Sunday, August 29, 2010

Universal Studios Hollywood- Universal City: Part 1

Universal Studios 1

Remember more than a year ago how I wrote about amusement parks like Knotts and California Adventure? Well, here's a third installment, which came by not due to school but for just a day of fun with friends. It was one of my friend's last full day of staying in LA before he went back to China, so we had to make it memorable for him. :)

Personally, I haven't been to Universal Studios Hollywood in almost ten years, so this was another eyeopener into the LA area. As I've told you before, some people don't believe I even live in the LA area since I never talk about LA. Well...that's changed from this summer! I've written more than 5 posts on places in Los Angeles and the nearby area.

Before actually getting to Universal Studios, we tried to find coupons to help further discount our Universal Studios tickets. A So Cal resident can get a 15 dollar discount on a regular General Admission ticket, but that makes the ticket worth 54 USD. We couldn't find coupons, so we left it as is and went to Universal Studios. And when we arrived, we noticed how several people had Coke cans for a 15 dollar discount. Oh.

Universal Studios 2

Lots of people were at Universal Studios- after all it was the first weekend of August. While waiting in line, there wasn't much to do other than take pictures and talk! However, routinely employees came by to make a show and dance to make the wait not as boring. There was plenty of tourists- I saw some with a Cathay Pacific tag saying their plane came from India, and some came from giant tour buses. Lots of people were also posing at the Universal Studios Hollywood sign, trying to get a picture. And with that said, it was amazing how much variety there was in terms of cameras. Throughout the day, I probably counted more than 3 people with the same Nikon D90 with 18-105mm I brought, 3 people with a Canon 5D Mark II, two Canon G11's, lots of Canon Rebels, and plenty of Nikon D40's and D60's as well as one time use film cameras. Amazing!

Pumping Water 3

As we got closer to the ticket area, there was also more shade brought by trees. Installed on each tree trunk was a ingenious water mister which helped people keep cool in the sunny California weather. And after 20 to 30 minutes of waiting, we were at the ticket purchasing zone.

---------(Buying ticket fiasco)---------

You'd kind of expect a So Cal resident to easily get through with the discount on general admission, no? Well, each employee had their own twist.

In the case of my friends, they were taken care of by an employee which just asked, "How much would you get in a discount if you are a So Cal resident?" If you got that answer correct, (15 dollars), you got through without even needing to show your ID! :)

The employee who serviced me? I showed her several ID's of mine after telling her about the SoCal Discount for residents and she just said, "I don't accept this. There's no such thing."

Really? As if trying to be like the lawyer on Off Pedder (a Hong Kong TVB show) who tried not to admit he crashed an employee's car by acting like he knew nothing would let her get away with it and make me pay full price for admission? Nope, that was not going to happen. Or was she just joking? Who knows.

After a pause, I just said to her all the parts of the So Cal discount which I had read about on the So Cal Resident's page. Then she understood. It wasn't easy, but after she took one of the ID's for checking then and going to speak with someone else I went through.

Moral of the story? Stand up for yourself when you know what you are doing is correct. Or else, you might as well be cheated 15 dollars at Universal Studios. Or in a bigger denomination in other parts.

---------(End buying ticket fiasco)---------

Shark 4

Inside the park we looked for something interesting to do first while looking at the map. So it was decided: Studio Tour, or Lower Lot. While making the final decision, we walked closer to the Studio Tour area, passing by this shark which was quite interesting. But looking at the Studio Tour wait, we thought, no thanks. It was a 50 minute wait. Maybe later?

Starway 5

So, we went on the Starway to visit the lower lot. The Starway, for those who haven't been to Universal Studios or for those who haven't gone for a long time like me, is a series of escalators that brings you downhill to the appropriately named Lower Lot.

Starway Down 6

Starway Down 7

Going downhill, there was a nice view of the surrounding area, and the glass on top had a nice pattern and effect.

Jurrasic Park 8

My friends decided on Jurassic Park as the first ride of the day. After all, you could get wet on the ride, and it was hot!

Jurrasic Park 9

So, I imagined it as another water log ride like at California Adventure- Anaheim and Knott's Berry Farm- Buena Park. Was it? For the beginning, it seemed so. Of course, the theme was different. The water went slowly, and we got a tour of dinosaurs and various chemicals. Then, there were dinosaurs that would spray water, as well as going through tunnels which had water falling from the top in various sections. Then, it was uphill.

Jurrasic-Park-Fall 10

To where? The building. Suddenly, the car went fast, and after a few fast curves it was downhill. For what it seemed, more than 10 seconds. My friends said there was a T-Rex that appeared to scare people even further from the fall, which was steeper compared to Knotts and California Adventure! And at the end of the fall was a waterfall spraying water on top of everybody. As if you weren't going to get wet...

Fortunately, Universal Studios had already thought of ways to not make you feel dizzy after the ride, as they provided paper towels to dry off your hair. I didn't get much wet other than the top, while my friends did from top to bottom. Yet we were all in the first row of the seats!

And an aside, there was a person who was waiting in the line with us who noticed there was a group of people who cut in line. He went off to get angry at them and trying to teach his kids it was bad to do such a thing! I'd say a good thing, but you are on vacation! Relax a bit, while also teaching your kids this important fact. Well you should be, when you are paying a 50+ dollar entrance fee to have a day of FUN.

Mummy 11

Anyways, next one of my friends thought it would be another great idea to go on the Revenge of the Mummy ride, an indoor roller coaster ride, since it would go fast enough to dry us off quite a bit. And my friend was definitely correct! After leaving the cameras (shudder) and backpacks in the free lockers provided which worked by fingerprints, we headed off to a 20 minute line wait. And while we were waiting, Universal found ways to attempt to scare people. Skulls, a display with a woman talking, places to put your hands in, dark atmosphere, the like.

As for the ride, they found even more ways to scare people. The cars went exceedingly fast and stopped for sections so a person could scare you with scary thoughts like "your souls are mine." Most of the ride was also spent in dark environments, one part even pitch black! And at that point where the above saying was said, we went down fast and for another long length of time. Even that said, the ride was exceedingly short for the wait. Too short!

Mummy 12

Outside from the ride, a group of employees dressed in costumes came out to attract visitors. Such as this person. But by then, we were looking for lunch.

People 13

How about Jurassic Cafe? Well, look at that line for food. We were definitely not willing to wait that long.

Starway Up 14

So we went up the Starway again to look for other various food options. After all the Jurassic Cafe was just the only food option available in the Lower Lot, so it would be busy.

But upstairs was no better. People lined up for the Cantina- basically El Pollo Loco. Other restaurants that didn't have a line at 12 had a long wait at 1:30. Not willing to wait, we picked a faster option.

Hot Dog 15
(You add condiments as you wish. :) )

That is, hot dogs available everywhere on little carts. They were done in combos of a hot dog with a bag of chips: Doritos, Lays, or Cheetos, for a price of 6.99 USD. The one we all bought was a "Nathan's" hot dog apparently, but other places across the park branded their hot dogs as "Pink's" and "Dodgers" for the same price. Anyway, the hot dog was decent. The roll was steamed to tender and warm, and the hot dog had a crisp pop to it when you bit into it like a good high quality hot dog should! And the chips, we all had the Doritos Cool Ranch. If you don't like cheese flavored Doritos, this one is the one to try. :)

Krustyland 16

After finishing the hot dogs in 5-10 bites, we headed off to places nearby, one of which was Krustyland. But the wait was too long for a Toy Story Mania like ride, so we went to look at other things.

Games 17

Like games! One of my friends played on the dart balloons in the back of the picture, and won a prize. :)

Part 2, with places on the Upper Lot, is coming to the blog next week. Unless you want a food post. Tell me quick! (Before I upload photos, I mean.)


Universal Studios Hollywood

100 Universal Terrace Parkway
Universal City, CA 91608-1085
Tel: (818) 622-3801

This is the 222nd post on Eat. Travel. Eat!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Il Piccolino & Steinway Piano Gallery- West Hollywood

Steinway D Plate at Steinway Piano Gallery West Hollywood

Recently, I got an invitation to visit Steinway Piano Gallery in West Hollywood for a seminar on "the secrets of Steinway", basically a seminar teaching about a piano is made- specifically a Steinway. Not only would it be exceedingly interesting on how a piano is made in the New York Steinway Factory, I would be able to also try another interesting restaurant in the LA area if I went. A win win situation! I accepted the invitation, of course. Besides, it was a perfect way to round out this summer...since school starts very soon.

We arrived at Steinway at 11 for the seminar, which lasted for two hours. It was really exceedingly informative, but I'm not going to talk about the "special parts", as other piano manufacturers are interested in knowing "the secrets of Steinway." Our knowledgeable presenter, which was also the general manager, went through the parts that made a Steinway special, and then we got to touch small displays of parts for a hands-on experience. Questions were asked on piano maintenance and piano restoration, as well as some comparisons on piano manufacturers and Steinway's own lines of products. The other plus was listening to the concert grand on their stage which was placed on top of two Steinway B flattened sections. How creative! And the Steinway D sounded fabulous. All in all, a very informative seminar for any piano lover. I learned a lot. And so did the 30 or so people in attendance. :)

And the top photo? That is a sand cast grey cast iron plate for a Steinway D, their concert grand like I mentioned before. With some waterproofing of course for longevity. Take a look if you are in the area- it is a sight to see. And play their full line of pianos- used and new Steinways as well as their Bostons and Essex series...which are designed by Steinway, not made by Steinway. Of course, the showroom is mostly dedicated to Steinway & Sons with almost the complete lineup in the showroom. Not Boston (I counted 3), or Essex (about 4) however.

Steinway Piano Gallery- West Hollywood
314 N. Robertson Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048
Tel: (310) 652-6666


Il Piccolino Exterior

Anyway, after the presentation we were exceedingly hungry. It was already almost 2 o' clock, which was late for lunch at any restaurant. I had planned on visiting Spago, but my dining companions wanted to eat immediately. And choosing a restaurant in walkable distance would mean we wouldn't have problems on parking. Now, what to choose from? Petrossian was right across the street, which Kevin of KevinEats had written about before. And then there was Il Piccolino, an Italian restaurant which was busy with customers, but had almost no signage at all- kind of hidden, just like Shaab in Pasadena. With so many customers and a hidden look, Il Piccolino made one of my dining companions want to visit. None of my other dining companions cared for Petrossian or any restaurant in particular, so off we went into Il Piccolino.

Bread

Inside, we were handed some turquoise lined lunch menus and then some bread. But where was the butter that you would commonly expect with bread?

Artichoke Spread and Bruschetta Topping

There was no butter! Instead, a dish with two rounded sections held a slightly acidic artichoke and parmesan spread as well as a tomato bruschetta topping. Both were fabulous toppings, especially the tomato bruschetta topping. Those tomatoes were so sweet and flavorful! What Il Piccolino says on their website is definitely true: their ingredients are very fresh and organic. I haven't had such a flavorful tomato in a while!

Rigatoni Caprese

After quite a while (like most high end restaurants make you do), our dishes arrived. One of my dining companions ordered the Rigatoni Caprese, basically al dente rigatoni pasta mixed with fresh tomato, mozzarella, and basil for a caprese like feel. The tomatoes were sweet and flavorful like in the bruschetta mixture, providing a nice flavor and sauce to the pasta. Overall, the dish was quite light. The flavors were simple, with the basil, herbs, mozzarella, and tomato, and the slight addition of parmesan just made it even better with the salty flavors of parmesan.

Tuna Nicoise Salad

Another dining companion ordered a tuna salad, probably a tuna nicoise? I didn't look at the menu closely or hear what my dining companion orders since I was busy finding an item to order. Anyway, this salad had a wide variety of vegetables. The veggie mix was tossed in a light vinaigrette, and there was also also egg, tuna, tomato, and beans. The tuna was very concentrated in flavor which made us feel like it was canned, but apparently it was fresh! Otherwise it was a nice salad.

Balsamic Vinegar

We also added some balsamic vinegar to the salads. Now this vinegar was fabulous, probably one of the best balsamic vinegars we have had. It was thick and sweet, apparently aged for at least 10 years according to their website.

Lobster Salad

My other dining companion ordered a Lobster Salad which had tons of chunks of fresh lobster with tomatoes and a mix of greens (I tasted romaine and arugula) tossed in a very light vinaigrette. This was tasty and very light, and a light touch of the balsamic didn't hurt at all. :)

Penne Pollo

I ordered the Penne Pollo, which had chicken breast from Rosie's Farm which produces organic chickens, broccoli, and sun dried tomato in a light cream sauce. The penne was cooked al dente and the cream sauce was not heavy at all, lightly coating everything and binding the flavors together. Rosie's Farm chicken breast was cooked to tender and went well with the bright sun dried tomato and green broccoli. Easy and tasty. No wonder why some say Italian cuisine is easy. :)

Duck and Cornichon Panini

We also ordered a Duck Panini to share, which also had cornichon pickles, or pickles made from gherkin cucumbers. Surprisingly, the panini wasn't pressed very down far, with the bread still retaining its fluffiness inside but with a new crisp exterior. Inside, the duck meat was pureed into a paste, which was quite interesting, and the pickles provided a nice textural and flavor contrast being crispy and slightly sour. To the side was a mound of mixed greens, which we flavored up with you guessed it, the balsamic vinegar. We probably finished 1/3 of the vinegar bottle. But in this case, it was because the vinegar was tasty, not that it was needed to improve the dish drastically.

We didn't order dessert since we were full, but other tables seemed to have DELICIOUS looking desserts. There was a large bowl of something chocolate (chocolate mousse perhaps?) as well as pastries. Some of the customers as we found out came from traveling. It seemed as if everyone knew each other at the restaurant, and the owner was very friendly and courteous. So was one male server who seemed very happy working there.

Overall, a very nice lunch at Il Piccolino, just like what my dining companion was expecting! It's really a hidden gem. But if you've been there, you'll know why there's a nice customer base. Tasty authentic Italian food, and a nice interior (plenty of greenery and interesting items...no photo) to boot. Great for those in the area!

Il Piccolino
350 N. Robertson Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048
Tel: (310) 659-2220


Il Piccolino on Urbanspoon

Il Piccolino in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Lion Sculpture

Later, we returned to Steinway Piano Gallery to test out some pianos. What's the difference? The answer wasn't very clear cut, but what the general manager said about their pianos in terms of sound was really true. Not that it should have been surprising, but it was for me, having not heard so many pianos at one sitting! Bell like treble, mid end with plenty of tonal color, growling bass that could be subdued. I found that in every Steinway and Sons, although each one varied slightly, some more than others.

After a nice chat at Steinway Piano Gallery (and finding out Il Piccolino actually has a celebrity customer base too!), we walked to Beverly Center, where a group of girls who were visiting LA asked me to take their photo. And at Beverly Center, I took a picture of a lion at Capital Grille. Don't see lion sculptures often these days, especially at restaurants!

Dinner? Not in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood. We actually went to Face Cafe, where we found out it had gotten a C on its last health check (gasp!)! However the food was just as tasty as before. Hope their sanitation rating gets back up to what it used to be. It also seemed like the owner had changed, but the chef did not. Still a nice daytrip in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills anyway! Plenty of architecture, a nice lunch, and some great piano information learned.

And on a sidenote: How do you like the new header? And did you notice the Facebook button?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Shaab Japanese Cuisine- Pasadena: Visit #2

Shaab Exterior

After quite a while on new restaurants and places, here is a update on Shaab Japanese Cuisine, where I haven't written about for a year already. Since we were visiting Pasadena, we might as well have some lunch first before completing the task...so it was off to Shaab!

Interior 1
Interior 2

Since it was already late by the time we got there for lunch, the restaurant was emptier than usual. It happened to also be the right time for a Pasadena health inspector to check out the restaurant and refresh the Pasadena health rating!

Free Range Chicken Teriyaki and California Roll

We tried some new items this time around. One dining companion ordered the Chicken Teriyaki and California Roll (8.90 USD).

California Roll

I didn't try the California roll but it looked quite tasty. :)

Chicken Teriyaki

As for the chicken teriyaki the sauce had a nice mirin flavor and was not too sweet, and the chicken was nicely tender and grilled not too a char.

Broiled Black Cod Fish, Chawanmushi, and Salad

My other dining companions ordered the Broiled Black Cod Fish, Chawanmushi, and Salad (8.90 USD).

Broiled Black Cod Fish

The fish serving was more generous compared to last year, and was smooth and delicious. Serving size was probably bigger, as there was only chawanmushi (good as always), and a...

Salad

...plate of salad, which in total came out a dollar cheaper than if you had tempura and sashimi along with the cod instead.

Makunouchi Bento 1

Makunouchi Bento 2

I ordered the Makunouchi Bento (12.80 USD). There was no description, so what could it include for one of the priciest items on the menu? There was a lot! Beside the miso soup and rice, there was...

Chawanmushi

Chawanmushi, which had a savory smooth egg mixture as well as various seafood in the bottom.

Broiled Frsh

Broiled fish (possibly mackerel?), which was very robust in flavor like a corvina fish at BCD Tofu House.

Tempura

Tempura, which was all nice and crispy, accompanied by a steaming hot and savory tempura sauce which was based off of soy sauce and dashi. There was quite a variation in ingredients from shrimp to green beans, carrot, and sweet potato.

Tamago, Seaweed, Pork, Lotus Root, Dumpling

The next box seemed to have more items similar to bento accompaniments. There was pork belly which was braised in a soy mixture like in the Chinese style, a fried meat dumpling I have never had before, tamago which was eggy, smooth, and sweet, seaweed which was tender and lightly marinated, and crispy lotus roots that were quite interesting!

Sashimi

Then there were a few slices of sashimi which were all quite tasty and fresh. Salmon, tuna, and yellowtail, if my guess is correct.

Eggplant

Lastly was some fried eggplant which was topped with ponzu and minced daikon and green onions. Creamy, slightly pungent, and citrusy, it was a delicious take on eggplant!

Overall, another good experience at Shaab! Definitely visit if you are nearby the area or don't live too far away for a tasty lunch with shabu shabu and other options.


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

Shaab on Urbanspoon

Shaab in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Shaab Japanese Cuisine- Pasadena Index (CLOSED)

Shaab Exterior

** Shaab has changed ownership (original owners retired) and is now Osawa as of April 2013 **

Here are all the posts on Shaab Japanese Cuisine- Pasadena:

Shaab Japanese Cuisine- Pasadena: Visit #2
Shaab Japanese Cuisine