Shin Sen Gumi – Monterey Park

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Shin Sen Gumi’s newest location opened in Monterey Park a few months ago, and it is fantastic. It’s a shabu shabu and yakitori restaurant, similar to one of the Gardena locations.

Decor - Modern Japanese. Simple. Elegant. Most of the tables are along the windows, and there’s plenty of counter seating. There are a few inset tables behind curtains for privacy. There’s special private dining area that’s more traditional Japanese (you
sit on the floor) and is available by reservation only. That room has
a 6 person/$250 minimum.

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Food - The yakitori is excellent. In addition to usual chicken, meatball and sausage, the menu also has heart, liver and beef tongue. YUM. The shabu shabu is good but not really special, though the ponzu sauce is really tasty. The appetizers are great.

Service - Attentive. Friendly. And fun. Just like the other Shin Sen Gumi locations, the waiters shout in unison in Japanese to greet you, to thank you when you leave and when you ask for your check. I have no idea what they’re saying.

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When we received our first order of grilled beef tongue, our waiter showed us how to make a traditional accompanying sauce — Yuzu kosho (a mildly spicy chili paste) and ponzu (citrus-seasoned vinegar).

Try - Order as many types of yakitori as you can. They cost about $2 to $3 an order, and they’re easy to share. Also, try the creamy crab croquette. It’s unlike any other croquette I’ve had before.

Most romantic restaurants, part 3

Some final notes regarding the most romantic restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley:

  • At least three people tried to make a case for Dino’s Burgers in Azusa. Reporter Jennifer McLain said the chicken produces heartburn. Reporter Dan Abendschein said the dishes are big enough to share (awww…). And graphics designer Manny Amaya said something like — nothing says romance quite like Dino’s chicken.
  • 2008 Doo Dah Queen Michelle Mills adds Cafe Santorini in Pasadena to the list. “… very romantic spot. You can eat inside or on the patio. …. Save room for their luscious desserts…. I went there once on a date and I will never forget it — the guy, perhaps, but not the restaurant!”
  • In the last post, one person asked about romantic Chinese restaurants. Is it an oxymoron? My suggestions: Triumphal Palace in Alhambra and Capital Seafood in Monterey Park. If you like Japanese food, try Gyu-Kaku in Old Pasadena and Shin-Sen-Gumi in Rosemead.
  • Final word: Features staffer Linda Gold says the romance-level of a restaurant has less to do with the decor, food, service or lighting, and more to do with the person you’re with.

Most romantic restaurants, part 2

More ideas for a romantic dinner:

Mojitos Restaurant
in Pasadena – “The food is latin-Cuban. The atmosphere is great. The Mojito glasses even have a little slant.” (Andrew Landeros, designer)

Taco Bell – “I always see the teens in there holding hands and gazing
into each other’s eyes over plates of nachos. I also see boy and girls
flirting with each other in there or using it to meet new beaus. So
sweet you don’t need a churro for dessert!” (Michelle Mills, reporter)

Tulipano’s in Azusa – “… Delightful. Northern Italian (i.e. not everything smothered in ubiquitous red sauce!) No atmosphere in location, but the food and music, sometimes there is guitar, make up for a lot.” (Linda Gold, features editorial assistant)

Chelsea in Glendora – “Glendora’s only good restuarant for grown-ups, sort of a fusion, some Asian, some Italian, some pizza, some Continental. Everything is really good and there are these little, tiny, fresh rolls, covered in garlic and olive oil that are something.” (Linda Gold, features editorial assistant)

Most romantic restaurants

Yes, romantic restaurants do exist in the San Gabriel Valley. Here are the results of a quick poll of the newsroom:

Dino’s Burgers in Azusa — “Because the chicken warms hearts — and sometimes creates heartburn.” (Jennifer McLain, reporter)

Firefly, South Pasadena; Bistro 45, Pasadena; 750 ml, South Pasadena; Crepe Vine, Old Pasadena. (Larry Wilson, public editor)

Graziano’s Italian Restaurant in Rowland Heights – “(It) has a very nice intimate atmosphere perfect for a romantic dinner and the food is great, very authentic. It’s hidden away in a little shopping area. (Claudia Palma, reporter)

Buca Di Beppo is always a fun and romantic dinner. The authentic food is always delicious, and since there is always so much to take home, it makes great leftover lunch too. They also have great wine and dessert choices. Chris and I love this place! I would suggest sitting in a private booth or request to sit away from parties or large groups to really have an intimate romantic dinner.” (Claudia Palma, reporter)

Bistro K in Pasadena — “… One of the best meals I’ve had in my life, and as an added bonus allow diners to bring in their own wine. The only downside the restaurant is TINY. You’ll be snuggled up close to your date … and the the couple sitting behind you. (Audrey Reed, reporter)

Bistro 45 in Pasadena – “The food is on par with Bistro K, the dining room is far more spacious and the wait staff was attentive. Both bistros have bank-breaking power; dinner for two could run about $200.” (Audrey Reed, reporter)

Magnolia Lounge in Pasadena – “The food offerings are typical bar fare – hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, french fries – however all dishes are well-prepared with quality ingredients. The bar oozes romance, but to up the flirt factor, skip over the clear chairs and look for a spot on a couch or outside under the tree.” (Audrey Reed, reporter)

Crabby Chad’s in Covina – “… The food and service are excellent. Plus, what could be more romantic than gazing into your sweetheart’s eyes over a plate of oysters??” (Michelle Mills, reporter)

Fuddruckers in Burbank – You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time. Watch TV, play games, dress your own burger, and finish the night with a warm cookie. Best of all, Fuddrucker’s doesn’t take reservations! (Esther Chou, online editor)

Quizno’s – the longest line in the world

I think I’ve reached my breaking point. As much as I love the flatbread at Quizno’s (you can order two pieces on the side for just $1), the long line at Quizno’s isn’t worth it. Today, I waited nearly 30 minutes for my food.

12:43 p.m. – Walk in, stand in line to place order
12:47 p.m. – Place order for two orders of flatbread (YUM!)

waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting

1:10 p.m. – Pay
1:11 p.m. – Walk out with food

I noticed on my receipt that Quizno’s has a customer comment line (1-866-4TOASTED) that, surprisingly, is manned by an actual person. Thanks, Quizno’s!

The Elephant Bar in West Covina

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Dining on a budget:
By Richard Irwin
Here’s the rub: I felt like something exotic for lunch. I’m thinking Wildebeast or gazelle, you know a lean meat to keep the cholesterol down.
But it’s hard enough to find venison or buffalo on local menus, what chance did I have for game from the dark continent.
Fortunately, the answer came in the form of a $5 off coupon from the Elephant Bar Restaurant in West Covina. Surely, they would have something unusual for lunch.
And if pachyderms drank there then it couldn’t be all that bad. After all, everyone knows elephants never forget anything, let alone a bad meal.
So I called my trusty gun bearer, Marlene, and we set out to find this African restaurant. Unless, of course, it was an Indian elephant in which case I guess I would have to settle for curry.
I never travel alone into territory known to harbor large predators, you know places like Hollywood, Compton or biker bars. By taking a friend, I know I don’t have to run faster than an angry lion, cheetah or Harley rider. I just have to run faster than my friend.
Survival of the fittest, I always say.
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Hot Wings update

So after my disappointment at KFC, I was seriously craving some kind of saucey hot wing this weekend.
Unfortunately thanks to different fiascos (car, family, work – the usual) I couldn’t get to Hooters or Denny’s, but I did try the wings from Round Table.
I didn’t try the pizza that was ordered for the little Sunday gathering at my brother’s house in Ontario, but I did try the buffalo and barbecue wings.
The wings themselves were meaty enough to feel satisfied with just three servings. The barbecue wings were lightly brushed with the sauce but had just enough bbq sweetness. The buffalo wings were also lightly brushed with sauce but the spices had enough kick to satisfy my craving – for now.

Esther’s Buffalo Wings review:
In response to Esther’s recent reviews, I felt I had to put in my two-cents in. I probably had wings at only three of the locations she talks about, but I have to defend one – Hooters.
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Best Buffalo wings in town

I absolutely love Buffalo wings. What’s not to love? They’re fried, saucy, you use your hands, and you can dip them in lots of ranch sauce. There are lots of restaurants in the area that serve wings, but the San Gabriel Valley definitely needs more. Here’s my evaluation of the places I’ve been:

BJ’s
Great presentation. The wings are fried but are served un-sauced. Instead, you get a small bowl of buffalo sauce and ranch sauce. The wing sauce is vinegary, spicy but without any serious heat. The kick comes from the vinegar. Even without sauce, the wings have great flavor. The skin is crisp but there’s plenty of juicy meat inside. I’d give these an A.

Pizza Chalet
One time I went to this local pizza joint in Covina, the waiter told me they were out of wings! I couldn’t understand how this was possible. It’s like Quizno’s telling customers they’re out of turkey meat, which really did happen last week. Pizza Chalet wings are just average and not really memorable. The restaurant makes up the taste shortcomings in price. You can get a whole lotta wings for a lot less than other restaurants. B-

Pizza Hut (Wing Street)
If you can’t find a specialty wing restaurant, Pizza Hut is a good backup. The wings are good, not great. They’re definitely on the fattier, softer side when compared to other wings. The Dallas Morning News even wrote about Pizza Hut’s increasing reliance on wings in their business. Smart move. Wings are relatively easy to make and rarely discounted. B

Wingstop
All the way from Texas, this chain opened its first SGV location in Monrovia a couple of years ago. Now, they’re they’re popping up everywhere: Baldwin Park, Chino Hills, Fullerton, Alta Loma, Whittier, Cerritos. Wingstop really knows how to pack a lot of flavor into a small piece of meat. My favorites are original hot, lemon pepper and garlic Parmesan. They also have a flavor called Atomic that’s probably the hottest wing I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, Wingstop wings are very small and over fried. The skins are nice and crispy but so is the rest of the meat. Still, these wings are definitely worth a try with a side of fries. (The seasoning on the fries is divine.). A-

Buffalo Wild Wings
With 14 flavors organized by spiciness, Buffalo Wild Wings (aka BW3) is the most “fun” wing place. You might need a couple of return trips to try all the flavors. So far, my favorite flavor is hot, which has a lot of heat but is also very flavorful. As far as texture goes, the wings have the perfect crispy to juicy ratio. However, inside meat is rather bland, especially when it’s not coated with a dipping sauce. For the overall wing experience, you can’t go wrong at Buffalo Wild Wings. Unfortunately, there are only 3 locations in California: Rancho Cucamonga, Murrieta and Mira Loma. Let’s hope they open more. A

Hooters
I don’t care what other people say. The wings at Hooters aren’t good. If you like the service, ambiance or atmosphere, that’s fine. But Hooters isn’t worth visiting for just the food. The wings are heavily sauced, too vinegary and too salty. The texture is similar to wings at Pizza Hut — soft, but not quite as fatty. Hooters also serves Buffalo shrimp, but it’s drowned in the same salty, vinegary sauce as they put on the wings. If you’re craving wings, don’t go to Hooters. There are too many better options out there. C

New KFC Hot Wings

First of all, I must admit, I am one of those people that can get influenced by commercials to try new things.
So when I saw the commercials for the new Hot Wings at Kentucky Fried Chicken, my love for hot wings and the clever idea of a sauceless hot wing, drove me to the nearest KFC in Baldwin Park for lunch today.
I went ahead and ordered the meal that came with 6 pieces of hot wings, potato wedges and a drink for $5 and change after taxes.
The wing pieces were the usual size as hot wings sold elsewhere and they were crispy. But, as I mentioned before – I am a big fan of hot wings and with these wings, I was not feeling the heat.
If you’ve been to Popeye’s and ordered the spicy chicken, then you’ll know what I’m talking about next.
KFC put the spicy sauce inside the wings, between the chicken and the skin, making it ‘sauceless’ but the spices were not very hot.
And in my opinion, the Popeye’s spicy chicken is so much better than KFC’s, just as their mashed potatoes should not be in the same category as KFC’s version.
I should have gotten the hint that they weren’t so hot with the dozens of hot sauce packets thrown in my take-out bag.
So, now I need to fulfill my hot wings craving. Sounds like a trip to Hooters or Denny’s this weekend :-p

Not so fresh or easy

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So I finally made my first trip to the infamous Fresh & Easy Neighborhood market about a week ago. Ive been hearing about the place for weeks from fellow reporter Jennifer McLain who raves about the European-style market constantly.
My first impression walking in was, Wow. This really reminds of Trader Joes, except not as welcoming. Nevertheless, I made my way over to the lunch section and bought a package of California rolls.
The price was good, under $5. But to be quite honest, I wasnt all that impressed with the quality. First of all, the imitation crab was strangely stringy, and the side slices of ginger did not live up to the markets fresh motto. Not to mention the rolls were not tightly wrapped so they kep falling apart. All in all, it was very mediocre.
Not that I was expecting Zagat-rated food out of a pre-packaged lunch box, but honestly, Ive had better luck buying California rolls from Vons.
The best part of my lunch? A box of Edwards frozen banana cream pie purchased for an office going away party. Highly recommended.