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My friends who have dogs are always searching for places to eat which are pet friendly, after all this is not Paris, where poodles are welcome everywhere, including inside posh restaurants. The Fat Dog is one of those rare places to eat in Los Angeles which welcomes your pet on their patio anytime before 7pm. I don’t know the reason behind the curfew, perhaps it’s because the patrons get rowdy and the pups should not be allowed to witness rude behavior.

I met my friend for lunch before picking up my rabbit at Lindy Grundy next door because she said the fries were some of the best she had ever had in the States, and yes, that was enough to entice me to try this very comfortable gastropub.

The welcome was as nice as these complimentary rosemary almonds. The aromatic woodsy fresh herb gave the almonds a distinct twist that was intoxicating. It was a good thing we did not finish the bowl because even better things were coming our way.

Unfortunately the blue cheese stuffed fried olives for $5 was not to either of our liking and after one each, we left the appetizer on the table. The owner removed it from our tab and told us that 90% of the the people who order it love it, so if you are part of the 90% who love very salty acidic bar food, order this.

I had not eaten breakfast (it was only 12:30pm aka morning to me), so I chose the Croque Madame, made with country ham, gruyere cheese, fried eggs and baby frisee salad for $13. It was a beautiful deconstructed presentation and the soft bread gave it a nearly Monte Cristo effect. I loved the quality of the ham, and the baby frisee salad. It was wonderful brunch type comfort food.

My friend had been awake for hours, so it was definitely lunch time for her and she ordered the braised short rib French dip sandwich with gruyere cheese, caramelized onions and “au jus” with a side of served with onion rings for $14. She declared it marvelous, and after I took a bite I had to agree. The meat was flavorful, tender, and so good, she kept eating it with a fork  out of the sandwich after she was full.

Since french fries were my enticement to come here, we had to get an order, and they did not disappoint. The home made ketchup and garlic mayonnaise were perfect dipping sauces for anyone who wanted them and the fries were light, crisp and delicate. They were the best I’ve had in at least the last year, so yes it is worth coming just for the fries.

Somehow we saved room for dessert, so we got the fried banana split, made with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and peanut brittle $6. Fried hot food with cold ice cream is a winning combo in my book, and this dessert was as delightful as it looks. The one thing I would omit is the peanut brittle, it was too sticky and the texture was not crunchy enough to be a contextual counterpoint to the soft sweet banana and ice cream.

We were both happy humans after eating at the Fat Dog.

The Fat Dog on Urbanspoon

Since I go to Lindy Grundy at least once a week, I had had the pleasure of tasting their addictive sausages, delectable pork chops, tender steaks, and wonderful lamb (see my previous post here). Today I picked up a rabbit and I will be making it into a gumbo with some of their andouille sausage (using Emeril’s recipe) and my friend Robin picked up some short ribs. For those of you who have only eaten short ribs but never cooked them, Lindy & Grundy is teaching a small group of 40 how to they butcher, how to make short ribs, and how to pair wine with them for only $40 (instead of $75) if you reserve in advance here. They will be at the Century City Westfield Mall this Monday, October 24 at 6:30pm in Bloomingdale’s, so get your tickets and get some short ribs!

For those of you who have never seen the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, this Christmas might be the time to go with a 30% TravelZoo discount for the show. Just put code TZ001 into the promotion code box at this link and get your discount. The best prices are available Nov. 11-23 and Nov. 28-Dec. 2 with Orchestra and 1st Mezzanine seats going for $52.50 instead of $75 and an additional $13.75-$17.60 per ticket, please note that full-price tickets are subject to the same additional fees. With the Travelzoo deal you can print your tickets immediately for no extra charge with the “Ticketfast” option.

I have a friend who moved to Auckland and as I was checking airfares for his son to go visit him, I found that Air Tahiti Nui is offering a $1118 roundtrip airfare from LAX to Auckland with a three day layover in Tahiti and they are giving away three free nights in a Tahitian hotel with the deal!

The hotel choices include two waterfront hotels, the Radisson Plaza Resort or the Sofitel Tahiti Maeva Beach. For $275 more (the upgrade fee covers all three nights), you can stay in an over water bungalow at either the Meridien or Intercontinental. They even offer an hotel on Moorea for an extra $200 (for all three nights) at the Intercontinental. To get to Moorea, you will need to ferry to the island, which takes an hour and costs $30 roundtrip, and since I love Moorea I would say it’s definitely worth it, but if you’ve never been to Tahiti, you may want to just stay on the main island.

You must book and buy your ticket by November 6, 2011, but you can travel anytime between January 30 and May 31, 2012. You can travel as early as October 23, 2011 but rates from October 2011 until January 29, 2012 incur an extra $102 per person surcharge. Keep in mind that it is the rainy season in Tahiti from November through February and New Zealand’s Autumn begins in March, so I would recommend going between March and May for the best climate in both places.

Getting the best weather in two countries with a great airfare and free hotel nights may be one of the best holiday gifts to give or receive this year!

My comfort food is French Bistro, so when I want to treat my palate and my sensibilities, I always head to my neighborhood favorite, but today I “cheated” with Madame Chou Chou because I was in Santa Monica and the thought of lunch on a patio tempted me to stray. The ambiance in the back of the restaurant with rustic and modern whimsical decor was delightful. Madame Chou Chou was also a perfect hostess, making every diner in this small bistro feel appreciated and welcome.

Details like the silverware added personality to the meal.

Since it was Dine LA week, they had a lunch special of three courses for $22, so I chose the Moroccan lentil salad, made with de puy lentils, orange slices, almonds and crispy duck prosciutto for my first course. It was a lovely presentation, but the dressing was a bit salty. Thankfully there were wonderful baguette slices to help balance out the flavor.

For my main course I chose the flank steak, served with roasted potatoes and haricots verts in a red wine shallot sauce. I ordered it “bleu”, very rare, but it came out medium. I wish I could say something good about anything on this plate, but I found everything on it bland and unappetizing. I ended up leaving more than half of my meal on my plate. Madame Chou noticed and she said that she did not want me to leave unhappy, so she asked if I would prefer another entree, telling me the pasta was made in house, so I agreed to try it.

The arrival of my substitute pappardelle carbonara, with English peas, bacon and egg yolk made me smile with anticipation. After mixing my egg yolk with the pasta, I took a bite and was relieved to find it was better than the flank steak. But even though the pasta was made in house, it was heavy, and pieces of it were clumped together (it was not stirred enough during cooking). The presentation was pretty, but the dish was just not well executed; the bacon was not crisp, the pasta was not cooked in salted water, and the peas were underdone. Even though they are an Asian fusion restaurant, Sawtelle Kitchen does a much better version of this classic Italian dish.

When Madame came by, she was happy to see me eat more of the pasta than I had eaten of the steak. I told her I did like the pasta better (omitting more detail than that). Madame is an excellent hostess and will do her best to make you happy, but I was not happy with anything the back of the house put on my plate.

For dessert, it seemed every table ordered the “deenie booh”, a gluten free almond cake with pistachio mousseline and raspberries. It was beautiful and since the place sells pastries, I hoped it would taste as good as it looked. I am happy to report that yes, this was the highlight of my lunch. The almond cake was richly flavored and dense, the mousseline was light and creamy, and the raspberries added a nice fresh tartness.

They serve wines by the glass, so suggested pairings are listed under every dish, and their dinner menu includes bone marrow, steak tartar, and foie gras. You might want to have a glass of wine with an appetizer on the gorgeous patio with a date.

Sometimes you must learn through experience, and I have learned that no matter how tempting and gracious a new French Bistro might be, I have found the one I love and I will not stray again!

Madame Chou Chou on Urbanspoon

When I stayed at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas this summer, one of the few restaurants I did not get a chance to try was Scarpetta. Since most restaurants now have outposts in various cities, it was a bit serendipitous that upon returning to Los Angeles I found out that Scarpetta was opening in Beverly Hills at the Montage Hotel in October and would be participating in Dine LA. It must be true that being at the right place at the right time are coordinated by great beneficent (gastronomic) forces.
The Montage is beautiful and the dining space at Scarpetta is both an understated and luxurious extension of the hotel ambiance. The varied bread basket ranged from plain whole grain to mozzarella and prosciutto stuffed, and the dipping choices ranged from a wonderfully savory eggplant and tomato spread, to a decadent marscapone and cream, and a citrus infused extra virgin olive oil.
Since it was Dine LA week, we opted for the menu (which you must ask for) and chose three signature courses for $44 per person. I drank a 2003 Rosso at $16 per glass, and Robin had a Hendricks Gin and tonic for $13, so even with the DineLA deal, count on the average check for two to be over $140 including tax and tip.
Robin chose to start with the Creamy Polenta with a fricassee of truffled mushrooms (regular menu price $16). Her first course arrived with two covered dishes and was served European style with the expediter spooning the mushroom fricassee over the polenta after ceremoniously removing the covers. This may be the best dish I tasted all night. The mushrooms had an earthy richness which complimented the perfectly creamy polenta so well that Robin said it was done as she would have made it (she is both Italian and a chef, so this was a high compliment).
I chose the raw yellowtail with olio de zenzero and pickled red onions as my first course (regular menu price $17). Although the fish was obviously fresh and the presentation was pretty, I was not wowed by the flavors. I made a mental note not to order a Japanese style dish in an Italian restaurant again.
I had chosen the yellowtail because my main course was the grilled Mediterranean Branzino with a saffron-cipollini puree, fresh ceci beans, calamari and a tomato marmalade. Branzino is one of my favorite fish and although this was a very nice rendition, and I loved the calamari and ceci beans, but the fish itself was slightly overcooked. Since the regular menu price of this was $30, I would not have been happy if I had paid full price, but I excused it as a consequence of a new restaurant with more covers than the kitchen was used to handling during DineLA.

For Robin’s main course she chose the short rib agnolotti with garlic chips, toasted bread crumbs and horseradish (regularly $23). These were tasty tender bites bursting with flavor. the crunch of the garlic chips and toasted bread crumbs lent a nice crunch to the rich beef. I would recommend this dish to anyone who loves pasta and beef.

Robin’s dessert choice was the vanilla caramel budino with gianduja chocolate cookies and although I am not a caramel aficionado, this light and creamy cloud of sweetness was a pleasure.
I chose the more classic chocolate cake with burnt orange caramel gelato with espresso sauce and loved it. The cake was a rich dark chocolate decadence that would make any chocoholic swoon.
So was it serendipity that I missed Scarpetta in Las Vegas, only to find they are now in my neighborhood? I don’t know. I do know it was a pleasant meal for a decent price with wonderful service during DineLA. Would I go back for a full priced meal? The polenta and mushroom fricassee, the short rib agnolotti, and the desserts are definitely worth it, but I would steer clear of the fish dishes until the kitchen staff skills improve.

Scarpetta (Montage Beverly Hills) on Urbanspoon

It’s been over a month since my birthday, but every time Dine LA week (which is now 2 weeks twice a year) comes around, it feels like a gift! Restaurants are offering menus from $22-$44 for three courses at lunch and/or dinner starting tomorrow (Sunday Oct 2).

This year the participating restaurants include old favorites like Michael’s, Spago’s and Valentino, all offering three course dinners for $44, with entrees like olive-oil poached bass with grilled radicchio, roasted fingerlings, orange, and balsamic beurre noir at Michael’s or halibut with shrimp mousse in crispy shredded phyllo with a ragout of Summer shelling beans at Spago’s.

This is the time to try notable new places with international menus which opened this year, like Fig & Olive (where Obama just had his $18K per plate fundraising dinner), which features courses like a Cote D’Azur Fish Soup with garlic saffron aioli, or Picca, which offers Peruvian dishes like Patita, a pig trotter stew, made with chorizo, potatoes and peanuts.

Whether you are in the mood for healthy food in Santa Monica at True Food Kitchen, or you want to taste Thomas Keller’s food at his local outpost Bouchon, your wallet will thank-you for  dining out during the next two weeks. DineLA menus are available Sunday through Friday only and it’s a good idea to make reservations with Open Table and sync your (personal) American Express card with Foursquare to get an additional discount every time you dine and use your card to pay for it.

Ready, set, eat!




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