California Dreamin: The Tasting Kitchen

When I was a kid, Venice Beach wasn’t somewhere you went for great food. You went there to see the sights, enjoy the beach, and maybe eat some ice cream. You certainly didn’t schlep there for dinner.

Times have changed for the better.

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The Tasting Kitchen was a recommendation from some foodie friends who said that this place had great food and a very laid back, cool, LA vibe. The vibe is VERY LA…lighting is dark, music is thumping, and the place is PACKED to the gills. However, when our reservation was late, they didn’t comp us a drink at the bar. In general, I found the service a little lacking on the west coast. No matter though, we were seated before long at a comfortable table and taken care of by a very competent server.

20140928_210640 Rillettes

Fabulous. I wish that the picture came out better because this is a wonderful starter. The rillettes are soft and savory with ribbons of juicy pork in a buttery, well salted spread. It comes with garlic rubbed toast that adds a gentle spice and some tangy mustard that kicks up the flavor quotient another notch. This couldn’t be more delicious.

20140928_214232 Oysters and salsify

Salsify is awesome! That’s what I took away from this dish. It tastes a lot like artichokes and has the meaty texture of hearts of palm. Here, its’ served browned and caramlized with a few nuggets of soft, briny oysters that bring out the veggie’s sweet, earthy undertones. This isn’t something I have ever had before and I can’t wait to eat it again.

20140928_215817 Ricotta agnoletti

Good, if not especially memorable. The agnoletti are soft pillows of creamy ricotta in a sweet, tangy tomato sauce. I really can’t say anything else bad or good about it – I would stick with the Calabrian sausage pasta next time, which was garlicky, spicy, and totally craveable. 
20140928_221052 Whole branzino with pine nuts and herbs

Delicious. Prepare for bones and you will be impressed. The fish is flaky, light, and saturated with butter and lemon. The pine nuts add an earthy, unexpectedly crunchy taste and texture to the fish.

The Tasting Kitchen has done the impossible…it has made Venice Beach a foodie destination. Not just for rollerblades and tattoos anymore, this ‘hood is now food-approved. Can’t wait to get back and try it’s neighbor Gjelina for what I hear are some unforgettable Italian dishes. Of course, first, you may have to pry those rillettes from my cold, dead hands. 

California Dreamin: Fabulous Mexican at Loteria

When I said that I spent a lot of time at The Farmer’s Market, I wasn’t kidding. In fact, our very first meal was there, at the wonderful Loteria Grill 20140927_105644 I first read about this place on The Amateur Gourmet and couldn’t believe that after an entire childhood of coming to The Farmer’s Market for lunch I could have missed such a gem! Loteria is a small outdoor stand that serves authentic Mexican food. It’s so popular that it has spawned several brick and mortar locations around town and is oft lauded as some of the best Mexican food in LA, which is really saying something.

20140927_105647 Just order at the counter, watch your food be made in the open door kitchen or wait at your table, then get ready to indulge.

20140927_110147 Agua frescas, nachos, and tacos…come to mama.

20140927_110059 Nachos

I mean, who doesn’t love a plate of nachos? Even crappy ones are good, and these…these are great. Fresh corn chips smothered in stretchy jack cheese, cumin scented black beans and impeccably fresh, juicy pico de gallo. Best of all is a tangy tomatillo salsa layered on top, filtering its tart, fresh bite down the layers of cilantro and  oozing cheese. This is a mammoth portion, so please get the small, and don’t be scared to ask for some smoky but not too spicy house made hot sauce alongside.

20140927_110103 Tongue tacos

Oh, HELL yes. These got better as I ate them. Springy bits of beef tongue in a spicy, rich, incredibly beefy juice spiked with fiery serrano chiles and sweet onions. It’s what I always think that tongue should taste like – delicious and reminiscent of filet, but with a little more chew. It’s hearty but not greasy, and the topping of buttery avocado tempers the peppers and rounds out the meat. Perhaps best of all are the tiny homemade corn tortillas – uneven in texture and with an earthy, overtly corn-y taste. This is pretty spicy, so I was in heaven.

This isn’t the cheapest option in the Farmer’s Market, but it isn’t crazy expensive and it IS crazy delicious. We went at 11 am and there was already a small line, so come early or pay the price! And don’t forget that a tongue isn’t just for talking – it’s for eating, too.

California Dreamin: The World’s Greatest Pancakes at Du-Par’s

I spent a lot of time at The Farmers Market on this trip to LA. Not some farmers market in the parking lot with some lady selling half rotten peppers out of the back of her truck. The LA farmer’s market on Fairfax, which has been there since the 1930s and is one of my favorite memories of my childhood. My mom took me down here to buy toffee from Littlejohn’s, a stall that has been here since Marilyn Monroe was Norma Jean. My grandparents bought me some of my favorite dollhouse furniture here – a small set of dishes that was white and had little blue flowers painted on it. My sister and I used to beg our parents to buy us mini water glasses, not realizing that they were shot glasses. It’s a large, winding outdoor area filled with wonderful restaurants and food stalls, retail food shops, and curiosity stores filled with souvenirs and kitschy items. It’s largely unchanged since my mom was a kid and if there’s one thing that I love, there’s some consistency.

If there’s another thing that I love, it’s world class pancakes.

Enter: Du-Par’s

This place has been around for as long as the Farmer’s Market has been here. I forgot to take an y pictures of the interior, but it looks like a  more spacious version of an East Coast diner. And from the outside, it still looks exactly like this:

20140929_090131 I know, it really IS to adorable for words.
20140929_091323 Buttermilk Pancakes

 

The reason you come to Du-Par’s. I would never call myself a pancake girl, but these…well, these make me a pancake woman. A crazed pancake woman. They are impossibly thick and light at the same time. I don’t know how they are so tall yet so fluffy…they seem to defy the laws of nature.  They aren’t too sweet, which is a major pet peeve of mine. They have a little tang from the buttermilk and the sweetness only comes through with the syrup. And this is the short stack – the portion is generous to say the least. Best of all, they come with warm syrup and warm melted butter, so you don’t have to tear your pancakes by spreading cold butter all over them. That melted butter is the bee’s knees.
20140929_091334 Bacon, jack cheese, and avocado egg white omelette

Avocados are just better in California. I’m not explaining or justifying, I’m just telling you the facts. Buttery, smooth, and sweet. The omelette is tasty, with rivers of me;ted jack cheese and tons of crunchy bacon, but the special part comes alongside… 20140929_091346 Homemade English muffin

 

Do ya think this place knows its way around a carbohydrate or what? This English muffin is the best I have ever had. Toasty and warm, slightly sour and with butter melted into its nooks and crannies. To say nothing of the homemade strawberry preserves served alongside; so juicy and sweet that they would seem artificial if they weren’t so obviously delicious.

Du-Par’s is one of my favorite LA haunts. The service is friendly, the prices are fair, and the food is memorable.

Not to mention, hearty and necessary after a week or 2 of eating sushi and quinoa salads.

California Dreamin: Lunch at Mendocino Farms

I recently accompanied my husband on a work trip to Southern California – my old stomping grounds! Though he couldn’t get over the right turns on red lights (yay!) or the lack of plastic bags in grocery stores (boo!), I managed to show him the fun side of LA in between meetings and talks. 

And by that, I mean the delicious side – like relative newcomer Mendocino Farms.

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This Beverly Hills location is unpretentious and casual – the idea is local, sustainable food offered at great prices in a fast/casual setting. You order from the hostess, pay at the counter, then find a seat and get your food in about 15 minutes.

This place is VERY Californian. The food is light and based on really fresh produce…

20140929_145017 the soda is artisanal and free of artificial flavors and colors (though, ironically, is produced right in my own backyard),

20140929_145142 And the outdoor seating area has picnic tables with benches covered in Astroturf. If you don’t like that, then you are missing out on life’s whimsy!

20140929_150001 Chinese chicken salad

Is it just me or is it impossible to get a good Chinese chicken salad East of the Mississipi? I simply haven’t had one that compares to the ones out West, and this is no exception. Crunchy Napa cabbage, slivers of scallions and bean sprouts, crispy wontons, and tender roasted chicken breast all in a tangy sesame vinaigrette. The vinaigrette also has miso, which adds to the savory profile of the salad, anchoring it so it doesn’t seem too light for lunch. The vegetables are chopped so finely that you get a little bite of everything in each bite. The wonton strips are a little sparsely applied, but that could be because fried wontons are my kryptonite and I can never get enough.

20140929_150008 Not so fried chicken

Next time, I would SO get this! That same roasted chicken rolled in rice cereal and put on a dense but not too crispy ciabatta bread with tangy mustard slaw, pickled onions, and herb aioli. It’s served with BBQ sauce on the side, but I prefer this au naturel. This hits all of my favorite points in a sandwich – hearty, vibrant, sour, crunchy, a little spicy, and properly saucy. The rice cereal is an inspired touch – it adds textural interest without taking over the other sandwich components. Don’t forget to ask for some mustard pickle remoulade on the side if you liek yours a little more wet – like I said, the BBQ sauce tends to overpower the sandwich, but the remoulade works better.

Mendocino Farms is the kind of place that I yearn for when I’m back in cold, dark NYC. I long for the airy, bright restaurant, with tons of space in between tables. I lament over the lack of well priced, inventive sandwich spots here that aren’t based on any cuisine, just amazing produce. I wish there was one of these here – I would eat here constantly.

At least we have plastic bags in Duane Reade.

New AA Business Class Dining Experience, Post Merger

I recently got to fly cross country on American Airlines. Usually, this wouldn’t be exciting new in and of itself, except that AA recently merged with US Airways. And the meal service subsequently changed, too. Which has quite a few AA  frequent fliers up in arms. Gone are the multiple course meals, gone are meals altogether on many medium haul flights. Many people think that this brings down the quality of American Airlines premium classes.

What did I think?

In a word…LOVED. I don’t know why, but this merger produced me with the finest meal that I have had on a domestic airline in years.

First off, let’s talk about the prosecco offered – it’s excellent. Bright but not acidic, tight bubbles, vaguely fruity aftertaste…it’s the ideal aperitif. To say nothing of the Tito’s Vodka on offer – a superior vodka that I serve at home all the time. Big, big fan of the liquor on hand.

20140926_202237 Warm mixed nuts

Satisfactory as always – served in a different shaped dish, but the same old same old.
20140926_205412 Main meal (yes, all on one dish)

From the top left, going counterclockwise:

Asian shrimp and cucumber salad – surprisingly tasty! Thinly sliced cucumbers and onions in a tart and sweet rice wine vinegar dressing. It’s paired with some mild, snappy shrimp that is tastier than many shrimp I have had on international airlines.

Salad – the only downer of the meal. Fresh but utterly tasteless…where do you get corn that tastes like cardboard, anyway?

Filet of beef with mushroom sauce, sweet potatoes, and green beans – great! I mean the meat was really good! Not overly flavorful, but filet isn’t the most flavorful but of beef in any environment. What is impressive is that it was cooked medium rare and was quite tender. The sauce is overly salty but it’s not served on the steak, so it’s easy to avoid. The accompanying veggies are fine if not memorable.

Cheese roll  - um, it’s a warm cheese roll…is there anything wrong with that?

20140926_212305 Ice cream sundae

Same as always, delish as always.

I thoroughly enjoyed the new AA dining experience. I loved that it was all served at once so I could chow down – I was starving and couldn’t have waited a moment longer than necessary for that bread. I had a great flight attendant and I loved the wine service as well. I’m no high end flier but so far, the merger hasn’t affected me for the worse.

Pass the prosecco and call me happy.

Work Trip Posting Mishap!

On a work trip and I thought the posting worked…how wrong I was!

See you tomorrow morning for a look at the new, post merger AA meal service!

Candied Apple Crescent Roll Challah for Rosh Hoshannah

I’m never going to be a master baker, okay?

The Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie will have to proceed without me next year.

But the problem is…I LOVE homemade bread. Just like Cher, I love to smell something baking in the house.

Alicia Silverstone Baking animated GIF

And this Rosh Hoshannah, I was determined to make it happen for my family.

In about an hour. With almost no ingredients in the house.

Lo and Behold…

Candied Apple Crescent Roll Challah

Ingredients:

1 tube crescent rolls

1/2 apple, diced into tiny pieces and mixed with a hefty hand of pumpkin pie spices and sugar.



IMG_1544 1. Take that crescent roll dough out of the package and smooth it into one thin rectangle. you want it as thin as possible – thinner than I made it – without the dough ripping.  IMG_1547 2. Add the apples in a thin line all the way down the middle of the dough. You want a thin line so it doesn’t burst open too much as it bakes. Also be sure to extend it pretty far to the end of the dough, leaving just 1/4 of an inch or so naked without apples.

IMG_1552 3. Pinch the dough tightly around the apples to make a dumpling-like seam. Be sure to really push those edges together – they will burst apart as they cook  anyway, so take as much precaution as possible.
IMG_1558 4. Now coil that dough into a cute little snail.
IMG_1566 5. Bake for about 30 minutes, then cover with foil and cook for about 7 minutes more to prevent over browning.
IMG_1574 6. When the round is golden brown, serve immediately or wait and serve room temperature.

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This isn’t real challah – that wonderful, airy, eggy, brioche-like bread – but it’s a damn good substitute. It’s buttery and dense with a thin ribbon of soft, sugary apples. It’s delicious with butter or dunked into tsimis.

And it’s the sweetest possible to begin the new year.

L’Shana Tova 2014

L’Shana Tovah, y’all!

It’s a pretty big week for those of us who are Members of the Tribe, so I’m taking the day to spend with my family. I made some awesome food last night, but if I were making it tonight, I might make some…

Honey Mustard Roast Chicken

or some Brisket

with some Mashed Potato Souffle

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and maybe some Creamed Spinach, too.

See you tomorrow for more eats and treats.

That Time I Got to Go to The University Club

I went to a wedding the other night, and the bride knew that I was going to remark on the food.

I mean…how could I not? I’m not getting back in here anytime soon!

This shindig was held at The University Club…ultra fancy, ultra swanky – the kind of place that Jay Gatsby would risk hell and high water to frequent. It’s an immense building on 5th Avenue and the look is all dark wood, heavy tapestries, and gilded fixtures…you know the type.

I was SO glad that I put on deodorant…this isn’t the type of spot where stank will go undetected.

When we got upstairs to the ornate dining room, we were starving and I have to say that I didn’t know what to expect. Could a place this fancy and old school have food that would be appealing to the couples’ food savvy friends?

In a word – yup!

20140920_202337 Mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes

This is as delicious as something that I would make at home, after carefully sniffing tomatoes at the farmers market and schlepping downtown to get tender mozzarella. This tastes like it was made by hand by someone who really cares about ingredients – who chose tart cherry tomatoes and sweet heirloom ones to compliment each other. Who dressed the room temperature mozzarella in a spicy olive oil and plenty of pepper. This is simple and delightful. The last of summer’s tomatoes to usher in the first of the new couple’s tomorrows.

Wow…when I am good, I am GOOD.
20140920_212800 Rack of lamb au jus with wilted spinach and roasted potatoes

This lamb isn’t just wedding good…it’s RESTAURANT good! I don’t think it was the 2 martinis (because who DOESN’T love an open bar, amirite?), I think that it was just an excellently made plate. The lamb is medium rare -pink almost to the edges but not bloody or raw. It’s deep and robust, with peppery, rosemary scented jus that just cries out for those roasted potatoes. The lamb was really spectacular – I’m telling you that I couldn’t stop eating it.
20140920_222001 Dessert buffet

The piece de resistance was the entirely gluten free dessert buffet. Creamy creme brulee, vibrant macarons, airy chocolate mousse, and more. As much as you wanted, all in tiny, bite size servings.

Actually, this whole meal was gluten free and prepared and presented so well that if I hadn’t known ahead of time, I wouldn’t have even guessed it. The pacing and service is excellent, the setting is stunning and the food is modern and delicious.

Unfortunately, you have to be a member to have your wedding there, but if you are or if you get invited there…I highly recommend dieting the week before. Because this is one wedding meal thta you will want to eat.

Off the Chain at Hillstone

I never think chain restaurants are going to be good. It’s that weird, uppity NYC thing of being a foodie in the age of locavoreism and popups. It’s stupid – sometimes places are just chains because they appeal to lots of people and make money. And why? Because they are delicious!

Case in point…Hillstone. Which used to be Houston’s. And in some places, still IS Houston’s…I think it has to do with those calorie counts that chains are required to print in their menus.

I had a very tasty lunch there. Expensive, but PERFECT for a business lunch or dinner. Oh yeah, and it’s the darkest restaurant in which I have ever dined.

20140917_142511 Peruvian corn

Not the wonderfully plump, buttery, sweet kernels of corn that I expect when I read this on the menu, but tasty all the same. Somewhere between southwestern and Indian, it’s tossed with firm zucchini and spicy jalapenos in a buttery, cumin and coriander dusted glaze. It’s actually a great appetizer – grab that corn while you can, because pumpkin season approaches.
20140917_145052 Ahi tuna salad with mangos, tomatoes, and avocado
20140917_145059 This is legit – too legit to quit, in fact. The ahi tuna is excellent quality – meaty in texture and mild in taste, crusted in a salty, slightly spicy rub that is complemented by scallions and tart ponzu sauce. The salad alongside is filled with sweet mangos and the butteriest avocado imaginable. It’s healthy but satisfying thanks to the myriad of flavors and textures. If you like Asian fusion – which I do – you will love this.  20140917_145121 Fries

Shoestring. Hot, crispy, not too salty. Served with spicy mayo and standard ketchup. Just get them, already.

Please come here if budget isn’t an issue and you are on the Eastside. Or the middle fo the country. This is LEAGUES better than what I think of fast food as being. Service is great and so is food…don’t worry, I promise to still be snobby about most things.