The Best Chocolate Croissant of My Life and Other Eats

This was a damned good eating weekend.

Excessive? I don’t know if I would go THAT far…after all, celebrating America’s independence is about eating and doing what you want when you want.
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This casual French bakery/cafe was recommended by the delightful Katie Quinn and it lives up to expectations. Small but with a comfortable dining section in the back, this is perfect for a light lunch and a fluffy, moist chocolate chip macadamia cookie. The salads are filling but light – the zucchini noodles with pesto, the summer squash salad with feta, and the farro salad are all winners. And – I repeat – don’t miss that cookie. ‘20150703_204218 Magnolia cupcakes

Not that they are so great, but if you don’t lifehack cupcakes, you are sooooo missing out. Finally you can enjoy the perfect amount of frosting with every bite of cake. It’s a little messier, but isn’t everything in life that’s great a little messier?20150705_094313Maison Kayser

Simply put, the best chocolate croissant of my life. Sorry, Paris. This plie au chocolat (flat croissant with custard and chocolate) is dynamite. The genius is several layers deep. Firstly, the croissant dough is wonderfully crisp and airy, with no heavy doughiness – this offsets the rich filling. Secondly, the filling is complex – rich but not goopy custard baked until it’s pretty firm is interspersed with deeply chocolaty chips. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the filling goes all of the way through. None of that “tiny stick of chocolate in the middle of a huge croissant pillow” that most pain au chocolat offers. This is dispersed evenly from bow to stern and it’s a sugary, fantastic treat. Great for breakfast, for dessert, or for a snack any day of the week.

Hitting the Road for July 4!

The title says it all!

See ya Monday morning for some delicious eats!

The Best Room Service Foods

I love room service. One of my earliest foodie memories is my dad teaching me that if you stay in the Disneyland Hotel once a year, you can pick up the phone and 20 minutes later, fresh Mickey Mouse pancakes will come to your door. You can eat them in your bathrobe with warm maple syrup and watch cartoons on the tv while you think about the awesome vacation day ahead of you.

Obviously, I was hooked.

However, not all food does well in room service. Soups universally arrive cold and gloopy. Cold cut sandwiches are usually flaccid and unpleasant. And for PETE’S SAKE, room service pizza should be served only to prisoners on death row.

If you wanna order room service like a champ no matter if you are at the Holiday Inn or the Ritz, here’s what you order:

Club sandwich

The room service gold standard. These toasted, multilayered sandwiches are made for hotel room service. They are great when made with plain ole turkey and iceberg lettuce. They are sublime when served with house roasted turkey and homemade garlic aioli. They are great with french fries, potato chips, or any other number of side dishes. Great warm or cold Perfect for a hangover breakfast or a midnight snack. Club sandwiches are always divine, but hey are the best when order them in your hotel bathrobe.

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Caesar salad

My favorite salad of all time, and it’s ideal to order for room service. It is ready relatively quickly, is light enough to eat before going to sleep, and has a similar flavor profile worldwide – you know what you’re getting. You can often supplement it with salmon or chicken for an extra hit of protein, and if you need a side dish that isn’t fried, this is always the way to go.

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Burger and fries

Old faithful. Gotta love it. The burger is always better at a fancier hotel but I have had some damned good room service burgers at lower end establishments. There’s just nothing like meat, bread, and a pile of fried potatoes. Sure it’s better when the beef is locally sourced, the bread is brioche, and the fries are covered with Parmesan and truffle oil, but I’m not picky when it’s late and I’m jet lagged – are you? I always order extra condiments because I love tiny jars of mayonnaise and ketchup. If you don’t, I’m not sure that we should be friends.

Ice cream

Cake can be dry. Cookies can be as hard as hockey pucks. Ya know what always delivers? Ice cream. As long as it arrives in a semi-frozen state, I’m good. Whipped cream? Sure! Nuts? Love ‘em! But I’m happy with a dish of plain chocolate ice cream if I need something sweet and you will be too. If your work is footing the bill, take a Snickers from the minibar and break it up over the ice cream for a mini sundae. You’re welcome.

Pasta (if it’s a great hotel)

Yes, this one has a caveat. I have had some truly wretched room service spaghetti – cold, gummy, weirdly sauced with bits of red peppers and worse.

However.

The best bowl of pasta I have ever had in my life was in my room in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. It arrived al dente, piping hot, and tossed in the most beautifully bright, complex, garlicky, savory tomato sauce. Served with aged Parmigiano Reggiano and warm foccacia. And I have had a few incredible bowls of spaghetti Bolognese since then at similarly high-end hotels. If you’re splashing out in a great hotel, hit up the pasta section of the menu and you are unlikely to be disappointed.

Guest Post: Panda Express Innovation Kitchen and Tea Bar

You’re all in for a massive treat today. My friend Justin, who used to write one of my favorite food blogs of all time, has shared a recent experience of his for my blog. All I can say is…come back to the interwebs, Justin. We need more good photos. We need more burger mashups. And I can say with confidence that we ALL need more orange chicken burritos: 
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For a few years after my parents were first married but before I came along, they would go to parties in the Pasadena area where Chinese food was served. A young man named Andrew would show up with all the ingredients and get to work in the kitchen cooking up dinner. He had just opened up a restaurant on Foothill Blvd called Panda Inn.When my mom tells the stories, she makes it sound like she was in the kitchen helping Andrew out, maybe suggesting recipes or showing him egg roll-making tips. My dad’s memory of the parties is far more boring but much more realistic: “I don’t think Andrew even knew my name.”In 1983, Andrew came up with the idea to sell his food in quick-serve format in the Glendale Galleria. He called it Panda Express. Today, Panda Express has 1700 restaurants all over the country, in malls, airports, baseball stadiums and shopping centers.

Also today, Andrew is estimated by Forbes to be worth more than three billion dollars. That’s billion with a B. Needless to say, Andrew no longer shows up and cooks at the kind of parties my parents attend.

In an obvious play to establish a new Panda model comparable to the massive success of Chipotle, a new restaurant opened a few months ago called Panda Express Innovation Kitchen and Tea Bar. In an homage to the first Panda Inn, it’s just a few blocks down the street on Foothill. It also happens to be just four blocks from the house in which I grew up.

But I didn’t plan to visit, because here’s the thing: I am not a fan of Panda Express. I just don’t think it’s that good. Sure, it tastes okay… but so do most things if you put the amount of sugar and salt on them that Panda uses. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least six independent Chinese restaurants in Pasadena that I think are much better.

But there is one occasion for which Panda Express always hits the spot with me: A hangover. I was back in Pasadena for the Summer Solstice, visiting with some old friends, and I drank way too much. The next day I awoke with my worst hangover in years. I headed to Panda.

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You can choose to get your food in a salad, in a bowl, or in a wrap (basically a scallion tortilla). I opted for the wrap. Just like at every other Panda, you select whatever you want. Except with a lot more options.
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First up, I asked for lettuce, carrots and scallions.
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Then orange chicken.
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And Beijing beef.
And slaw, pickled cucumbers, and crispy shallots.
So how was it?
Well, it’s Panda Express. Almost every medium-size city has at least a couple Chinese joints better than Panda, but something about the orange chicken is oddly comforting. Maybe it’s a throwback to those days when my high school used to bring it in for lunch, or maybe it’s just the fact that the sugar and salt always seems to alleviate my hangover, however briefly.
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I do have to say that the egg rolls with the spicy sambal sauce is a winning combination. All Panda Express locations across the country would do well to start serving this.
But as for the name “Innovation Kitchen”? I guess if throwing their ingredients into a salad or a tortilla is innovative, the name kinda makes sense. But overall it wasn’t quite what I was expecting it to be.
There is, however, one thing about the place that I DO think is pretty cool:
In the back of the house is a tea and dessert bar, with some comfortable, oversized chairs and flatscreen TVs showing sports. I had an iced black tea that was delicious and a strawberry mochi that was awful.
Like I wrote earlier, I don’t really expect this format of Panda Express to take off. I could see them trying it out in a few other locations around the country, but I don’t think Chipotle needs to start worrying about losing market share.
I don’t think I’ll ever go back… well, until my next wicked hangover. So probably this coming weekend.

Summer Lovin – These Treats Will Do Nothing For Your Bikini Body

But they sure do taste great!

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Barcibo Enoteca

This is such a gem, hidden in plain sight. It’s right on Broadway with a tiny but comfortable summer patio and serves delicious Italian small plates with a great selection of wines by the glass. It’s a little more expensive than it should be, but happy hour includes all glasses of wine and beer and the food isn’t good, it’s great (not the stodgy veal meatball, but everything else). The burrata crostini is especially memorable. The cheese isn’t so wet that it soaks the bread, but retains enough creaminess to put your heart into shock. It’s layered with garlicky pesto and a single juicy, perfectly roasted tomato. A fantastic accompaniment for a glass of semi-dry prosecco.

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Dough Loco

After my girl Sarah told me how amazing this place was, I had to check it out. Hot damn, she was right – this place is on point! Though the prize for best yeast doughnut still belongs to Doughnut Plant, these donuts are legit, especially the incredibly tender crumbed, light cake doughnuts. The best ones are the ones where light and bright countered heavy and fried. The Creamsicle and blood orange doughnuts are especially memorable with thick, sugary, citrus-shocked glaze.

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The City Bakery

A damned good chocolate chip cookie. Thin but still chewy and gooey on the inside – warm when I ate it. The cookie’s genius lays in its size – it’s large enough to be a small breakfast but small enough to be a large dessert. Love it.

Sanctuary at Camelback: Beauty in the Desert

Okay, headed back out of NYC for one quick post.

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I spent some time at Sanctuary on Camelback, which is lauded as one of Scottsdale’s finest resorts. Click on the below link to take a little look:

Sanctuary

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It was a great trip to be sure. My only small issue does not have to do not with the facilities, the room appointments, or the truly fabulous spa (the reflexology treatment is a dream). The location is ideal, the rooms are spacious, and the bar at nighttime is gorgeous. My only issue with the hotel is an intangible and small issue with the service. Everyone was extremely kind and accommodating, but we had to ask for so many things that I felt should come naturally (same day steaming, stamps and enevelopes acquired if necessary, quicker action to quiet a rowdy room, etc) at a resort that charges this much per room. Look, this was a very good hotel – great, even. But for the prices they charge, I feel that there should be a few more intangible services that are offered at the highest level of hotels. That said, if you get a great deal on a hotel room here, you should stay here. The staff is wonderful, the surroundings are beautiful, and the room service is impeccable. Just brush up on those few services and it will be a hotel for the ages.

*I stayed at this hotel on a media rate. All of the opinions expressed are my own and unbiased.*

Jane, The Fourth, and Beyoglu: Hit ‘Em Up!

Where you should eat and why:

20150621_102727Where: Jane

Why: Avocado goat cheese sandwich

Avocado toast is so passe, don’t you think? This avocado toast is layered with ripe tomato, sprouts dressed in a tangy, mustardy vinaigrette, and a slab of somewhat funky, ripe goat cheese. The goat cheese sounds like it would be overkill, but it’s really sensational. It livens up the avocado, adds a meaty taste, and – well – it’s goat cheese. What’s not to love?! If you come here with the family, ask to be seated in the large, quiet downstairs room. It’s a hidden gem.
20150619_093133Where: The Fourth

Why: Gluten free banana pecan muffin

I’m more of a gluten-full girl than a gluten-free girl. I get giddy at the mere mention of sourdough. But this muffin is really da bomb (do cool kids still say that?). It’s incredibly moist and studded with toasty, crunchy pecans. The banana taste is sweet, and vaguely floral without being over the top banana-y (which, trust me, I HATE). It’s not too sweet, so it can handle a swipe of butter and sticky-sweet blackberry jam. The surroundings are lovely and that muffin is really damned good. A great space for a breakfast meeting.

20150616_123500Where: Beyoglu

What: Mezze sampler

This Turkish spot is a favorite among foodies and city dwellers of all sorts and I can see why. It’s a lovely, airy restaurant with a huge menu. The lunch specials are well priced, the service is quick, and the portions are good. The food is downright delicious. Fluffy, fresh bread and some flaky sigar borkei are warm, flaky, and cheesy. That mezze platter is just fabulous – loaded with garlicky hummus, creamy yogurt cacik, smoky babaganoush, and a host of other dips. It’s big enough for a light lunch between friends that will leave you satisfied but not stuffed or uncomfortable. Total win.

GG’s NYC – I Dream of GG’s

Get to GG’s ASAP for the burger. Like, really.

20150601_181856Don’t bother coming for the atmosphere…well, I guess it is pretty cute. Quaint, ideal for a meal alone at the bar or with a friend.
20150601_181906 It would make a good double date spot but might be a bit too cozy with other tables for a first date. The backyard looks fun for a crew, though. 20150601_190056 Burrata with greens, romesco, and garlic chips
Okay, you can come for this, too. The burrata is wonderfully creamy and paired with more strong, savory flavors than it usually is. I though that those flavors would overwhelm the burrata, but the crispy, pungent garlic chops, earthy romesco, and soft greens just accent the burrata’s creamy, milky taste. Recommended.

20150601_191836 The Grandma Pie20150601_192009 Thick, buttery crust. Sweet, none-too-fancy tomato sauce. Stretchy, bubbly mozzarella and crispy, spicy discs of pepperoni that curl up and harbor wonderful porky oil. The pie is soft and layered with the flavors of your favorite childhood pie with high end ingredients. If you love Sicilian pie, you will be crazy for this. For my tastes, it’s a little doughy but still worth trying. 20150601_192345 Pan seared burger with white cheddar, melted onions, secreto sauce, and fries

Yep. This is why you come here. This burger is as good as the one at Brindle Room in a totally different way. It has a squishy bun, a thin blanket of sharp cheese, and sweet, pleasantly sticky caramelized onions. Then there is the meat…wow, that meat. It’s juicy and beefy without too much funk or highfalutin taste. It’s not like eating a steak – it’s like eating the best burger you ever had. 20150601_192444 Perfectly pink and juicy, with a swatch of creamy, tangy secreto sauce and a crunchy pickle…this is perfection on a bun. For the price and how substantial it is, it’s currently my favorite burger in town. 20150601_195132

Morgenstern’s raw milk ice cream sandwich

Fabulous! Okay, come for this, too. Thsi ice cream is DYNAMITE! It’s creamy, rich, and clean tasting – almost the burrata of ice cream. The cookies are dark and thick enough to absorb the ice cream’s moisture without getting too soggy.

GG’s is really well priced, has an inviting atmosphere, and serves – for my money – the most satisfying burger in the city. Plus pizza. And some awesome ice cream sandwiches. I guess there is reason besides the burger to come here. But still…the burger is the best reason.

These Woulda Been Great Father’s Day Gifts

I’m always a day late and a dollar short, right?

Father’s Day was never a big deal growing up, because my mom always said that if every day wasn’t Father’s Day, one day a year wasn’t going to help. However, my husband and his family are huge on it – so, now I do the whole Father’s Day shebang. Brunch. Cards. Gifts.

About those gifts…mine are usually 2 weeks early or 3 days late. If you are like me and still need a present for the foodie dads in your life, here is what I would choose:

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Chiriboga Blue Cheese

This is the best blue cheese I have ever had in America. It’s beauty lies in its subtlety – this doesn’t punch you in the nose with its taste or texture, it gently seduces you into loving blue cheese. It’s incredibly creamy and buttery. Though there are obvious blue flecks in it, it isn’t overly funky or mushroomy. It just has pops of tart, tangy, savory flavor amidst the wonderfully creamy texture and mild flavor. It’s pricey, but hey – it’s for dad, right? Serve it with some fig jam and a cranberry-nut bread and you will be in for a massive treat.

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Johnnie Walker Platinum

My husband’s favorite whisky – he loves it even more than the far pricier Johnnie Walker Blue. I find it to be smooth as far as whiskey goes, which is still too strong for me. However, he swears that it’s all vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch, especially when you serve it with one gigantic ice cube. Maybe the dad in your life would love it, too!

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Fuego Box

I was sent this as a press gift and OMG I LOVE IT!!!! You get 3 different types of hot sauce in each monthly shipment, complete with tasting notes. These are hot sauces that I have never tried before and some of them I like to eat plain, some I like to use as ingredients when I cook, and some I drink with a straw. It’s incredibly cool to get deliveries of hot sauces from small batch producers all over the country – I’m now addicted to one I would never have tried (Frankie V’s Spooky White is ACTUALLY insane). Thos is an amazing gift for the chile head in your life.

Any other great food gift ideas, for Father’s Day or any other time?

Upland: Justin Smille’s Restaurant Now Delivers Big Time

20150606_175140 So, we went back to Upland. It’s still pricey but the growing pains are over. Wow, is it sensational. 20150606_175457 Every cocktail we tried was extraordinary. This one, made with chartreuse and summer sugar snap peas, is verdant, fresh, and a little savory. Appetizing, not too strong, and beautiful to boot. 20150606_182712 Meyer lemon with stracciatella, anchovy, and spring garlic

Sensational. Crispy, yeasty, airy crust topped with milky, stretchy stracciatella. It’s layered with slices of burnished, tangy lemon and notes of savory spring garlic. The anchovy is undetectable, but the pie is so addictive that you know that the anchovy’s umami powers must be at work. Don’t miss this sensational pizza. 20150606_184432 Cacio e pepe and chicken liver pastas

Both unforgettable. I am still dreaming of that cacio e pepe. I had never had this traditional Roman dish and I was shocked at how satisfying it was. Creamy, al dente, spicy, toothsome…incredible. The chicken liver pasta is meaty and fragrant with hints of woodsy rosemary and sharp Parmesan cheese. The pasta here looks like it came out of a play-doh machine and is undeniably fun and cute. Big win. 20150606_190335Short rib with black olives, celery, and horseradish

Chef Smillie’s signature dish and one of some controversy. I can see why – this is damned good. Not overseasoned or aggressibely prepared – it has a heavy, pleasant char and lets the meat’s flavor and tender texture shine. The horseradish is applied sparinly and provides a zip and zing to the crispy celery salad and soft, meaty short rib.

Upland offered a great night. The service is excellent, the bread is still fabulous, and all of the food is now up to par for the prices. A lovely special occasion or date restaurant – I can’t wait to return.