Archive for August, 2009

31st August
2009
written by spd
The exterior of our theatre in Costa Mesa, as the evening show crowds clear...

The exterior of our theatre in Costa Mesa, as the evening show crowds clear...

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31st August
2009
written by spd
Pizzeria_Ortica_Interior

(img: Pizzeria Ortica)

I’m very fortunate that someone left their copy of OC’s Riviera Magazine on the eliptical in Costa Mesa. Otherwise, I might not have found Pizzeria Ortica, which holds this year’s title for Best Pizza in Orange County.  I haven’t tasted every pizza in the OC, but I would probably agree.  This narrow, sun drenched dining room opened in January of this year and has already generated a deserving buzz. Since it’s just a hop-skip-jump from the theatre, I decided to give it a go. The Napoli-style pizza is, indeed, delicious (I was particularly fond of the Salsiccia e finnocchio with house-made sausage, caramelized fennel, mascarpone, red onion, and buffalo grana) but don’t neglect the rest of the menu, especially the Chino Farm insert.

Every Thursday, both chefs drive south to Chino Farm in Del Mar and showcase their beautiful produce in a dozen or so seasonal dishes. The sweet corn risotto with peas was a highlight… and a perfect accompaniment to our favorite entree: Branzino con pesto Trapanese (a simple, beheaded Branzino, artfully de-boned, and pan fried until the skin was perfectly crisp and the flesh moist and flaky.) Served with a mild almond pesto and lightly-dressed mound of arugula, it answered my prayers for a light pre-show meal. Still, in my three trips there, the most irresistible plate placed on the table was the Cavolini di Bruxelles (roasted brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts, breadcrumbs, and lemon zest.)

Owner/Chef David Myers understands the power of taking fine ingredients and allowing them to speak for themselves. I would recommend this to any pre-show diner.

Pizzeria Ortica. 650 Anton Blvd.  Costa Mesa, CA. 92626. ph. 714-445-4900

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17th August
2009
written by spd

I’m introducing a new category: Wanderlust.  Just as my Food Porn category showcases what I’m cooking, this category will show you what my eyes are feasting on when I’m not in the kitchen.  Just like my mother… and her mother, I have gypsy blood and experience wanderlust every time I’m stationary for more than a few months.  I hope to spread the bug… with pictures from tour, and my travels abroad.

wan·der·lust (wän′dər lust′) noun an impulse, longing, or urge to wander or travel Etymology: Ger < wandern, to travel, wander + lust, joy: see lust.

David and I took an afternoon in Santa Monica recently, and watched the spectacular sunset from the pier.  Fifteen minutes after I took this, the sky was ablaze with orange and red hues.

David and I recently spent an afternoon in Santa Monica and watched spectacular sunset from the pier. Fifteen minutes after I snapped this, the sky was ablaze with orange and red hues.

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17th August
2009
written by spd
Joan's on 3rd

The cheese counter at Joan's on Third. (img: Joan's)

A mother-daughter operation situated on trendy Third Street, this pricy gourmet market resembles a quaint Dean & Deluca, or the shuttered East Hampton gem, Barefoot Contessa. Their well-curated shelves hold non-perishibles, and separate counters display top-notch baked goods (we loved the chocolate coffee cake) or savory prepared foods (like the baby heirloom and bocconcini salad). Guests can grab their charcuterie and Fromage D’Affinois and have a picnic elsewhere, or plant themselves at the communal table or outdoor cafe tables. If the wait at Toast is unbearable, don’t resist having your brunch here, where a short but spectacular breakfast menu is served daily. The Goat Cheese and Asparagus Omelette is fresh and perfectly cooked!

Joan’s on Third. 8350 W Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90048. ph. (323) 655-2285

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14th August
2009
written by spd
The exterior of Suzanne Goin's Lucques (img: Lucques)

The exterior of Suzanne Goin's Lucques (img: Lucques)

Long before the locavore movement was in vogue, Suzanne Goin was a practicing farm-to-fork chef, sourcing her foods from the California’s finest growers. Named one of Food and Wine’s top chefs one decade ago, Goin took home the James Beard in 2006 for best Californian chef. Lucques, her chic, but homey Melrose restaurant, is the first of four in the Los Angeles area (her newest, Tavern, just celebrated its opening) and is located in a charming space that used to serve as  silent film star Harold Lloyd’s carriage house.   David and I took our lunch there on a sunny afternoon, and found the food to be just as lovely as the ivy-covered outdoor patio.

Every meal at Lucques begins with helping of butter-basted almonds, crusty bread, fleur de sel, butter and lucques, the restaurant’s vivid green namesake olive. It could be what we chose to order, but Goin’s love of the almond – used in almost ever dish that came to our table – led us to believe that, perhaps, they chose the wrong name!

While we were originally enticed by lunch prefix, the three courses offered that afternoon featured no protein whatsoever (Suzanne!). So we went a la carte, and were not dissapointed. Our starter was seasonal and fresh, and exactly what we had hoped for. Fresh Peaches with Dandelion Greens, Almonds, Ricotta Salata and Abbamele. The saltiness of the ricotta salata and the intense bite of the dandelion were wonderfully matched with perhaps the most perfect peach I’ve ever laid eyes on (And, yes, I’ve been to Georgia). The dish made all other produce I’ve consumed in my life look unworthy.

Our two entrees arrived and were both colorful sights to behold. David chose the Soft-Shell Crab Sandwich on Toasted Brioche with Avocado, Tomato and Bacon. The ingredients were top-notch, but the slippery combination of the avocado and the tomato made it a difficult stack to eat and by the end of our meal, it was a de-contructed pile of goodness. The mayo (?) that was served with it was too salty, but the asian cabbage coleslaw that accompanied the dish was quite good. I normally despise coleslaw, but this wasn’t a mayo-saturated, bland scoop of goo… it was lightly dressed, and a perfect side for summer.

Oregon Salmon with Almond Pesto, Corn Pudding, and Shaved Summer Squash (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Oregon Salmon with Almond Pesto, Corn Pudding, and Shaved Summer Squash (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

I chose the Grilled Market Fish (that day, Wild-Caught Oregon Salmon) with Corn Pudding, Shaved Summer Squash and Almond Pesto (yes, almonds). I could rework the lyrics of “My Favorite Things” to include the ingredients on my plate. As I devoured the dish, I kept thinking that this is a perfect example of how I wish to eat daily. Lord knows what the chef did to the paper-thin squash, but they were divine; and the textural contrast of the corn pudding’s crispy edges with it’s souffle-like interior was very nice. David thought that the presence of the fish itself was eclipsed by the other elements on the plate, and I’ll agree that the chef was a overly generous with the almond pesto. I would, however, order it again in an instant.

Lucques is worth a visit if you are looking for simple fare, prepared with the finest ingredients. The setting is charming, and the food itself is guilt-free and healthful.

Lucques 8474 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood, CA 90069. ph. (323) 655-6277

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12th August
2009
written by spd
IMG_6900-smaller

David and I prepared this Giada-inspired starter the last time I was home...

10th August
2009
written by spd
mozza

The elegant marble mozzarella bar at Mozza

I rarely opt for Italian when eating out, as I find my favorite dishes are quite easy and inexpensive to prepare at home.  Still, when scouring LA’s Menupages, I could find only one fine restaurant with a 5:30 dinner seating (my call at the theatre is 7:30).  To my great delight, that restaurant was Osteria Mozza, the posh lovechild of three venerable names in Italian cooking:  Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich.  After nearly 17 years of friendship (and Seven James Beard Awards among them), this is the trio’s first outing.  I’m happy to report that this is Italian at it’s best … and I couldn’t conceive of turning out half of the dishes served to me this past Thursday!

The meal begins with complimentary ricotta, tapenade and basil crustini.  The cheese is, of course, fantastic, and the tapenade is divine!  The bread that is delivered after drinks are placed is also quite good; I’m sure I can credit Silverton with that, given her beginnings at La Brea Bakery.

The starters do not disappoint!  The creamy Burrata with Grilled Asparagus, Brown Butter, Guanciale & Sicilian almonds tastes exactly the way you want it to taste.  Good ingredients don’t need to be fussed with, and this Burrata is perfection. The centerpiece of the dining room is a massive L-shaped mozzarella bar, so as you can guess, the antipasti list contains more than a dozen fromage-centric plates.  I’m sure all are just as lovely.  The Grilled Octopus with potatoes, celery & lemon is also bright, and perfectly prepared.  David didn’t care for the celery, but since I never care for celery, I was surprised to find it a worthy choice.

Grilled Octopus with Celery, Potatoes and Lemon

Grilled Octopus with Celery, Potatoes and Lemon

We split our primi, the Taglietelle Verde with Lamb Ragu.  (Even though the server was quite unenthusiastic, I was pleased that he served us two half portions on separate plates.) This was the course that lingered on my tongue and in my mind for days afterwards.  The fresh mint, folded and wilted into the complex ragu, made this dish.  The pasta itself – thick and al dente – wasn’t too shabby either. By now, it was evident that the chef de cuisine knew what he was doing!  We ended with the Sweetbreads Piccata with Artichokes.  There was a huge gap of time between this course and the previous one.  And the sauce was overbearingly acidic.  But ignore that – the preparation of the sweetbreads themselves was so divine that it sparked a five-minute conversation!  Often too heavily fried, or not crisp enough on the outside, these were texturally sublime.  We ate them slowly, to make them last.

I was busting at the seams when I began my show, but I don’t regret a bite.  It’s a meal worth spending money on.  I knew little about Mozza before entering the dining room (I didn’t even know that they were in possession of a coveted Michelin star), and my experience exceeded what would have been high expectations.

Osteria Mozza. 6602 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90038-3410.  ph (323) 297-0100

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8th August
2009
written by spd
Monsieur Marcel (img: People)

Monsieur Marcel (img: People)

To get our French fix before catching a matinee of  Julie and Julia (run, don’t walk!), David and I stopped for a light lunch at Monsieur Marcel in the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax.  This gourmet market’s outdoor cafe is a great place to people watch while working your way though a surprisingly large menu of charcuterie, fromage, quiche, etc.  We fell hard for the escargot tower – escargots stuffed into a french baguette with tomato confit, served with a beurre blanc sauce.  “Bon appetit!”

Monsieur Marcel’s Gourmet Market. 6333 W 3rd St # 150, Los Angeles, CA 90036-3191.  ph (323) 939-7792

8th August
2009
written by spd
200905-go-la-animal-ss

The minimalist dining room at Animal (img: Food + Wine)

In a town obsessed with light fare, David and I indulged in a caloric feast that made me scratch my head and wonder ‘how are we not in New York?’  Animal, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s Fairfax forty-five seater, has managed to create quite a stir in its first thirteen months.  Certainly, critics of its carne-centric cuisine have surfaced,  but most deem their efforts extraordinary.  Among their fans: Food +Wine, which included the tattooed duo on 2009’s short list of Best New Chefs.  Their first restaurant venture, Animal is the sole Los Angeles representative, and deservedly so.  Gail Simmons of F+W was sitting with her girlfriends two tables over, so you know their recommendation is a sincere one!

We decided to go tapas-style, as their list of small plates is irresistible.  We began with one of the few vegetarian options, a beautiful Heirloom Tomato Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette and a medley of herbs, including mint and Italian parsley.  This was a lovely prelude to our carnivorous feast.  What followed was a Braised, Deep Fried Pig Ear with Siracha Chili, Lime and a Fried Egg.  As heavy as it sounds, it managed to feel quite light, with a hefty amount of acidity to brighten the dish.   It was, perhaps, the most memorable plate of the evening. Then came the easiest sell of all: lightly fried Sweetbreads over Creamed Spinach with Capers and Hen of the Woods.  I love sweetbreads; spinach is my favorite superfood; salty capers are a go-to place for me in the kitchen; and –  as I’ve mentioned here before – hen of the woods mushrooms top my fungi list!  I loved the dish.  At first bite, I found the capers to be overwhelming, but when paired with a larger scoop of the creamed spinach, the dish was actually quite balanced.

Foie Gras Loco Moco (img: Tasting Table)

Foie Gras Loco Moco (img: Tasting Table)

When it came time to choose an entrée, we agreed to split one of the most ludicrous dishes ever conceived: Foie Gras Loco Moco with a Niman Ranch Burger, Spam, Fried Quail Egg over Anson Mills Gold Rice.  To know that someone had committed the culinary sin of placing a perfectly seared piece of foie gras atop a fried sliver of SPAM… I had to experience it first hand!  I’m happy to report that it’s a well-conceived riff on a Hawaiian classic.  Let’s not pretend for a moment that it hasn’t wreaked havoc on my arteries, but the dish has merit besides the sheer novelty of it.  Finally, we did ourselves in with their infamous dessert, a house-made Chocolate Crunch Bar rolled in finely chopped Crispy Bacon and Salt and Pepper Anglaise.  David thought they could have challenged our palates with more bacon, but I loved that it nudged the tongue ever so slightly at the end of each bite.

I found Shook and Dotolo’s menu to be adventurous, unpretentious, and a great value.  Our five plates, and a carafe of Tempranillo brought the tab to just under $100… I would go again in an instant!

Animal, 435 N. Fairfax Ave. Los Angeles, California.  ph. 323-782-9225

5th August
2009
written by spd
xooro

(img: Xooro)

Xooro (pronounced Sure-oh, like “churro” rolling off the tongue of a northern Spanish native) elevates this traditional street treat to a fine, modern desert.  With an endless array of options, these fritters are filled, dipped and coated to order.  We chose the Sicilian; filled with pistachio creme, coated in dark chocolate, and rolled in chopped nuts.  :)

Xooro. 8360 Melrose Ave #107, WeHo CA 90069, ph. 323.951.9592

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