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_090131I know, it really IS to adorable for words.
20140929_091323Buttermilk 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_091346Homemade 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.

Nighttime Brunch at Egg Shop

What’s a gal to do when the hottest brunch spot is not only way downtown and doesn’t take reservations, but also has a 2+ hour wait on weekends?

She has brunch for dinner, of course.

20140915_203241Egg Shop is the latest darling of the brunch world. It is – as it sounds –  a sweet, small, retrofitted eatery specializing in one thing: eggs. In bowls, on toast, and in every incarnation you can imagine. Though it’s supposedly bumper-to-bumper packed on the weekends, on a weekday night, it was positively deserted except for the pleasant waitstaff and enticing, tiny open kitchen.

20140915_204526 Egg salt and pepper shakers…come on…this is adorable.20140915_204609 Avocado toast with heirloom tomatoes and a poached egg

Thick, seeded toast smeared with buttery avocado and topped with sweet heirloom tomatoes and…

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a gorgeous poached egg. Tender whites, gooey yolk. Warm and comforting atop those juicy tomatoes and that lush avocado. This is so simple that you could make it at home…but you know you wouldn’t. I doused this with the homemade hot sauce and it was such a satisfying meal that I may just make it for myself tonight, after all.
20140915_204619Egg salad with fried chicken

The best fried chicken I have had in recent memory. I can’t tell you how good it is. Juicy with a thick, craggy crust and not too thick – perfect for eating between two slices of toast. The egg salad isn’t made with mayo but it’s still creamy and loaded with piquant, aggressive flavors like coriander, dill, and fresh herbs. It’s light and punchy instead of stodgy like egg salad often is.  It’s more of a spread, a backdrop, for that lovely fried chicken. This doesn’t need anything – not hot sauce, not mayo…nada. Just your mouth.

This place is kind of overpriced, but it was fun for a weeknight meal. The service is great and the food is delish. I would NEVER wait more than 20 minutes to eat here – 30 minutes max. But if I was int the neighborhood again, I would be happy to eat here again and try a Bloody Mary, too.

Long live evening brunch!

Creative Crepes at The Starving Artist in the Berkshires

If you believe that you dine with your eyes as well as your mouth, I know exactly where to send you for a lazy Saturday morning breakfast in the Berkshires.

20140913_091839 The Starving Artist Cafe seems at first o be just a cute creperie on Lee’s main drag. You order at the counter then go to sit down at a small table or a window-side bench….20140913_091843 and then get to look at the gorgeous art gallery in which the cafe is housed. You like it, you can buy it! Sure beats seeing football on 3 screens in the local bar. 20140913_092800 Hot chocolate

Gargantuan, incredibly creamy, and none too sweet. Be sure to get it topped with the barely sweetened whipped cream, which only adds to the richness. This might put you into a food coma. It’s such a decadent way to start your vacay weekend. 20140913_093027Mexican crepe with scrambled local eggs, black beans, avocado, and scallions

Tasty, if lacking in the spice department.

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A really good counterpart to that hot chocolate. The crepe is crispy yet tender and chock full of scrambled eggs with melted cheese, soft avocado, and chewy black beans. Don’t skimp on the salsa, because the eggs aren’t spicy at all. But they are wholesome and delish.

20140913_093033Fruit cup

A good size, with delicious Asian pears and homemade granola. Win.

Loved this joint (though the espresso is dreadful). Fair prices, delicious food, and good service. Plus, decorations that can’t be beat.

Weekday Breakfast at Le Grainne

This is a short and to the point write up:

Le Grainne is a lovely weekday breakfast spot.

It’s on 9th avenue, in that stretch of Chelsea just above Chelsea Market – you know, that street where there are still graceful brownstones and cute boutiques, like NYC wasn’t about to become one big shopping mall.

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There is a very small but pretty sidewalk seating area, and inside it’s cozy and Parisian-feeling. The perfect place to catch up with a friend over a bowl of cafe au lait and a crispy croissant.

20140911_093912Goat cheese and leek crepe

Maybe this isn’t how Parisians do breakfast, but this is how they should do it. Because this is both delicious and wholesome – sure beats that chocolate croissant in the “keeping you full” department. The goat cheese is melty and soft, less dense than cream cheese and with an unmistakable tang. The leeks are a little crunchy for my tastes, so next time I might go with goat cheese au naturel. The crepe itself is expertly prepared – whisper thin and crispy, substantial enough to hold the goat cheese but not at all doughy. The salad alongside is lightly dressed in a mustardy vinaigrette – fresh and tasty.
20140911_093916This place is charming! The food is lovely, the prices are fair, and the service is a little more laid back than I prefer, but hey…it’s faster than it would be if this place actually was in France!

Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Breakfast at Maialino

I have wanted to visit Danny Meyer’s Maialino since it opened. It’s supposed to have sensational rustic Italian food, with homemade pastas, fabulous antipasti, and of course its namesake crispy suckling pig face.

So, of course, I ended up there for breakfast when none of these items are offered. 

What I found was a meal that was way too expensive and yet…so delicious that I could totally see myself going again. 

Rent can be late this month, right?

20140806_082144 The restaurant itself is lovely – very large and spacious by NYC standards, with a casual bar upfront that serves fresh juices for breakfast. There is a large dining room that is covered with homey checkered tablecloths that feel like grandmas house and small dishes of excellent salt flakes that remind you that you are not.  The vibe is somewhere between business and foodie casual – it would be the perfect place to take a business lunch with a colleague who just happens to love great food.

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Robiolina with pickled onions and roe

Okay, this is the smallest dish for the price that I have ever seen. I can’t call it a value. It just isn’t. What it IS is really delicious. The toast is crunchy but thick enough to have some give under the toasted surface. It’s topped with a thin, creamy schmear of robiolina cheese – like a tangier cream cheese with a lighter, more airy texture. Its crowning touches are a few vinegary pickled onions, a drizzle of fruity olive oil, and some fresh, bursting with briny flavor trout roe. This is your bagel with novie gone high class and on a diet. It’s slim, it’s elegant, and it’s sophisticated. This is more of an amuse bouche than a whole meal, and it really is very pricey, but it’s delish.
20140806_084525 Scrapple ai Maialino

Now, THIS is fairly priced and something that I would order again and again. The hockey puck sized terrine looks dense, but beneath its thick, crackly crust is the loosely packed, sage scented, sweet and savory pork sausage of my DREAMS. It’s incredibly juicy and tender, with that pork flavor singing through, especially when lemon juice hits the patty, a la Wienerschnitzel. 20140806_084650This stuff is as rich as a Kardashian and more enjoyable  as all of them put together. You won’t be able to eat a whole one unless you have a nap on the schedule immediately after breakfast – plan to share this with someone as a fabulous side dish.

I loved Maialino as much as I thought that I would, though I did get some sticker shock. I would love to go back for dinner and see if the portions make the prices a little easier to swallow – the food is surely delicious enough to warrant a second go-round. 

Puttin’ on the Ritz – Breakfast Edition

British breakfast is my second favorite part about England. These people really know how to eat. This is not a fruit salad and protein shake kind of country.

This is a country that eats breakfast, then conquers the world with cult rock music, okay?

And you can’t get a finer breakfast than at The Ritz Hotel.

This isn’t the Ritz-Carlton – don’t get it twisted. This is the sister of The Ritz in Paris, opened by Caesar Ritz himself. It has been around since the early 1900s and DRIPS Parisian opulence and beauty.

20140509_100207The room is as plush and over the top as you might hope it is. It really is…pardon my corniness…ritzy. You see where there adjective  came from. Everything is covered in velvet and plated in gold.

DSC_1162There is a rotunda painted with angels circling chandeliers held up with wreathes of roses.
20140509_100213 The butter is stamped with the regal R insignia.

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There are 2 kinds of SALT, for Pete’s sake! Finely ground if you are a ninny, and those large, flaky pyramids for those of us who know how to live.

Don’t wear jeans here, gentlemen. Brush that hair, ladies. You are served by an impeccable wait staff in morning coats who assure you that it is their pleasure to pick the pulp out of your freshly squeezed orange juice by hand so you don’t choke.

They are so convincing that I almost believe them.

The food is, thankfully, just as enjoyable as the atmosphere.

20140509_101028What, you don’t like duck, quail, and hen eggs at your morning breakfast buffet?
20140509_101228 Oh, don’t worry, every entree comes with the buffet. WITH the buffet. That means that you can load up on genuine Scottish smoked salmon, figs from Jordan, and…20140510_090726 yogurt so sweet and creamy that it might as well be called melted ice cream. You know, before your main course. 20140510_090900And what a main course it is. Skip the pancakes and the bony and very fishy kippers, and go straight for the gold – The English Breakfast. Get it with black pudding that is so creamy and minerally-rich that you may stave off iron deficiency for life even if you become a vegan by lunch. The bacon is the fatty stuff that the Brits love, and the Cumberland sausage is fragrant with cloves and black pepper. The egg is poached beautifully, with a runny yolk and firm whites, or get it them scrambled to pale yellow, buttery bliss. Don’t forget that oven roasted tomato, sweet and juicy atop a meaty portobello mushroom.

Um, yeah…these people know breakfast. How to serve it, how to present it, and most of all - how to cook it.

This is an insanely expensive treat and though I couldn’t’ do it every day, it is a gift to myself that I will cherish forever.

Or at least until my heart explodes from eating all of that saturated fat before 10 AM.

Mykonos Grace – A Little Slice of Heaven

One of the coolest things about the Greek islands is that many hotels offer breakfast in the room rates. That means that you wake up, roll out of bed, take 800 photos of the most beautiful scenery that you have ever seen, and go right to breakfast in your bathing suit and cover up.

I will be doing a full report on all hotels, but first off, let’s start with just the food.

The Mykonos Grace, a small boutique hotel, offers a full breakfast to all of its guests. And I mean full. Look at this menu.

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That’s right. Each guest gets everything on there. Or anything else that they desire. I wanted bacon, not ham. My husband wanted tomatoes, not spinach. Done and done.

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The scenery isn’t the worst either. If the weather isn’t nice, you can sit inside the poolside restaurant, but if it is nice…it’s a little slice of heaven.

20140501_103848Bread

Don’t miss the bread basket – I am partial to the round, sesame ring. It’s dense and chewy, and I spread it thickly with unsalted, tangy goat butter and some of the sweetest honey anyone will ever have.
20140501_104031Yogurt parfait

Because to call it Greek yogurt is redundant and to call it custard isn’t exactly appropriate. But it’s as rich as custard, with a smooth texture and an almost indiscernible tangy taste that cuts the sweet honey. Sadly, the fruit and cornflakes are just irrelevant. It’s all about the decadent, vanilla-y custard. It’s so thick that you can stand your spoon upright in it. I could eat this every day and never crave anything else.

Except, maybe, for this:

20140501_105413Egg white and spinach omelette with Naxos Gruyere, crispy bacon, and Greek bruschetta

Olive oil egg white omelette…incredible. The mild olive oil REALLY infuses the egg with rich, lush flavor and provides a nicely crisp bottom without too much browning – decidedly different from a French omelette, but delicious in its own right. The spinach is fresh and sauteed with just a pinch of salt and a few slivers of garlic – nothing over the top. The bacon is prepared crispy, the way that we Americans like it, and the gruyere, from neighboring Naxos island, is nutty and not too salty. It’s delicious.
20140501_105531So is the bruschetta.

It’s twice baked bread (called rusk), topped with tomato pulp and some salty mizithra cheese. This is a small plate found all over the islands and it’s a well thought out one – the salt from the cheese makes the tomatoes taste even sweeter than they already are, and the tomato pulp softens the hard bread. It’s fresh, light, and ideal at any time of day. 20140501_110940 Crepes with caramelized apples

So sweet and light. The crepes are whisper thin and the apples are tender, sweet, and bursting with juice. The lacy, crispy edges of the crepe are particularly addictive. I only wish I could eat more of them, but I had already eaten a full breakfast by this time!20140501_111912And of course, a homemade spanikopita.

There is WAY more spinach than cheese here – the cheese is mrely as easoning accent. I have been doing it all wrong.

I have missed Greece all of these years. That’s REALLY what I have been doing all wrong. Luckily, those days are in the past – next up, poolside snacks!

Norma’s is a Dud

Remember when I was so hoity-toity and proud about ignoring reviews and doing whatever the hell I wanted?

Wow, that was short sighted of me.

I recently went to the much maligned Norma’s in the Parker Meridien hotel. It is written up everywhere for serving huge portions of overpriced foods, for having lackluster service, and for feeling totally mechanical without any warmth.

I’m sad to say that the stories are true.

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The atmosphere is basically at the end of the hotel lobby – it doesn’t feel any more special than your standard Vegas hotel coffee shop. Which wouldn’t matter if the service were great. Or even good. But when you spend a majority of the meal flagging down your server to beg for some water and HEAVEN FORBID that you need hot sauce before you eat your eggs…it takes away from the uniqueness of the place. And even that wouldn’t matter if each entree wasn’t over $20.

Which, of course, each one is.

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Huevos Rancheros

Good. Not great. Not Cookshop, that’s for sure. The quesadillas are a great idea – decadent pockets of melted cheese and crispy tortillas topped with properly fried eggs. But there is no sour cream. No piquant pickled onions. The hot sauce is generic and the beans are watery. Don’t get me wrong, I ate this – it’s tasty. But it is not craveable. And it’s not worth it.

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The smoothie shot at the beginning of the meal was the best part. Guava, pineapple, orange, and passion fruit made for a surprisingly tropical way to start the day in chilly NYC.

However, it’s still not enough. Not nearly enough.

Do follow my review or don’t; the choice is up to you.

But dont’ say that that I didn’t warn ya.

Banana Bread Tricks and Tips

So I made some banana bread.

And it was incredible.

Used up almost done-for bananas, came together in a flash, and served double duty for breakfast and dessert.

However, it wasn’t my recipe.

So, to avoid being the kind of jerk who steals recipes, cuts in line when finding a parking spot at the mall, doesn’t like Bravo, etc…

I have decided to show you the finished product and direct you to the recipe, here.

Of course, I made a few variations:

fooood 1171. Add chocolate chips

Because, really…why wouldn’t you?fooood 119 2. Cream the butter for twice as long as you normally would.

This is a trick straight out of the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. It results in finely crumbed, rich, and creamy baked goods. Banana bread can sometimes be dense and rather brick-like. Creaming the butter and sugar for so long results in really aerated fat that makes the bread super light. Take 5 minutes – at least – for this step.fooood 1213. Bang the tin on the counter before you bake it

This gets all the air bubbles out so you don’t end up with those weird, large holes or tunnels.
fooood 1274. Eat it for 10 days.

Because this stuff lasts forever. Not like “oh it isn’t moldy so I can still eat it” forever.

Like for EVER ever. It stays fresh and moist, even in the fridge.

If it does start to get a little stale, just pop a slice in the toaster and serve it with butter for breakfast or with ice cream for dessert.

Now, go get some nearly rotten bananas and make this stuff!

Mother’s – Debris and Grits in The Big Easy

When you want breakfast in New Orleans, you have a few options. You can go to Cafe du Monde for some world class beignets. You can go down the street for a beer and a hot dog, at any time of day. Or you can go to Mother’s, one of the most delightful down home restaurants I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.

DSCN5404The line for Mother’s is unrelenting. From the time it opens at 7 AM, you will be on line for at least 20 minutes, usually closer to an hour. It moves quickly from outside to the cafeteria line up inside.
DSCN5405The walls of the uber-casual (verging on dumpy, but in that “you know you’re in for a good meal” way) space are lined with the rich and famous who have dined here.
DSCN5409 As you approach the counter where you order, you see the food in its steamed dishes – ham, grits, sausage, biscuits, and any other number of really traditional southern dishes. Bring some Lipitor. DSCN5413 And above all, stay on line. There are always enough tables and it moves so quickly. It’s worth it. DSCN5414 Bloody Mary

From a machine that usually dispenses fruit punch – what a brilliant idea! Especially when they are this tasty – really tomatoey and bright with a zippy, zesty spice and – thankfully – VERY little salt. It’s actually the flavor of the Bloody Mary, not a salt lick, that comes through. It’s strong enough to put a little pep in your step but not so strong that it will get you blitzed. DSCN5417 I just love a place that has 3 kinds of hot sauce on the table. FYI, that’s almost everywhere in N’Awlins. DSCN5420 Grits with debris

Yes, debris means garbage. And yes, I ate it. And it. Was. AWESOME.

You know when you make pot roast and there are all those wonderful bits of meat and crispy fat and charred bits at the bottom of the pan? THAT’S debris. The most savory, salty, meaty, crispy, juicy bits of the beef. Served to you with creamy (if under-seasoned) grits and a wonderfully round, homey tasting gravy. Add some Tabasco and it may just be the best breakfast that you ever ate.

Followed, of course, by a food coma.
DSCN5421 Ham

Mother’s is famous for it. It’s a little “hammy” for me. I prefer thin, salty Virginia ham, while this is thicker and a little more barnyard-y. DSCN5422 Biscuit

The biscuit to end all biscuits. Steaming hot and soft. The perfect mix between rich and light. Flaky enough to dissolve in your mouth but substantial enough to hold eggs and ham if necessary. Slather it with some of the softest, richest butter I have had outside of Europe. Don’t eat more than one because they expand in your stomach like those little animal sponges the minute that you have a sip of water.

The bloat is worth it. These biscuits are legit. DSCN5423The prices are dirt cheap and the food is wonderful. More than that, the atmosphere is really special. Where else can you stand in line with people so overjoyed at eating soon that no one pushes you? Where else does the woman behind the counter call you “hon,” and recommend that you change your order so you get the best the house has to offer? Where else can you sit with some of your favorite people in the world for an  hour and a half without being bothered for anything except another cup of coffee?

Mother’s is a must-visit in N’Awlins. And don’t forget to eat the garbage.