Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill

After some so-so restaurant chain reviews here on Eat. Travel. Eat!, it is time for a better, more positive review on a small restaurant chain, especially since this is the 125th post and should be something positive rather than negative! And so, today's post is on a California restaurant chain that we like. It is great when we are in the mood for some good American food.

Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill

Located in the first recent expansion of the mall (Restaurant Square), Wood Ranch has one of the prominent spots there, and when you arrive at the mall you will see smoke coming off from their chimney. Next door is a kids daycare center and the Cheesecake Factory, which I hope to visit someday.

Interior of Wood Ranch

Entering the restaurant, you will find a large sitting spot if you are required to wait. Luckily, for this lunch visit, we did not need to wait. However, dinner is more busy, and we had to wait every time we came for dinner. You'll get a beeping buzzer thing which you get at other restaurants like BJ's and Outback Steakhouse if you do need to wait.

Tableside
At the table, looking at some BBQ sauce, pepper, salt, and a lamp.

The interior is a bit dark near the walls of the restaurant; however there is plenty of smaller lights at each table as well as on the ceiling which make the dining experience much bearable. I just am not used to eating in very dark places. For a bright spot, get seats in the middle of the restaurant, which you see in the photo above this one. They like to spread out the customers throughout the restaurant so sometimes you may get a dark spot, or you may get a bright spot. This time we got a darker spot.

Lemonade

We started off with some lemonade (3.95 USD) which was decorated with a sugar rimmed glass, mint, and lemon. At 3.95 for lemonade, you definitely would expect something nice going along with it. This lemonade had a nice balance of sweet and sour and the mint when put into the glass added extra flavor.

Artichoke and Spinach Dip with Salsa and Chips

For the appetizer, we ordered some Spinach and Artichoke Dip (9.50 USD) which came with warm tortilla chips and a bowl of salsa. This dip was excellent. The chips were seasoned and were extremely warm (probably just fried), and the dips wewre very tasty. The spinach and artichoke dip was smooth with no big chunks of ingredients, and the flavors melded together so that tehere was no big substantial taste of one ingredient, which BJ's did not do as well. Salsa on the other hand had lots of juice in it, but at the bottom were diced tomatoes, peppers, and onions. We ate along with both of them.

Garlic Butter Rolls

After we had gotten eating our appetizer for a while, the complimentary warm garlic butter rolls arrived. This is one of the things that is special about Wood Ranch; I have never seen these served elsewhere other than at WR. On the outside is a coating of butter, garlic, and bits of green (not very identifiable to me), and when you bite in, you get a soft interior with a slightly chewy and hard exterior. Sometimes I eat five of them by myself. I did that during my first visit to Wood Ranch by the way. Eat as much as you want, because refills of the bread are free.

House Salad- part of lunch combo

While waiting for our main entrees, part of one of my dining companion's lunch combo arrived, and it was the house salad. You can pick between soup or salad and my dining companion ordered the house salad with some ranch dressing. There was bed of romaine lettuce, and then the dressing came in. On top were chunks of tomato, house made croutons, and a few grinds of freshly cracked pepper. Nothing too spectacular with the salad, but the ingredients were fresh. Plus, the croutons were seasoned properly and definitely were made in house. No commercially made croutons here!

BBQ Tri Tip Sliders with Corn- kids portion
Kids Portion (5.99USD)

Tri Tip Sliders with Baked Potato- Lunch Combo
Lunch Combo Portion (10.95USD)

Our main courses finally arrived and the first dish that came were the WR Tri-Tip Sliders. On top you see the kids portion which I had, and the bottom is the lunch combo portion. Basically, there was no difference between the two. You get to pick your choosing of side, and so I ordered the corn, which was nicely grilled and not charred, because there was no baked potato option. However, the lunch combo portion allows you to pick the baked potato so my dining companion did so. WR's baked potatoes have a coating of some salt and oil on top and are cooked properly- not too hard and not mushy either. Butter and sour cream and chives were served on the side.

The WR Tri-Tip sliders on the other hand on both plates were fantastic. The meat portion was the same on both of the plates and the meat was firm but tender and juicy. There was just enough sauce to coat every piece of meat, and the BBQ sauce was slightly sweet and rich, but not overwhelming in flavor like those storebought BBQ sauces. The tri tip was served on lightly toasted sponge buns which were very soft but yet held up to the tri tip due to their light toasting. Both my dining companion and I were very happy with this dish. I highly recommend it.

Prime Rib with corn, rice, and Aj jus

Another recommendation I would like to make is the prime rib (this one is 11 ounces and costs 23.95USD). It is on a bit of the expensive side, especially in Arcadia, but this is so scrumptious. Even at the medium well stage, the prime rib is so juicy and tender, and retains a beefy flavor, which most of the other prime ribs I have tried do not. The aj jus is freshly made and there is a huge difference between this aj jus compared to buffet aj jus. There is no comparison! So beefy and flavorful. You get two sides with the prime rib and so my dining companion had some rice and corn on the cob.

Sirloin with Baked Beans and Brocoli

The only disappointing dish of the day was the top sirloin (19.95 USD), which was too charred for our liking. The sirloin was a bit dry for our liking as well, but it too also retained its natural flavor. Unlike places like Garden cafe, this sirloin was very thickly cut. On the side were the WR baked beans which basically are beans with their BBQ sauce, and broccoli. The broccoli surprised us as it was just one head of broccoli. We ourselves had to cut it down into smaller pieces. By the way, the broccoli had no seasoning to it, so we dipped it into the aj jus later on. Great flavor combination actually, even though if it seems weird!

Overall, a great visit here at Wood Ranch. Only one not so good item which we wouldn't have ordered anyway (my dining companion picked it as it was cheaper than the prime rib plus we did not want to get two of the same item...but now we will!). Their BBQ is nicely done, but a tad expensive for the price, especially in the full menu. If you ever bring kids there, get the kids menu. They will ask you even if your kids are way above the age limit, like me. The prices are much more reasonable plus the item portions, especially during lunch, are the same as the lunch combinations.

Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill (located at the Arcadia Westfield Mall Restaurant Square)
400 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007
Tel: (626) 447-4745

Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill on Urbanspoon

Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill in Los Angeles

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A&J Restaurant- Irvine

We don't eat in the Orange County often, and don't go there too often. We find our own area's food is better when talking about Chinese food, and plus it is more affordable. But, we were in Irvine and planned to eat for dinner there due to some issues at Irvine. First choice was Brodard- so many good reviews! But we would be driving extra- we were at UCI and had to go back after dinner too. So, since we already wanted to visit Zion market along the way from UCI (which was a great experience anyway- tons of good food at affordable prices), we decided to eat at a place called China Garden.

That ended up not to be, as this blog post's title isn't about China Garden! Instead, we ate at A&J, which was not full with people. China Garden was filled with people and there was no space for us. Waiting would take another 30 minutes. We didn't have the time.

Exterior of A & J

A&J has been talked about with our friends to be pretty positive. So, we hoped it would be too for us. Hopefully!

Interior

And so we settled down in our seats, and the menu was just a long piece of paper, all written in Chinese. Like some other restaurants, a tick with a pencil signaled what you planned on ordering. After some asking of what was good and ordering food that we like to order at noodle places, the food started coming.

Chilled Pork with Brown Sauce

First came a small plate of chilled pork and brown sauce which we had asked about during ordering . What came out was smaller than what we expected and a bit disappointing. Basically it was just boiled pork that was chilled down and then the only big flavor was the sauce and a light hint of the pork flavor. We make this at home a lot(but not chilled), so this wasn't anything impressive or really good.

Clear Beef Noodle Soup

Two noodle soups arrived next. This was the clear beef noodle soup which again was another disappointment. My dining companion said the noodles were just like ramen noodles (and not in a good way). The soup was very bland and the beef was just okay. It certainly didn't compare at all to what we make at home, or places like Young Dong Garden which have very flavorful clear beef soups. Also, the portion was small. It was smaller than places like Mandarin Noodle Deli, but it was not as small as Green Island's noodle soups.

Braised Beef Noodle Soup

The second noodle soup was the braised beef noodle soup which was 6.25USD like the clear beef noodle soup. Noodles in this noodle soup were the same as the clear beef noodle soup. However, the broth and meat had more flavor due to the spice. Still, the beef flavor wasn't very pronounced like how Mandarin Noodle Deli used to be (or how it is now). More spice than beef flavor. At least it wasn't oily, but a skimming of the oil would fix it anyway if it was.

Wontons

We also ordered a bowl of wontons which had plenty of wontons. The soup was the same as the clear beef noodle soup, so we ended up not drinking much of the soup. Wontons though were filling, but nothing special. It filled us more than the noodle soups, and plus it cost less at 5.95.

Potstickers

Another dish we ordered was the potstickers (5.95USD). These had a thick skin and unfortunately were overcooked to the point that the binding of the skin broke. Again, they were filling, but nothing special. The bottom of the potstickers were not crispy too.

Green Onion Pancake

The last two dishes that arrived were both major disappointments. This green onion pancake (3.25 USD) was very thick, small, and was not flavorful enough. There were the multiple layers but it felt a bit dry, with too little green onions. More oil anybody? This one didn't have enough to keep it moist.

Xiao Long Bao

A set of 4 Xiao Long Bao (2.50 USD) arrived last. I was hoping for it be be at lest average good but this was more like frozen food quality- probably worse. The skin was ultra thick like our local Dumpling House, and there was barely any soup from the dumplings. Filling was okay- at least it didn't have any off flavors.

In short, A&J was nothing special. It was a bit pricey for our liking (after all, the SGV equivalent would cost less), but this was after all Orange County. Next time we'll go to either China Garden or Brodard and stick with our choice!

A&J Restaurant- Irvine
14805 Jeffrey Rd Ste D
Irvine, CA 92618
Tel: (949) 786-3585

A & J on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 13, 2009

BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse

There are plenty of American restaurants in Arcadia, scattered throughout the entire city. Places that have a bar and a full dining area though are a bit less. A close example to BJ's would be the Matt Denny's Ale House, which is very dark inside and serves just okay food. BJ's though we find a bit better for most of the choices. Plus, the food just looks better. Better lighting equals for me a better dining experience.

Exterior

The Arcadia BJ's has been here in Arcadia for many years already, with its outpost close to restaurants like Maki and Sushi and Sesame Grill, as well as the AAA Auto Office and the majority of hotels in Arcadia (including the Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, and Marriott Springhill Suites. If you notice, the logo on the outside of the restaurant is their older circle logo and not the the new red triangle logo.

BJ's has been offering their new lunch specials, as well as special promotion offers in the mail for quite a while now. Their lunch specials are a great deal during the weekday. The combinations to choose from are aplenty and the best part is that the food is plenty for the price you pay- no running away feeling empty!

Interior Panoramic

This visit though, we did not get the lunch specials as our visit was during the weekend. Right when we arrived they asked if we wanted drinks and appetizers, and within a few minutes our drinks and appetizers came. We were not even finished looking at the menu and our appetizer already arrived. That is just FAST!

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Our appetizer anyway was the Spinach and Artichoke Dip (8.95 USD), which came with a big handful of warm multi-colored tortilla chips, as well as a bowl of the spinach and artichoke dip. This dip was a bit thin for my taste, and the ingredients, especially the artichoke, was very pronounced and cut large in the dip. The spinach was not very existent. Personally, I like California Pizza Kitchen's artichoke and spinach dip better, as well as Wood Ranch's artichoke and spinach dip (which I will be reviewing shortly). The flavors in these restaurant's artichoke and spinach dip meld better and there is less mayo flavor.

Pink Lemonade

What arrived along with the spinach and artichoke dip was our pink lemonade (2.45 USD). Pink lemonade comes automatically even if you just want lemonade. BJ's makes their lemonade very tart and also pretty sweet. A sugar rimmed glass comes with every glass of lemonade, even if you get a refill, which is free!

We then ordered our dishes while enjoying the appetizer and lemonade, and then our clam chowder (5.50 USD) came shortly.

Clam Chowder

We used to order this very often at BJ's. Before, the bowl was fat, stubby, and filled with tons of clam chowder. It was around last year when they reverted to this new bowl. We asked them about the bowl size and they said it was the same. Uh...I don't think so!

Crackers were served along with our clam chowder, but we did have to ask for it. The staff sometimes forgets...

Anyway, the clam chowder was very good, but a bit salty. It was creamy with plenty of potatoes and clams in it. One of the better clam chowders in the area, but most places just used the canned stuff anyway in our area. If you want good clam chowder, you're off to Massachusetts at places like Victoria Station...or find a seafood restaurant!

Our other items arrived at the same time.

1/2 Cobb Sandwich with Mashed Potatoes

One of my dining companions ordered a half of a cobb sandwich (6.95 USD), which came along with a side (in this case, mashed potatoes). I didn't get to try it but inside were cobb salad ingredients like lettuce, tomato, ham, and bacon.

Big Baked Potato

Another dining companion ordered the Grilled Chicken Potato (appearing on the check as the grill chick potato for 8.95 USD). AS you can see in the photo, it was a extremely large baking potato which was then split open and filled with grilled chicken, cheese, and broccoli. A side of cheese sauce was served on the side which really didn't need to be utilized. This was very fulfilling, and my dining companion could not finish it. It was just too large! Even supermarket baking potatoes, like the ones at Fresh and Easy, are not that large.

BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad

I ordered the BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad (10.75 USD) which I was hoping to be similar to California Pizza Kitchen's BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad. Obviously though, it wasn't. There were plenty of corn, black beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and chicken like at CPK, but there were also a bunch of fried onions on top which were yummy and delicious. All the flavors melded together really well, but a texture profile was missing- the crunch from the lettuce! It felt like the salad had been dressed for hours and was sitting there waiting to be eaten, instead of feeling freshly tossed with dressing. If BJ's could fix this then it would be very similar to California Pizza Kitchen's salad.

Overall a okay visit for the most part. The prices were a bit expensive for what you got in return. Lunch during the weekday offers some more specials and discounts, so we'll need to visit so that you all can see some more items on the blog! :)

BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse
400 E Huntington Dr
Arcadia, CA 91006-3748
Tel:
(626) 462-1494

Bj's Restaurant & Brewery on Urbanspoon

BJ's Restaurant & Brewery in Los Angeles
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1. 2. 3. Go! This is the 123rd post on Eat. Travel. Eat!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Han Yang Garden Korean BBQ

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As you may know, this restaurant opened after Seouljung Korean BBQ which I reviewed several months closed down. So, we went to check out the new restaurant after a few months of its grand opening.

First impressions? A very weird oil and smoke smell was all over the restaurant. However, there was barely anyone in the restaurant other than the employees working there. We couldn't sit down at the table we wanted to as they saw something up above the hood. What was it? Oil from the fan. Not a good way to start the meal.

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The interior has pretty much stayed the same, but now there is the fan problem up above the diners' heads. Again, it was very empty during our visit. When we entered, there was only one party which was leaving, and then we were by ourselves for most of the visit. When we were finishing up though two parties came in and had some food- one party ordered the all you can eat deal which made the restaurant very smokey as there was no fan turned on. We rushed to leave.

Service was pretty much the same too. Pretty friendly for the most part but you could certainly feel that they felt a bit weird serving such little customers. They all sat around at a table drinking from mugs and looked at magazines. At least they did take care of us and were friendly.

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Soon, the panchan arrived and it was slightly different than what the previous Seouljung Korean BBQ offered. Cucumbers and the marinated gobo were missing, but the shredded pickled daikon and carrot as well as the kelp was added. This time around, the salad was properly dressed, and most of the items were very good. The kelp was a bit different than your usual Korean BBQ kelp, and it wasn't marinated in vinegar. Instead it had a sesame oil flavor (a bit) and tasted as if it wasn't marinated. We liked the potatoes and the bean sprouts as usual, but the potatoes weren't as soft compared to Seouljing.

What we ended up ordering for this visit were two combinations as well as a galbi soup, so that our visit could be a direct comparison to our most frequented Korean BBQ place: Young Dong Garden.

All of our items arrived at the same time, but what was placed first in front of us were the 2 plates of BBQ meat we ordered.

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Both the kalbi and the chicken tasted good and were juicy, with plenty of flavor due to the marinating. However, the serving size was pretty small compared to most Korean BBQ restaurants, especially compared to the Korean BBQ restaurants in Arcadia.

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The tofu stews though were disappointing. They were missing a flavorful that we wanted and felt watery instead of flavorful. Even the spicy tofu stew felt watery. Ingredients were okay, but the lack of flavor pretty much ruined both of these tofu stews.

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Kalbi Soup gave us a impressive first glance, with the big pot filled with lots of meat and other items. The soup also tasted pretty good for the most part, but wasn't as beefy flavored due to the addition of other ingredients like the jujube. I was liking it, until I had a bite of the meat.

The meat looked dry, which it shouldn't be as it was in the liquid. And the taste was horrible. It was the mix of freezer burn plus no beef flavor at all (usually the beef still retains some flavor even after long hours of cooking). Needless to say, we finished the soup, but didn't finish eating the meat.

Also, no noodles in the soup, so it didn't fill up our stomachs as much.

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The meal ended with a free styrofoam bowl (pretty big one too) of a sweet fermented rice drink called shik hye (thanks for the information SinoSoul!) that was slightly sweet and cold due to the refrigerator that it was in. Seouljung Korean BBQ used to do this along with the addition of pine nuts, but the shik hye was served in small metal cups and not a huge styrofoam bowl.

Overall the meal was a borderline meal as to return back or not to return. And looking at the lack of customers and not so good reviews on websites like Yelp, it looks like many people have had the same experience as we had. The pretty much only good items were the panchan and the Korean BBQ meats, but with the oil and smoke smells and a freshness quality suspicion with the Kalbi soup, I don't recommend visiting here. I would much rather pick restaurants nearby like Full House or May Mei for a meal.

Han Yang Garden
1431 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007
Tel: (626) 574-2077

Han Yang Garden Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon