this place, such as the freshly made tortillas (which weren't too mealy or weird tasting and didn't stand out too much when eaten with the other foods) and the abundance of seafood items, but some of the food wasn't too good, like some of the fish in the fajita and the big portion of fat in the NY steak (which they could have controlled by trimming some of it off or picking another piece of steak). I won't write off this place, as we have to yet try some other things, like the menudo which Yelpers are talking about.

Los Gueros Mexican Restaurant

313 W. Huntington Drive
Monrovia, CA 91016
Tel: (626)-358-0200

Los Gueros Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon