When foodie friends say they are trying a place and invite me to join them for dinner, I almost always say “Yes!”. After an afternoon at LACMA, we were literally at the door of Son of a Gun waiting for them to open. Since there were four of us and only three of us love oysters, we settled on half a dozen to start. I could easily have eaten all of them and another dozen (my record is 3 dozen in one sitting). They were the freshest, most well opened ones I’ve eaten since I’ve been back in the US. The grated horseradish and a squeeze of lemon were all I sparingly added to my pair.

We decided to order a variety of dishes so we could taste a bit of everything; first out of the kitchen was the lemonfish poke with black radish escabeche, citrus, and crispy sunchoke for $18. The plates are small, so we each had about one bite. The ingredients were good quality but the flavors underwhelmed.

When we were warned by our server that the lobster roll was small we didn’t expect it to be this tiny for $11. Yes those are potato chips to give you an idea of the size, and once again we each had a bite of the two we ordered. We all enjoyed the buttered brioche more than the seafood dressed in a nondescript bit of lemon aioli that tasted of neither lemon nor garlic.

We tried the hamachi with galbi vinaigrette, radish, and radish sprout for $18 that was like the poke with the use of fresh quality fish but it did not wow any of us with the flavors.

Our favorite dish of the evening was the half pound of chilled peel and eat shrimp for $22 that did not need the side of lime mustard sauce.

We doggedly kept ordering, next was the yellowfin tuna, tortilla, leche de tigre, and avocado for $23. It arrived like this, and yes the size was about 2 tablespoonfuls.

Underneath the drape of tuna was a small mound of avocado mixed with crisp tortilla strips. I wish I could say that it was something other than a poor plating attempt to justify the price tag.

We tried some cooked dishes like the shrimp toast for $13 that was again a very small bite with more toast than shrimp.

We didn’t want to give up, so we ordered the trout almondine on asparagus rice with lemon brown butter and dill for $25. It was the heartiest dish we ordered and like most of the other plates, lacking any zest.

Everything we ordered was prepared with quality ingredients and the prices reflected that, but we were sorely disappointed by some of the very boring flavors and nearly all of the dishes. The blatant overcharging for miniscule amounts of seafood or fish while using bread, toast, or avocado to make the portions seem bigger was so distasteful to me that I will not be returning for anything other than the oysters, which is a sad conclusion to an evening where four of us spent more than $250.

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Los Angeles is more than 10 times more spread out than Paris, so my friends are also 10 times more spread out here than in France 😦

One of my lunches was in Orange County at Panini Cafe, a small chain that has branches throughout Southern California, serving Mediterranean inspired plates, with a few Southern California standards like the tuna melt I ordered. I liked the lack of mayonnaise in the tuna salad, but as you can see from the picture, the cheese was not melted.

My friend and I split the sandwich and this eggplant stuffed with rice and ground beef. It was a very generous portion and redolent with earthy spices that gave it comfort food appeal. In true Californian style, we took half our meal with us in doggie bags, so the mid teen $ prices are a bargain for the fresh flavors and portions.

Another day another lunch, or in this case, brunch in South Pasadena at Mike & Anne’s. We started with a Bloody Mary, that was as potent as the $15 price tag.

For this meal, we both chose the salad Niçoise with seared rare ahi. The ingredients were farm fresh, but we had to asked for extra dressing to make the salad pop.

For the third lunch with yet another friend, we went to Cafe del Rey in Marina Del Rey. We arrived around 2pm when most people had finished lunch and got an unobstructed view of the marina from our booth. Unfortunately we waited for 30 minutes before anyone came by our table. I went to the host stand to ask for a server and they realized at that point that no one had been assigned to serve our table. When our waitress arrived she apologized profusely even though it was not her fault.

My friend chose the poached salmon kale salad and loved the mix of golden raisins, almonds, and chickpeas for $22.

I chose the quiche, made with applewood smoked bacon, spinach, and Gruyère, served with a side of arugula for $15. The quiche was very good, but I found the thick crust a bit underdone in the middle.

To walk off our late lunch, we strolled Abbot Kinney and had macchiatos at Intelligentsia where I added a bit of chocolate to end our day on a sweet note 🙂

Red Herring is the kind of local place that makes everyone wish they lived in the neighborhood. I’ve already become addicted to their brunch so there will surely be more posts about other meals in the near future. Whether you wish to eat indulgently or lightly, they have an option that will delight you. Every bit of fruit in their greek yogurt and fruit granola cup for $8 is juicy, ripe, and tastes as good as it looks.

If you want to indulge in a classic brunch plate of bagels and smoked salmon, they use bagels from their neighbor Belle’s Bagels, and those tomatoes are some of the best ripe heirlooms I’ve had the pleasure of eating in a long time, spinkled with just a few flakes of sea salt.

If you are in the mood for something classic with a twist, the two eggs with hash browns and mushroom confit for $13 elevates diner fare to something beyond anything you will ever find in a chain restaurant.

For those who want a combination of something good and something bad, their Breakfast Caesar for $13 with kale, romaine, bacon, poached egg, and tomatoes allows you to enjoy thick crisp bacon while munching away on kale.

Whether you sit upstairs or on the ground level, the friendly staff, stylish decor, and deft expertise in the kitchen, will make you want to return. I will be back 🙂

My friends live all over the world, so when anyone who lives more than an hour away by car, train, or plane, comes to Los Angeles, I do my best to see them for a meal, a drink, or both 🙂

Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne of AOC are also responsible for one of my favorite restaurants, Tavern, where I have been enjoying meals ever since they opened, and the famous Lucques. I would not hesitate to go eat at any place where these two talented women are at the helm. As I waited for my friend, I had a glass of the sparkling brut rosé for $12 and enjoyed the cool interior air-conditioning on a 90F+ day.

One of the specials that day was a perfectly seared fish served with an addictively crisp skin, arugula, grapes, and fennel. My recommendation for anyone eating at any of their restaurants is to ALWAYS order the fish special because it never disappoints, and always restores my faith in restaurants having the ability to train and retain excellent chefs who know how to treat fresh fish with a light but expert touch.

We also ordered the flaked albacore salad with raw bok choy, mizuna, and lemongrass for $24. We slightly preferred the first dish, but we would have had no hesitation ordering this dish again.

Since my friend had lived in France, our dessert choice was of course a selection of cheeses. Served with walnuts, dried apricots, and of course bread, it was a fitting way to enjoy the end of a meal.

As we segued to our final course, we switched to wine,

and moved to the patio as the sunset 🙂

President Thai was recommended by two unrelated food lovers, so I went to to lunches 🙂 The immense building, menu, and long lines, could have been overwhelming, but the service was so kind, patient, efficient, and happy, that I felt as if I was their honored guest. If you are ever in the neighborhood, or simply want to be in a place where you are surrounded by genuine smiles, head over to president Thai.

They start off all lunch specials with either a bowl of delectable soup or a small salad.

The first time I tried their beef because this was their most popular dish. The meat was tender, the flavors were balanced, and the portion was huge! Even as a lunch special for around $10, this was easily enough for two meals; the picture is a bit deceiving because the layers of meat are a bit hidden under the garnish.

I chose the chicken with rice noodles for another lunch and was happy

to add any variety of spice I wanted to my dish. The portion was again very generous and I ate two meals from the one order.

Sushi Roku has many locations, and I have eaten there several times, but I had never tried their Happy Hour until recently. Served only in the bar area (inside or outside), the selections are varied enough for those who like cooked and raw choices. I began with a $5 beer since it was so hot.

A yellow tail and scallion cut roll and a salmon skin hand roll (not crisp) at $5 each started things off,

segued into $5 tempura green beans and another order of the yellow tail cut roll.

The Albacore tacos for $6 were a good choice for those who like fusion.

The hit of the happy hour was the $5 popcorn shrimp with jalapeno cut roll.

At the Thursday night South Pasadena Farmers Market, the longest line is always at Mama Musubi. I braved the wait one day and got three, the beef, the tuna, and the seaweed; my favorite was the seaweed, seen at the right edge of the photo, and apparently it’s also the most popular one:)

The open architecture of Cliff’s Edge makes it feel as though you are eating in a treehouse, a very sophisticated tree house that was definitely built for adults to enjoy 🙂

The colorful comfortable seats were definitely not made for toddlers.

I went with some friends for a LA Food Bowl event, and although we all live in the area, none of us had ever eaten here, so the special Caja Roast Pig dinner drew us to this beautiful space. The vegetable sides that came with our dinner did not inspire us; there were overwhelming onions,

 and dry roasted sweet potatoes.

The one dish we enjoyed was the fresh peas with morels that we ordered from the regular menu.

The star of the dinner was the roast suckling pig served family style for the three of us. The mojo bath of garlic, sour orange, and olive oil, still left the meat dry, although the crispy skin was everything we wished for (we all wanted more of it)!

The space is absolutely lovely, and it would be worth going back to try more of the regular menu, and partake of their Thursday night $1 oyster specials. The enclosed bar area is cosy and the perfect place for a plate of charcuterie with wine from their extensive wine list.

I may be a wine connoisseur, but I am a beer novice. I tasted my first beer in England before I was old enough to drink in the US, and after one sip, I decided I would rather drink cider. Many years later I tried some Japanese beer with my sushi and discovered that it was a fine beverage, but it was not my favorite, nor my first choice with my Japanese meals (I prefer sake). My first encounter with a beer I actually liked was in Belgium when I tasted the brews of my friends and found that I actually would have chosen their beer instead of my very mediocre glass of wine. Once I moved back to the US and was faced with the exorbitant prices of good glasses and bottles of wine, I wondered if a locally produced craft beer might actually be a good alternative. I have several friends who are well versed in beer and very happy to introduce me to their world. Another great educational resource here is the wonderful American attitude of service which means that many places will give you a taste of several beers so that you can decide which you prefer (unheard of in Europe). Aside from one pub that served four tastes of beers that my friends and I literally spit out, most places that pride themselves in their beers, offer delicious choices.

Most breweries offer food, and sometimes their food is as tasty as their beer, e.g., I would go to eat at Abigaile in Hermosa Beach even if I did not drink beer.

Some of my dearest friends live in San Pedro so when I visit them, we head to the San Pedro Brewery. It’s a very casual neighborhood place that feels like a West Coast version of Cheers where everyone knows if you are a local, and yes, they may even know your name. My friends knew the other patrons and the owner, and visa versa. Out of towners are welcome and treated like guests who will become regulars. Their menu includes everything from huge salads, to ribs, pasta, and full entrées. Most prices are in the $10-$15 range including the sides. They brew their own beers (they have won 80 awards), and have a blackboard full of choices ranging from blondes to stouts if you prefer another brewer.

Besides beef burgers, they have chicken, with a side of pasta salad,

ahi with vegetables (the teriyaki sauce was too sweet for me),

and of course fish and chips (my favorite of the three) with a crunchy crisp beer batter and tender cod, served with coleslaw and fries.

This unusual shot was called “chocolate cake” and tasted like a slice!

Congregation Ale House has several locations, all playing along the theme of a church where you would want to give thanks to a Beer and a Burger for saving your weary body from trekking somewhere else. They aren’t a gastro pub, but they do decent versions of snacks and burgers all for around or under $10.

This is their regular burger, always made with rib eye,

as is their weekly special California burger. They tend to cook them more done than not, so if you like your burger rare, you will probably not find it here.

Every table seemed to have an order of the spicy wings, served up in a very generous portion (about 8 pieces) and fairly spicy heat, with great crudites.

The specials on tap change constantly, and they will allow you a taste or two before deciding, so you can be sure to find something you like before committing the sin of ordering blindly 🙂

Timing is crucial if you want your visit to Porto’s Bakery to be pleasurable. The line is usually out the door and down the street during popular meal times, so if you can visit between the rush times, you will be much happier and enjoy your visit much more. I came in one day around 1:30 PM and the wait was only about 30 minutes.

They are famous for both sweet and savory, with a selection that will leave you salivating and indecisive, especially if it is your first visit. There is a cafe on one side and the bakery on the other, so if you want to sit down and eat go to the cafe side, if you want to take it away, go to the bakery side. They also serve sandwiches and plates on both sides, so if you want more than pastries, you can also order a full meal for under $10.

 

 

 

 

They have full cakes to go and a shorter line in the bakery for the full cakes, as well as cakes that were ordered ahead of time.

 There is a hot section of their famous potato balls.

 I got two of the beef and one of the seafood (a seasonal specialty).

The seafood was slightly spicy and reminded me of NOLA type flavors, a great choice if it’s available.

They are famous for their beef potato balls and with a drop or two of tapatio or tabasco, they are addictive!

I got a sample of their sweets to go and liked every one, from the Polvoron cookie, with a crumbly almond flavor, to their cheese roll, and apple turnover. All were light, crisp, not overly sweet.

 The inside of the apple turnover; my only suggestion would be more apple please!

The three potato balls and three sweets all came to less than $7!!!!

Grand Central Market has evolved into a food mecca, with far too many great options to try all in one day, but a friend and I tried to eat our way through the market anyway 🙂

We started off at Belcampo with their $14 lamb burger, made with garam masala aioli, tamarind chutney, mint, cilantro, and red onion on a wonderfully soft bun. I love that all their meats are grass fed and that they have complete control of every aspect of their operation from raising the animals to processing and butchering them. Yes, the prices here are higher than your local chain grocery store, but I prefer to buy less from places with practices I want to promote, than feed the corporate machinery.

We split the medium rare burger and loved the textures and flavors. If we had not planned to try other places in the market, we would have eaten one of these each!

We also shared a plate of the sweet potato fries, seasoned with celery salt, and they were so crisp, salty, and sweet that we fought over the last fries!

Ramen Hood was our next course. It was the only vegan ramen I’ve ever tried, with sunflower seed broth, king oyster mushroom, bean sprouts, scallions, and chili threads, we added a vegan egg for $2 more making the total bowl $12. It was much better than we imagined, with full flavors and the “egg” not only looked like an egg, but the texture was very close to one. A satisfying bowl, but next time I think I would try the spicy version that I saw my neighbors eating at the counter simply because I think some added heat might enhance the flavors even more.

We were pretty full but wanted to try a small bite at Madcapra, made with locally sourced organic ingredients, so we got just the green falafels for $3.50. They were dry and bland on their own, but once we added the dipping sauces, they were good.

Sticky Rice serves organic locally sourced Thai comfort food, like this rice noodle plate with beef that was so big I had to take half of it home! The assortment of condiments was a very nice way to add heat and zing to any dish on their menu.

We ended our eating spree with a walk to the now closed Fabrique for some lattes; I chose the lavender, which was smooth and creamy

and my friend had the rainbow latte, a beautiful ending to a great day of food:)

I know Paul Martin’s American Grill in El Segundo in the Southwest portion of Los Angeles, but since I’m literally on the other side of town, I went to the Northeast location 🙂 The decor is just as warm and welcoming, like a business casual outfit that feels comfortably chic.

 Their wine selection is well sourced with local and international wines by the glass and bottle.

Their lunch salads are customizable with your choice of free range chicken, grass fed Angus beef, wild pacific shrimp, or Columbia river steelhead salmon. My friend and I both chose the Grill salad, with organic greens, tomato, red onion, grilled avocado, cucumber, radish, sunflower seeds, and a house dressing, but with a different protein. We devoured everything on our plates.

Their Happy Hour goes from 3-7pm and includes grass fed petit steak frites with a glass of wine for only $13!

Or you can order a glass of wine for $6

 and smoked free range chicken for $6.

I usually skip dessert, but I had to taste this Devil’s Food Cake made with three layers of chocolate ganache, accompanied with amarena cherries and fresh whipped cream. The cherries were an excellent counterpoint to the rich chocolate with a slightly bittersweet flavor; if you like coffee with your chocolate ice cream, then you will like the flavor combination on this plate!

After an order of Macallen, we were ready for a nap 🙂

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