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Any place which maintains a loyal following for over 50 years must have something good going for it. It may be their location, their service, their celebrity, their food, or in the best case scenario all four; Johnnie’s Pastrami is one of those best case scenarios, combining of all of the aforementioned qualities in one place.

With easy access off the 405 freeway and on the major alternate street of Sepulveda, their location is probably along one of your drives. The service is wonderfully old fashioned, with friendly and efficient servers, and as I recently found, their food lives up to their reputation.

The crunchy Kosher pickles and VERY hot pickled peppers were addictive, and for those who can’t get enough, they sell the pickles to go (in sizes varying from one pound for $5.50 to one gallon for $22)!

The pastrami comes in just a sandwich or a deluxe platter with fries, coleslaw, lettuce and tomato. My friend chose the platter for $15.50 and took half of her plate home. The fries were excellent, with a crisp exterior and tender center, lightly salted. The French roll was a perfect foil to the pastrami, with enough texture to hold up to the gigantic portion of meat, yet soft enough to yield to the compression you must use to get a bite. The pastrami was some of the best I have tasted in California, lean, perfectly seasoned, and thinly sliced. The only thing I would change would be slightly thicker slices, but that is just a personal preference and I think most people prefer the thinner slices since they add to the ease of eating this sandwich.

The coleslaw was a fresh vinegary coarsely chopped version with enough bite to refresh between bites of the hearty meat sandwich.

I had to try the corned beef sandwich for $10.50, but having been forewarned of the portion sizes, I opted for just the sandwich. Juicy, lean, and thinly sliced, this was a great classic sandwich. The brown mustard on the table added just enough oomph to make this the perfect comfort food for meat lovers. It was so good it was hard to stop, so somehow I finished half of the sandwich, but I can see how a very hungry man or woman (with a huge appetite) would be able to polish off the entire thing.

For vegetarians, they have a veggie burger, for kids they have hot dogs, and for burger fiends they have burgers, but if you come here, try the pastrami and corned beef. I can give you all the reasons in the world why Johnnie’s has been around since 1952, but once you try their food, your reason will simply be “I want Johnnie’s pastrami”.

Johnnie's Pastrami on Urbanspoon

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Like most people who live here in Los Angeles, I do not go to Universal Studios or Disneyland unless friends from out of town are visiting me. Even when people from out of town come to visit, I will often chauffeur them to the tourist sites, but leave them there to enjoy the attraction without joining them.

There are a few attractions which are favored by tourists and locals alike, and Lawry’s The Prime Rib is one of them. Even though it is a favorite of several of my friends, I have never been there with any of them until this week. One of my friends goes to Lawry’s so often that she is a VIP Rewards member, so when she invited me to try it, I knew that it was time for me to try this landmark restaurant.

Being a fan of very rare beef, I was always skeptical of anyplace which caters to “medium rare” tastes, but my eating partner knows my preferences and has enough sense to know where I will be happy with my food.

Dinners all come with a salad, but you may chose to add or delete as many items as you would like from the selection. I got the salad of spinach, romaine and iceberg lettuce with the works of beets, egg, and croutons. The salad is normally served with their signature house dressing, but I chose their blue cheese. I liked the salad so much I even ate some croutons (which I never eat). Their service is impeccable, with chilled salad forks presented with the salad, which is tossed over a bowl of ice! Old world service and presentation at its finest.

Of course the main reason everyone comes here is the beef, and you have choices on the cut and sides as well as how well done you would like your meat. We both wanted our beef as rare as possible, so our wonderful waitress Christine “shopped” the carts to see who had the rarest beef for us. Christine, like several of the staff, has been working here for over two decades, so professional service is a forte here. My friend wanted the mashed potatoes and creamed corn ($6).

I added the asparagus with hollandaise sauce for $8.

All the beef comes with mashed potatoes, grated and whipped horseradish, and yorkshire pudding. The beef was the best quality, with a nice salted crust and a wonderful au jus. Even though it was not “bleu”, it was so tender, succulent, and nicely roasted that I ate half of my “Lawry’s Cut” portion ($39). I must commend all the Rose Bowl players who manage to eat their entire double thick “Beef Bowl Cut” portions because I would have burst if I had finished my “regular” portioned cut (even without adding a small thin chocolate wafer).

My secret surprise dessert was a special treat from my dining partner who had remembered my fond memories of CC Brown’s Ice Cream Parlor (it was an institution on Hollywood Boulevard before it closed). Lawry’s is the only place where they not only serve, but sell the famous hot fudge sauce from CC Brown’s! This wonderful hot fudge sundae bowl (enough for two or three to share for $8) brought back memories that are priceless.

Some places are famous for celebrity sightings, others for fabulous food, and a few rare places combine the two and become landmarks; Lawry’s is a landmark.

Lawry's The Prime Rib on Urbanspoon

My first visit to Swanya Thai turned out well, with lovely service, a clean open dining area, and food that was tasty and served generously. Since I had not brought my camera, I decided to go back and try them again, getting take out food so I could write a post about them with photos.

I was looking forward to a good meal, but I was hugely disappointed when I bit into an egg roll; they were undercooked to the point that the wrapper was elastic instead of crisp. The filling of carrots, celery and cabbage was crunchy and would have been good if it had not been over salted. For $5.50 this would have been a bargain, but it only if they had cooked and seasoned the rolls properly.

The most successful dish was the Pad Woon Sen for $7.95. You can order it with any protein you prefer, with prices adjusted accordingly. I chose tofu because I had ordered a beef dish and wanted this as my vegetable/starch dish. The flavors were good in this, but again the skill of the kitchen (or lack thereof) showed through with slices of celery stalk that were bigger than my fingers and clumps of egg (which you can see in the photo).

The dish I had the first time was the Crying Tiger Beef for $8.95. I was so impressed by the moist and succulent beef that I ordered the dish again to write about it. Sadly this tasted nothing like the beef I had tried the first time. The meat was so dry and tough that I ended up throwing it out (even if I had a dog, I’m not sure I would have subjected an animal to this dish). The spicy sauce was very good, but even using all of it to try to reconstitute the beef did not help this dish.

I am sad to have found my second foray to Swanya so disappointing, perhaps the regular chef was off that night or they changed chefs. I’m hoping it was just an off night, but when a restaurant’s food quality declines rather than improves on a subsequent visit, it does not bode well. I hope that they bring their food up to the level of their lovely service and decor; after all we go out to dinner for the food, not just the ambiance.

Swanya Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

I’ve been trying to go to Fig & Olive for the last two weeks, but scheduling conflicts with my planned eating partner kept us from keeping any plans we made. As the adage says, “What does God do when you make plans?” The answer is “She laughs.” When the latest plans to lunch did not work out, I decided to go alone and take advantage of the Dine LA lunch menu for $28. Since the prix fixe menu was the same price as the bouillabaise alone, it made no sense to order a la carte.

The entrance is spacious and open with natural light streaming in from the skylights, making it feel as if you are in an enclosed outdoor patio. There are selections of olive oils from around the world and aged balsamic vinegar with different infusions available for sale at very reasonable prices. A bottle of 18 year old balsamic was $16 for 16.9 ounces, so at about a dollar an ounce, it’s a good deal. If you can’t come in for a meal, or simply want to make your own, you can order their products online.

The welcome basket of rosemary focaccia included olive oil selections from Australia, California, and Tunisia, and flavors ranging from fruity to herbaceous. My favorite was the Manzanillo  (the one on the right), the light and fruity one from California.

For my appetizer, I ordered the beef carpaccio, made with filet mignon, 18 year old balsamic vinegar, baby arugula, tomato, parmesan, and truffle olive oil. It was a magnificent version of this classic dish. The aged balsamic and the truffle olive oil added depth and complexity to this simple dish; I could have easily eaten two or three of these as my main course.

For my main course, I chose the trio de la mer bouillabaisse, made with grilled scallop, lemon sole, striped bass, shaved fennel, garlic infused olive oil, and served with a saffron aioli and olive oil crackers. Having eaten this dish in the South of France, I was a bit skeptical of whether a restaurant in Los Angeles could accomplish a decent, much less great version. I applaud the chef for this dish, the soup was fragrant with flavors of the sea, garlic, and fennel. There was a slight kitchen misstep with the striped bass and scallop; both arrived sushi style (raw) and I had to have them cook both pieces again. The waitress and manager were both very apologetic and immediately fixed the problem, going so far as to bring out another serving of the soup in addition to my two undercooked pieces.

The saffron aioli was spectacular. A small bit of it went a long way to enhance the flavor of the soup. Spreading it on the olive oil cracker before dunking it in the bowl made it a mouth watering highlight. It was so addictive that I ended up dipping the foccacia into it also!   

For my dessert, I wanted to try the “crostini” made with Amarena cherries, marscarpone, and pistachios on shortbread served on a plate of micro basil. The tart candied cherries, creamy mascarpone, and crunchy pistachios worked well together. I could have eaten the shortbread on its own, but the topping made this a decadent dessert for a non dessert eater like me.

A fine meal at Fig & Olive, to be repeated as soon as I can coordinate my schedule with someone else!
Fig & Olive on Urbanspoon

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