Union Square Cafe – Enjoy it While You Can

In case you didn’t know, The Union Square Cafe is scheduled to close d you will spretty soon…hopefully to reopen, but who knows? Clearly, I’m devestated. One look at this  review from the archives and you will see why:

I have to admit…I have been here before. I just haven’t blogged it. But when I ate here for lunch, I knew that it deserved a place on the blog. So what if it has been famous for decades? So what if everyone and their mother has written about it? So what if I like to watch Teen Mom 2 while playing online poker?

Whoops, off topic.

Anyway…I knew the time had come to visit once again to make sure that Union Square Cafe wasn’t just an oldie, but a goodie.

As Danny Meyer’s first restaurant, Union Square Cafe is an elegant but unfussy space that has several rooms, all with enough tables to look busy, but not so many that one feels cramped.

The bread was warm, but not what I would call exceptional. The baguette was a bit cottony and the whole grain lacked the sour or nutty flavors that really great grainy bread has. The olives, however, were outstanding and worthy of mention. Meaty, juicy olives were just salty enough, oily and even sweet with some orange rind in there. I could have eaten the whole bowl.

Actually, I did eat the whole bowl.

The day’s special was a Crispy Pig Ear Salad with Upland Cress, Candied Pistachios, and Champagne Mustard Vinaigrette. Our INSANELY cool server told us that the chef had just picked up the pig’s ears and the cress (which isn’t actually related to watercress, it is a microgreen) from the farmer’s market that morning. Wow. Fresh. And…freakin amazing. The pig’s ear (one of my FAVORITE parts of the pig) was fried to crispy, greaseless perfection. An airy layer of crunch surrounded a tender, incredibly porky layer of meat. Pig’s ear can be tough if it is not cooked well, but this was exceptional. The candied pistachios added a nutty and substantial component to the dish, while the cress was incredibly herby and fragrant. The champagne vinaigrette was extremely tart, which cut through the fatty aspects of the salad.

Bibb and Red Oak Leaf Lettuce Salad with Gruyère and Dijon Vinaigrette is always on the menu and I ALWAYS get it. The lettuces are so fresh and taste so different – the Bibb is soft and almost ethereal in its lightness and the Red Oak is crunchy and earthy. Dressed in the LIGHTEST, most mild vinaigrette imaginable, neither oil nor vinegar nor mustard is discernible, just the cohesive elements. Here, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The croutons are deliciously crunchy and soaked in roasted garlic and oil and the gruyere cheese is nutty, salty and rich next to the light lettuces.

These two salads just prove how DIFFERENT and DELICIOUS salads can be…they get a bad rap, you know?

I mean, just throw a pig ear on it and some 3,000 calorie croutons and you are good to go!

Our server heard us exclaiming about the food and brought us a complimentary dish she thought we might enjoy. Please note that she did not know that I would be reviewing this meal – she just wanted us to try it. Like all Danny Meyer restaurants, the level of hospitality here is just non-pareil. This was the Spanish Mackerel Crudo, Artichoke Puree, Olive Tapenade, and Chili Oil. The mackerel was SO light and mild it tasted more like hamachi than anything else! The artichoke puree was fresh, vegetal and incredibly artichokey, and there seemed to be no salt other than that from the olives. The light hand with the seasoning let the fish and the artichokes shine – a combination I would not have made, but the lightness of both really complimented each other, especially with the slight heat from the chili.

 Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano. Do yourself a favor, and get a pasta dish here. It is all housemade and it is all delicious.

Yes I just made a blanket statement…and I stand by it.

The pappardelle was smooth, toothsome but not hard and rich with yolks. It was with a long braised pork ragout that tasted of sage and perhaps juniper berries…truly aromatic, complex and deep. The boar was less sweet than pork usually is, with a heartier and slightly gamy taste – not unpleasant, but the way that lamb is gamy. Rich and a little wild tasting, hitting flavor darker and deeper notes that pork does not often hit. With a sprinkling of Parmesan, this dish came together on a creamy high note.

And that is what this whole meal was…a high note. Well priced, well fed and EXTREMELY well served, we left feeling as if we had REALLY had an experience, with people who loved to cook and eat as much as we do. You have to make a reservation, often weeks in advance, because this place fills up, but it is worth it. Cause sometimes an oldie really is a goody.

Union Square Cafe on Urbanspoon

Snacks and Sips at Joe’s Pub

Earlier this week I went to a fabulous show at Joe’s Pub – a great cabaret theater downtown where there is, of course, a minimum. We went far above our minimum because we were hungry, but here is what you can expect:

20141013_185323 A very well made, though ill photographed, dirty martini. It’s too bad that the picture is so terrible, because the stemware used is great (way less likely to spill than traditional martini glasses), the vodka is chilled to the point of icy, and there is just enough olive juice in there to make the drink border on savory without being salty.  20141013_185824 Fries with aioli

So good. Like gourmet McDonald’s.  No parmesan cheese, no truffle oil- just crispy, hot fries with Heinz ketchup and buttery, creamy aioli.  20141013_185842 Pickle plate

Good, if not especially memorable. Who doesn’t love a plate of snappy, vinegary pickled veggies? 20141013_185831 Homemade farmers cheese with seeded crackers

Okay, this is craveable. I would get it again in any restaurant. It’s a dense, creamy cheese that tastes almost like melted cream cheese. It’s layered with woodsy oregano and a pool of olive oil. Served with those garlicky seeded crackers, it’s just delicious.

The food is good and so are the drinks, but they are of course way overpriced – it’s a cabaret, what do you expect? The food isn’t as great as the offerings at 54 Below, but the entertainment is great, and after just 2 of those excellent martinis, you will have reached your food minimum and be in a great mood to enjoy the show.

What’s for Lunch?

A few tasty eats around town:

20141012_142732 Cookie butter cups

I hate you, Trader Joe’s. My arm fat hates you, my cholesterol hates you, and my blood sugar hates you. I hate these small, dense, rich/sweet chocolate cups filled with smooth, slightly spicy, gingerbread-y spread. I hate how I have to eat 8 of them to feel like I have had my fill. I hate how I have to hide them from my significant other because I want them all. I hate you. 
20141013_115546 Lentil ball at Mmm…Enfes

Jury is out on this one. I didn’t love the texture – it is served cold and has the texture of wet sand - kind of like a cold, kind of soggy falafel. But the flavor is really great. It’s grains and chickpeas and lentils and scallions. It’s earthy and fresh,a nd – best of all – really spicy when dipped in the hot sauce on offer. It’s spicy stuff – it creeps up on you and it’s a front of the lips, itchy, fiery burn. It’s almost too much – a painful, acidic finish. You know I like that, right?

20141013_115852 Passion fruit macaron from Macaron Parlour

Too soft and sticky without the proper airy cookie texture of a traditional macaron, but awesome flavor! It’s really bright and tropical, with a fruity scent and a sweet, creamy, milk chocolate ganache. I would get this again in a heartbeat.

What did you have for lunch?

The 5 Most Overrated Things About Fall

I don’t hate fall.

I mean, I don’t love it – I am not a fan of colder weather, shorter days, or saying sayonara to great tomatoes -but hey, it’s better than winter. But some people are insane about fall. Like, they are fall-tastic.

They are a little crazy. Fall is fun – it’s fine! – but it isn’t the be all, end all of food seasons. Basically, here are the things to skip around fall.

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Apple picking

Am I the only person who honestly doesn’t enjoy this? The one and only time I went, it was freezing, drizzling, and the tractor that we rode on to get to the orchards broke down. Do you know what happens when a tractor carrying city slickers and toddlers breaks down? Mass chaos ensues. People pull out asthma inhalers and calculating how long it will take for an Uber to get to New Jersey. It was almost Titanic to push ourselves onto that next tractor. And apples just doesn’t do it for me in general -sure, they were okay, but to really get them where they had to be, I had to make it into a pie.

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Pumpkin anything-but-pie

Just STOP IT. Pumpkin is delicious in pie and maybe in a couple of savory stews, but it doesn’t have to be in muffins, cookies, cakes, gum, soda, etc…in fact, it only tastes good in pies. I really think that people like pumpkin spice lattes because they are just happy to welcome full fat beverages into their lives after a summer of fat free iced coffees. Pumpkin belongs in pie. Leave it alone, already.

All root vegetables, all the time

I love mashed celery root and roasted turnips as much as the next gal, but what wouldn’t I GIVE for a juicy tomato or some sweet, tender spring onions? I rely heavily on fresh herbs all summer long and in the winter they just don’t taste the same. It’s a lot of heavy, umami flavors that are certainly delicious and craveworthy, but I definitely miss the bright, vibrant flavors and crunchy textures of summer salad.

Heavy, meaty braises

Similar to the root vegetable situation, I just miss the proteins of summer. Light, lemon scented fish. Tender spring lamb. Entire meals made of nothing except vegetables and some light, pungent sheeps milk cheese. Farewell Cobb salad dinners and hello lasagna, steak, and mashed potatoes with bacon. I mean, I guess that isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever heard.

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Candy Corn

This stuff is actually delightful. I have no idea why it’s on here.

Okay, I guess that fall isn’t the worst thing after all. I don’t know why I thought fall was overrated.

Bring it on, seasons!

Fig and Chutney Chicken

Sometimes the only impetus you need for a new recipe is fear.

The fear that your mom is coming over and will throw out all of the perfectly good jars and bottles in your fridge.

By perfectly good, I mean that the expiration date may have been a month or two earlier but it tastes totally fine. And smells almost perfect.

Look, if it doesn’t kill me, it makes me stronger, right? I mean penicillin came from mold.

So, hurry…make this chicken with that half jar of chutney sitting in your fridge before your mom comes over. And if it just went bad don’t worry…the heat from the oven kills all those bacteria, right?

Fig and Chutney Chicken

chutney chicken Ingredients

4 chicken pieces (I used boneless, skinless thighs, but breasts or drumsticks would also work)

1/3 – 3/4 jar of chutney

a few heavy glugs of hot sauce

1 onion, sliced into rings

4 or 5 figs, halved

sprinkling of poultry spices

olive oil if necessary (if there is no fat from skin)
IMG_1498 1. Combine the chutney, hot sauce, spices, and oil (if used) in a bowl. In another baking dish, layer the figs and onions and preheat the oven to 350F.
IMG_1508 2. Toss the chicken in the mixture then put it in a single layer over the figs and onions.  IMG_1524 3. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the middle of the thickest thick runs clear when pierced with a fork. For the last 7 minutes of cooking, set the oven to broil on high to create a really brown, caramelized crust on the chicken.  IMG_1533 4. Serve with roasted potatoes or orzo.  IMG_1536 For something born out of utter desperation this is phenomenal. The chicken is moist and tender underneath a sticky, crunchy layer of chutney. It’s sweet and spicy, and the fruits in the chutney pick up on the soft, juicy figs and melted onions. It’s even better the next day on sliced sourdough bread but I doubt it will last that long. This doesn’t taste Indian, it really just tastes multifaceted. Be sure to skim the gravy for fat, then you can use it for the starch you serve alongside.

Chutney chicken: laughing in the face of expiration dates since 2014.

California Dreamin: Down and Dirty and Drive-Thru

The down and dirty part of my California trip.

Yes, most of them involve a drive through menu. Don’t judge.

20140926_235225 20140926_235307 Waffle fries and Western bacon cheeseburger from Carl’s Jr.

Look, this isn’t In-n-Out, but it’s the first place that I ever ditched school, the last place I visited on the way to the airport before I moved back East, and it’s the best drive through bbq sauce on the planet. Tangy, not too sweet, viscous, and a little spicy. The burger is about Burger King quality but with superior toppings including some of the best onion rings ever – thick but crispy batter and sweet, melting onions. YES. And the waffle fries are the best ever. No question. Shut up.

20140927_155608 Spicy cucumber margarita at Mercado

My new favorite drink. Exceptional and not overpriced at $11. Freshly muddled jalapenos and blanco tequila in a chilled, chipotle-salt rimmed glass. It’s like a very light, refreshing bloody Mary. Savory, bright, and with a pleasant kick of tequila. Mercado has a wonderful happy hour and a beautiful space  - I would absolutely come back here to try the food, all of which looked awesome.
20140928_191123 California produce

Because out there, it’s still summer. The peaches are sweet, the goat cheese is grassy, and I hate that it’s getting cold at home.

I’m sure next up will be 1,000 pumpkin recipes and lamb braises.

And California really will seem like just a dream.

California Dreamin: The Fabulous Burger at The Apple Pan

I couldn’t be any more in love with the restaurant featured in this post.

This is my #1 “don’t miss” restaurant in Los Angeles. I love it more than the fancy ones. I love it more than the iconic ones. I love it more than the new ones.

It’s The Apple Pan. And I’m going to let the pictures do the talking:

20140928_104333 The Apple Pan. It’s been around since the 40s. which means nothing to East Coaster, but as Californians will attest, the only thing that’s been around as long since then are the La Brea Tarpits. My mom used to take me here for lunch and she knew a counterman who must have been 100 years old. She said he was 100 years old when she went there when she was a kid.
20140928_110212 Get there early and line up or prepare to wait for a seat around the long counter. Enjoy your soft drink from a paper cone stuck inside of a metal holder.
20140928_110219 The menu isn’t long and it isn’t difficult. If you get the ham sandwich, you have failed your mission. All passengers aboard the shuttle die and your home planet is blown up.  20140928_110334 French fries

Johnny Rockets, weep your eyes out. The finest American fries…yes, anywhere. Golden, insanely hot, crispy without and fluffy within. Not too salty, not at all artisanal.

20140928_110706 Hickory burger with tangy hickory bbq sauce 20140928_110711 Steakburger with piquant relish and sharp Tillamook cheddar cheese 20140928_110858 Toasty bun, chargrilled burger, sharp cheddar, a swath of mayonnaise…and a head of iceberg lettuce. It’s a trademark move, shut up.  20140928_111847 Banana cream pie… 20140928_112105 And dense, buttery pecan pie with a glob of the best whipped cream in the city.  20140928_112542 That plaid wallpaper. The styrofoam plates for the ketchup. The way that the food smells better and better the longer you wait for a seat. This is the best part of California…the nostalgic part.

California Dreamin: The Whimsical World of The Bazaar

When I love something, I love it all the way.

I watch all of The Real Housewives franchises.

I know every dance step to “Oops, I Did it Again” and perform it each and every time I hear it.

And I will eat at every Jose Andres restaurant until I have dined at them all.

This is where The Bazaar comes into play.

This Jose Andres restaurant kinda put him on the map for the West Coast. In the swanky SLS hotel in Beverly Hills, it bills itself as a molecular gastronomic palace that delivers both traditional tapas and nouveau ones. I knew that I had to check it out.

20140927_185223 The vibe is so cool. It’s irreverent and eclectic, like somewhere that your super cool sister might live if she came into a ton of money and went on a trip to Morocco to find herself. Think tribal masks, hologram maitre d’hotels, plush divans on which to dine, and a beautiful outdoor space that seems relaxed yet provides excellent people watching.  20140927_190539 Magic Mojito 20140927_190553 Because when your mojito comes sweetened with cotton candy, it’s magical and you get it. It is sweet and tasty, but really…also so cool.

20140927_191355
Even cooler is the capirinha, which comes tableside and frozen with liquid nitrogen. It’s like bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble…but with booze.

20140927_191531

I  found it a little too bitter, but it is still very fun to order. 20140927_191005 Modern caprese

A little disappointing, to be honest. The flavors are all there – juicy, earthy tomatoes that have the thinnest skin ever…they are totally undetectable, which is great in my book! The pesto is garlicky and fragrant and the little fried croutons are delish. The mozzarella tastes great but the whole “liquid mozzarella” thing falls flat. It just seems like burratta, but less creamy. It delivers on taste but not the molecular gastronomy selling point.
20140927_191339 Steak tartare on kimchi crackers

One of the winners of the night. Less molecular gastronomy, more fusion of great flavors. The crisps are made in house and have just the faintest memory of kimchi – some heat and a little fish funkiness that plays off of the steak tartare in a classic Worcestershire sauce way. The tartare is way above par. It’s so rich and hand chopped, so it has a good chew and a really minerally, deep flavor. It isn’t overly spiced or salted – the kimchi rice crisp does most of the flavoring work. Excellent. 
20140927_192617 Caesar Salad

Great idea, okay execution. The lettuce rolls are filled with cheese and caesar dressing, then topped with more cheese or a raw quail egg yolk. It needs some more acid, salt, and garlic to really come through. 20140927_193241 Chicken croquettes

Just as delicious as I remembered them. Wow, I love these.  20140927_193319 Yellowtail ceviche with grapes, rice crisps, and yogurt

Good, not great – wouldn’t get it again. It just fell flat. The grapes are a surprising punch of juice and sweetness, but the yellowtail needs some more acid to keep it from tasting flat and/or fishy.  20140927_193748 Philly Cheesesteak 20140927_193807 I wish that I had a photo of the inside of these sandwiches because they were filled with homemade cheese whiz….yes, you heard that right…CHEEZ WHIZ…BUT HOMEMADE AND CREAMY AND SHARP AND CHEDDAR AND DELICIOUS! The bread is a very crisp, hollow cracker that is filled with that cheese mixture and the top is layered with thin slices of buttery, delicate Wagyu beef. I could eat another 4 of these, easily.

So, what did I think of Bazaar? Well, I liked it…a lot! It wasn’t insanely pricey (for a special occasion meal), the service was some of the best hat we had in LA, and the food was for the most part quite good. However..it should be billed as modern tapas. Not molecular astronomy. It doesn’t deliver on that front.

Where it does deliver is on the meat front.

Get that steak tartare and magic mojito, then sit back and watch people pull up with their Audis and their nose jobs. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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.

20140928_202839

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.