Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mitsuru Cafe and Little Tokyo- Los Angeles

Japanese Village Plaza Sign

Every trip to Los Angeles has a purpose to make the drive worthwhile, just like with our Santa Monica day trip with lunch at the Lobster. What was this one? Buying a new clay pot. Yes, although you could just get one at your local Asian market, we did not like the selection in our area. So it was off to Little Tokyo.

Besides, I had bought a clay pot at the dollar store in Little Tokyo about five years ago. I bought it just because it looked pretty and cute, being less than a feet in diameter with a short height. There was not even any real purpose for it until we started using it for fun, and then for constant use as other pots broke. Amazing, it lasted for a long time, until a few weeks ago when it just cracked suddenly while being washed. (even if it was completely cooled)

Anyway, with Little Tokyo in mind, there were two places we wanted to visit. One was Sushi Gen, since my dining companions had been to there while I and another dining companion had not. The other was Mitsuru Cafe, since it is our usual place to eat if we ever go to Little Tokyo, which is not often.

Mitsuru Cafe

After parking at the Japanese Village Plaza, which I do not recommend by the way (Park somewhere else unless it is nighttime- you'll find cheaper prices), we headed off to Mitsuru. There was some change from my last visit about three years ago- the facade of all the places had changed to a more modern look. Mitsuru didn't have a cart outside anymore or an ice shaver that day. CeFiore closed, just like in Irvine's Diamond Jamboree.

Tables at Mitsuru Cafe

Inside not much had changed either. All the dark wood furniture were inside, and so were the pictures of the food and the screen to the side of the restaurant. One change with was that the Mitsuru A and B lunch plaques that were very old had been taken off from the side of each table. Instead this today special sign was here. What was on the other side? A really old version of the today special. :)

Certificates
Interior of Mitsuru Cafe

And yes, all the certificates and pictures to one side of the wall were still there. Honoring the restaurant and the family of the restaurant.

Mitsuru Cafe Pictures and Certificates

One very notable picture is a old picture of Hillary Clinton. Time warp? Exactly. Not much new with the certificates and pictures these days.

Interior

Here is another view of the restaurant, this time showing the kitchen. Notice the old chairs and the signs written in Japanese.

Mitsuru Cafe Menu
(click for a larger version on Flickr)

The last difference inside the restaurant was that the menus had changed. Before it was a tattered brown covered menu. Now, it is a white laminated one page menu.

Cabbage and Cucumber Appetizer

While we glanced at the menu, small dishes of lightly salted and marinated cucumber came for each person. These had a light seasoning of salt and a touch of vinegar and a nice crunch. It was good by itself or added to an entree.

Takoyaki

After ordering with our server, a friendly elderly woman who cared and treated everyone nicely, I went up to the front of the restaurant to get some takoyaki (2 USD per stick) Dusted with sesame seed and sesame powder and drizzled with a vinegary sauce, these looked fine. But the sauce was soaked up already. What to do?

Takoyaki with Sauce on Side

Some more sauce, of course. And that sauce came from a gigantic plastic squeeze container like you would see on a Guy Fieri's "Guy's Big Bite."

As for the takoyaki, they were slightly warmer than room temperature and came from a large platter. However there was still a crisp and the batter was bouncy like fishcake and slightly creamy too. Inside was a small piece of chunk of octopus which was slightly overcooked and could have been better. The vinegary sauce, sesame seed, and seaweed provided an interesting cut and combination of flavors to the existing batter and octopus. All for all, it was quite pleasant for food on a stick but was a bit pricey. At least it was a nice appetizer!

Salad with Sesame Dressing

Meanwhile, a salad with sesame dressing came, as part of the item I ordered from the A La Carte menu. With a simple romaine lettuce, tomato, and cucumber combination with some sesame sauce it was an easy and flavorful salad. A tad more sesame dressing, and I would have liked it even more.

Niku Udon

One of my dining companions ordered the Niku Udon (6.50 USD), which was basically slices of beef, thin udon noodles and green onions in a light soup base (dashi and kaeshi combined?). It was a simple bowl of udon noodles. What was different than what we usually see was that the udon noodles were thinner, not the thick udon that you usually see in the frozen foods section. Is this what you get with dried udon noodles? I think so.

The beef slices were very nicely beefy and the green onions, like in most noodle soups, added brightness to the broth and the entire noodle soup. And the udon noodles were tender with a light chew. Simple and easy.

Chanpon

Another dining companion ordered the Chanpon (7.50 USD), which was a noodle soup with napa cabbage, two varieties of fishcake, some pork slices, onions, and green onions.

Noodles

It was certainly a large bowl. The noodles had a yellow tinge to them and were chewy and thin. As for the broth, it was a thickened pork broth with a touch of soy sauce and mirin. The many fillings gave flavor to the soup and all together it was a very filling dish. Very nice fishcake too.

Satsuma Jiru Full Set

Another dining companion and I ordered the Satsuma Jiru (8.50 USD), described as pork and vegetables cooked in a miso broth. It also came with the salad with sesame dressing and a bowl of short grain rice that was plump and fat.

Satsuma Jiru

As seen by the photo, the Satsuma Jiru came with much more items other than pork and vegetables. There were blocks of firm tofu, plenty of napa cabbage, onions, carrots, chewy konjac noodles, and fishcake stuffed with gobo/ burdock. And the miso broth brought in additional flavor, with the flavors from the added ingredients providing additional flavor to a very light but filling dish.

It was very pleasant to eat. Not only was it a large serving, each component was delicious by itself with some broth. Rice was a nice carrier to balance out the flavor of the broth. And the fishcake was delicious! It was bouncy and flavorful, and the addition of burdock root was a interesting choice that worked well.

Making Imagawayaki

Making Imagawayaki

After the main course, we of course had to have dessert, because one of the popular items that we enjoy every time at Mitsuru Cafe is the imagawayaki. For those who do not know, it is a small, puck shaped cake like item which uses a round pan with molds. Batter is added and filling is added, and then one side is put on top of another side to make the "sandwiching" of the two sides complete into one round puck.

Places like 99 Ranch Market in San Gabriel used to sell a Chinese version that was quite similar to this imagawayaki but with more fillings to choose from quite often. Crispy from the pan, my favorite was the custard. But now, these are rare- the only place I know of is outside the S.G. Superstore as stated by Wandering Chopsticks. And those even are not as good as the 99 Ranch ones.

Imagawayaki

Since we were not going to go anywhere soon, we ate these imagawayaki in the restaurant. I requested for three of them and they were brought to our table, warm from the pan and lightly crisp. During my first visit they were crisp and we ordered quite a few for the drive home. Now, we don't eat or buy them specially to maintain better health, but they are still just as enjoyable as they were before.

Inside Imagawayaki

The batter for the imagawayaki was quite nice. The exterior had a nice chew and lightly crispy texture on the edges, and the inside batter was chewy and lightly sweetened. As for the filling, it was a delicious red bean filling where you could still feel the red bean. What was different was the taste of the red bean filling. Unlike other places which just add sugar, some salt in addition to the sugar was added for an interesting taste that worked out great. It is similar to what people say about adding salt to caramel.

For 1.25 USD per imagawayaki, these are not exceedingly cheap but they are worth the price to try out and enjoy once in a while. If you haven't tried one yet, do visit Mitsuru Cafe while you visit Little Tokyo. And if you have the time, also have a meal to see how friendly service and family style cooking is like.


Mitsuru Cafe
117 Japanese Village Plaza Mall
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel: (213) 613-1028

Mitsuru Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Entry Japanese Village Plaza

Afterwards, we visited around the shops, looking at the various items at what used to be the Marukai (?) dollar store (now a Tokyo Japanese Lifestyle store). There was a bread container and popsicle molds for sale. We were thinking of getting one of them but decided against eventually.

Japanese Village Plaza
(under construction)

We also visited the Nijiya Market to see if a clay pot could be found. There was not, but there was a lot of interesting Japanese food items like mochi and a wide range of bento boxes!

Weller Court and Square Knot

Then we headed off to Weller Court to see if the supermarket there had any clay pots. I didn't notice that Weller Court had a square knot sculpture before. Newly installed?

US Shuttle

This US shuttle was familiar though, since during our first visit to Little Tokyo it was there already there.

Water Fountain at Weller Court

There was also a water fountain at Weller Court.

After some pictures we then visited the Marukai supermarket. Which when we arrived I finally remembered that Marukai requires a membership or a one dollar fee. Before/ their past owners didn't have this policy. There were clay pots- all of them nice and under 10 dollars for the size we wanted, but the membership fee put us off. There were more food items to see at Marukai though, but why buy stuff here when I can visit their West Covina location instead and not need to walk so far to bring stuff back to the car?

Honda Plaza

Lastly we stopped by Honda Plaza to see Sushi Gen's opening hours. When we saw the sign, we were glad we had picked Mitsuru Cafe first! Sushi Gen only opens for lunch Monday-Friday and dinners from Monday-Sunday. We would have been not accepted inside if we had come for lunch. Now that would be a time waster.

Little Tokyo Fan Crosswalk

Walking back from Honda Plaza to go back to our car to go home, I spotted a fan on the street. A very pretty decoration it definitely is. :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Buffet at Bellagio- Las Vegas

Bellagio Exterior

Breakfast. Who knew at 10A.M. that so many people would be lining up? Snake patterns? Why? Anyway, since I was feeling better, I'd say we should take part in this breakfast frenzy. But where at? Cafe Bellagio was close, but the prices seemed so close to the Buffet price I would rather get the Buffet instead. Besides, a trip to Las Vegas requires a buffet visit, even if I am sick. Off we went.

Buffet Exterior 2

The Buffet was hidden in the casino- far from the lobby, far from the VIP and Executive Club Lounges. But what shocked me was this exterior.

Buffet Sign

My memory from 5 years ago about this place: A pretty, elegant buffet with golden watermelon (WOW!). This looked quite the opposite. But what was hidden from the typical modern look of most buffets was still the actual, good buffet from years past.

Unlike last time however, this time we zipped through the line with a line pass which that itself even had NO line at all. People in the regular line probably waited for another 30 minutes. Which is exactly why we were prompted by a customer in the regular line about to be released to pay for the meal.

"Where do you get this?"

Well, the employee working the lines made this all into a joke while I was thinking of a response. "MONEY, MONEY, MONEY! $$$! " All with a happy smile.

Interior 1

What a silly response! Someone's having an enjoyable time at work. We were released then, and after paying 16 USD per person for breakfast, we were brought to our table. Not knowing the price beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised. Wynn costs much more, but yet both the Bellagio and the Wynn have buffets that are "top of the line." Comparing prices, the Aria and the Mirage have similar costs within three dollars for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (exception Mirage having 12.50 breakfast). I think I would take Bellagio over those any day.

Interior 4

The bad part? Deep yellow lighting in our spot. However, it was well decorated with a screen for Keno that was on break and plenty of drawings. People seated outside got better lighting but also more foot traffic.

Interior 2

Interior 3

After telling our server what drinks we wanted, which ranged from green tea to soymilk and milk to orange juice, we went off. My first stop was at the Asian section of the buffet.

Part of Asian Section

There was quite a large variety. Other than your usual chow mein, fried rice and orange chicken, there were also stir fried vegetables, duck green curry, and congee. And of course, I picked up items similar to what I had at Noodles the past day to make a comparison.

Breakfast Pizza, Green Curry, Porridge, Croissant, Fried Rice and Noodle

My first plate was simple- some porridge, a croissant, some of the duck green curry, a breakfast pizza slice, and some fried rice and chow mein. The fried rice and chow mein were standard for a buffet, but the green curry? Fantastic! Tender veggies and flavorful duck meat. Plus a creamy green curry sauce. This totally beat the Noodle's chicken curry that we had the day before. I got seconds.

The croissant was buttery and flaky with multiple layers, and the porridge was similar to the Noodle's version but you could feel the rice more in this in comparison to the Noodle's version where the rice has been disintegrated. As for the pizza, it had plenty of bacon and meat bits. If you like meat in your breakfast, you'll enjoy it!

Omelet, Apple Crepes and Cheese Blintz

After my second plate I headed off to the omelet station where there was a long queue but friendly employees and visitors, some which even noticed my camera. My omelet was simple, with lots of veggies. However, if you wanted to go the fancy route you can also get almost anything you wanted as well as some notables: crab meat and shrimp. Lots of people also asked for poached eggs, and yes those were also available as well from the kitchen. As for the taste, it was a nice hearty omelet that was tender on the inside and not overcooked.

To the side were some apple crepes which had a nice thin crepe skin and an apple filling with a hint of cinnamon, as well as a cheese blintz which had the same pleasant thin crepe skin but with a creamy sweet cheese filling as what you would see in a cheese danish.

Butternut Squash Soup, Smoked Salmon, Beef Rib, Shrimp Cocktail

My fourth plate of food had stuff from the lunch menu since we arrived about an half hour before lunch started. I got a beef rib (lunch), two soups (lunch, replaces oatmeal), smoked salmon (breakfast), and some cocktail shrimp (?). The beef rib was quite tender if not a bit charred, with the BBQ sauce complementing it while not being overly sweet like some BBQ sauces are. One of the soups in the bowl was a butternut squash puree, the other I can't remember but it was quite interesting. As for the cocktail shrimp, they were fresh and crisp (the shrimp), and the smoked salmon was normal, cut to medium thin slices.

Dessert 1

After all the food, I walked some of it off by taking pictures of the dessert section, where there were little people since it was breakfast and early lunch. The other sections all had plenty of foot traffic so I didn't take pictures.

Ice Cream Machine

Sorbet Machine

Here are the ice cream machines on opposite ends of the dessert section.

Dessert 2

Here's a wider look at the earlier photo with the flan and the banana walnut cake.

Dessert 3

Moving on we have a carrot cake, fruit tart, a low calorie cheesecake, and some other desserts.

Dessert 4

Here's another shot of the same area, but showing the back of the racks.

Dessert 5

Cream puff closeup!

Dessert 6

And cheesecake and eclairs.



And for a fuller view, a video. I'm noticing I always am moving way too quickly in these videos. You can't even see the food easily since it's all a blur! Manual focusing on a D90, as usual.

Flan

What did I get out of all of these desserts? A LOT. I wanted to share too, but I ended up eating most of them.

This, as you can see, is a flan. One of my favorites at the Wynn buffet, this was also very good, with a very creamy texture and a light sweetness. However, during May, I had a even creamier and richer flan that was made by a student for Spanish class. That one was awesome. This one, was quite pleasant for a flan.

Dessert Selection

The other two items I got were the cheesecake and the tiramisu (the walnut banana I put in for fun, I didn't eat it). The cheesecake was very creamy and flavorful but not as dense as what Cheesecake factory would serve (thus I didn't feel too bad even eating most of it). And the Tiramisu had thin cake layers which were soaked in coffee and in between were creamy layers of a sweet marscapone cheese cream. On top were a chocolate espresso bean and a slice of chocolate.

Fruit

To not just be indulging on sweets for dessert, I also went to pick some fruit, some of which were from various breakfast sections that were not for fruit. As you can see, no more yellow watermelon- it's red now. The oranges came from a section where there were also smoothies and juices- however that section had closed down and they were switching to lunch mode. All the fruits were very good- fresh and sweet. The strawberry didn't compare to the chocolate covered strawberries in terms of juiciness and sweetness but it was still quite nice.

Sushi Sides

Sushi

After finishing the fruit I walked around yet again and got a glimpse at the sushi section for lunch which was quite extravagent with multiple salads and sushis. One of my dining companions meanwhile had a very nice salad from one of the lunch sections. The special thing is that you don't get the salad yourself, you get it from an employee (maybe also because it was early lunch).

Overall? I'd say a fantastic deal and meal. High quality food at a good price for those who like to try a bit of everything. If you were thinking of going to a casual restaurant at the Bellagio, you might as well come here. You are probably going to spend the same amount but yet the Buffet offers similar quality and a much wider range of options, especially during lunch. Want the best of both? Come like we did, right before lunch started- and you'll have a nice brunch. However, be smart and request a line pass if possible. That will save you at least 30 minutes of waiting during peak hours, if not more!

With prices being less than Wynn's by quite a bit I'd take Bellagio as a great option for a buffet in the high mid-range. Spend the extra money if you wanted to eat at Mirage or somewhere similar- it's definitely worth it! Wynn is basically off by itself for the expensive buffet, and the main difference is a nicer presentation. :)

Next post in this series? Going home and a few pictures of Caesars Palace. See the entire series through this index (HERE).


Bellagio Las Vegas
3600 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Tel: (702) 693-7111

Buffet (Bellagio) on Urbanspoon

This trip series posts are listed in order below:
Driving Scenes: CA-Las Vegas, Spring 2010
VIP Lounge at Bellagio Las Vegas and Check In
Bellagio Review 2010: Penthouse Suite on the 35th Floor
Bellagio Review 2010: Tower Deluxe Queen Room on the 35th Floor (Room Connector)
Walkaround: Bellagio, CityCenter (Aria, Jean Philippe Patisserie)- Las Vegas
Noodles (Bellagio)- Las Vegas
Fountains of Bellagio- Las Vegas
Pho Vietnam & Capital Seafood- Las Vegas
Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (Spring)/ Check In Area- Las Vegas
Aureole- Las Vegas (Mandalay Bay)
The Buffet (Bellagio)- Las Vegas
Las Vegas Spring 2010 Trip Day 3: Caesars Palace Forum Shops and Driving Scenes: Las Vegas to LA