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Paul Martin’s is about halfway between the South Bay and Los Angeles, so it was my last meal stop before returning home from my 3 day Beach Odyssey. It’s also very close to the airport (LAX), so it would be a great place to stop for a meal during a layover. I met my friend Shelly here and since she was pregnant with her second child, this was both a belated birthday and a prechild celebration.

Shelly had a cranberry and soda with lemon and said she was glad to get a different taste than her usual order of an Arnold Palmer (half iced tea and half lemonade). Shelly’s drink order made me want to try a Bistro “Champagne” lemonade made with house infused meyer lemon vodka, lemon juice and a touch of fresh basil topped with Piper Sonoma bubbles for $9. It was a refreshing balanced drink which had a nice minty taste (from the basil). Perfect for a hot day.

Shelly chose the soup and salad combo for $13 with the roasted tomato soup, cream finished with fresh basil pesto. It was so good, she literally pulled it away from the busboy who wanted to take it away with only a few spoonfuls left!

She also ordered a Caesar salad with chicken addition ($3). It had so much chicken compared to the romaine that it was more of a chicken breast with salad addition.

I chose the grilled prawn salad, with butter lettuce, pt. reyes blue cheese, candied walnuts, apples, maple vinaigrette for $16. This was a great combination, although I would have substituted goat cheese or feta for the blue cheese. The salad ingredients would have better suited red meat or even poultry, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The prawns were perfectly grilled and the dressing coated without overwhelming the salad.

It was great to see my friend and have a good meal. The only sad part was leaving the beach and saying goodbye to my friend, but that just means it’s time to plan another trip and another visit!
Paul Martin's American Grill on Urbanspoon

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Tammie’s Corner House Cafe was literally 1 block from the place I rented in Hermosa, so I had to try it for lunch. It is a great breakfast destination since I saw a line of people waiting for a seat on Sunday afternoon when I arrived at the beach (it also helps that it is one block from the sand). The owner and waitress were both very welcoming and friendly and they give the place a personal friendly vibe befitting a casual beach cafe. Several of the other people were regulars, and I met the family at the next table because we wanted to order the same items. The cute flower boxes lining the patio area also added to the nice ambiance.
I chose the grilled chicken salad for $9.95. Tammie explained that they are known for their huge portions and it was a massive plate, nearly 12 inches wide! The vegetables were done with balsamic, but a bit overdone, as was the dressing. The garlic bread was nicely done and gave me something to soak up the extra dressing with as I enjoyed the generous chicken breast pieces. This was a pleasant healthy plate, not very well executed or extraordinary, but for the service, price, and location, it is outstanding. The breakfast items looked much better, with nearby plates of pancakes, eggs & chorizo, and muffins, all enticing me to try breakfast instead of lunch. The service was so nice I am inclined to come back if I can wake up and get here early enough to want breakfast.

Tammie's Corner House Cafe on Urbanspoon

Abigaile has only been in its present location since February and I hope it maintains its presence as a twinkling gastronomic star in a sleepy beach town. it is packed on week-ends, but since it was a weekday, the place was nearly empty. Happy Hour is from 4-7 and their house made infusions, wines, and small plates are all reduced prices. I asked the bartender if the Penelope house infusion was sweet and he said it was the least sweet and he would go lightly on the agave for me, so I tried this house infused serrano chile herradura, fresh grapefruit juice, agave nectar, basil libation for $9 ($11 non happy hour). It was as spicy as advertised, and I’m glad the bartender Justin made it less sweet for me. I would opt for the house Pinot Noir next time, but I’m glad I tried a house specialty drink.
This place might be beer drinker heaven. They actually brew their own beer on the premises and offer five varieties of home made craft beers as well as a full page menu of other beers and ales for true connoisseurs.
Having the brewing equipment onsite makes the entrance to the place stunning.
I’m glad that I asked before ordering several plates because just the salt and pepper prawns with XO pea tendrils and garlic chips ($13 during happy hour $15 other times) was a complete meal for me. It was the best plate I ate during my entire stay at the beach. It was so good that I will make the 15 mile drive from Los Angeles just to come back and eat this dish! There were so many other things I wanted to try on the menu; they have bone marrow, Peruvian Hamachi Tiradito, local forage mushroom polenta, pao de queijo (Brazilian cheesy puffs), 24 hour braised oxtail ragu, and tempura Blue Lake green beans. With a menu like this, I need to invite an entire city of foodies to taste it with me.
P.S. I went back on a Saturday when they have their special porchetta with kale salad and it is definitely worth making a trip to the beach on a Saturday just to eat this unctuous tender meat treat (and yes the skin was the best part)!
Let’s create a Foodie City, where every day is a delicious adventure!

Abigaile and Ocean Bar on Urbanspoon

Zazou, in Redondo Beach, was one of my favorite restaurants when I lived in the South Bay, and one my first night back, I decided to go with a place I knew, even if it had changed. I chose the 8 hour braised short ribs with mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach for $29. It was a beautiful LARGE plate and I looked forward to my first taste, but unfortunately the meat was not as tender as an eight hour braise should have made it. The flavors were good, not outstanding, but a decent blend of reduced beef stock. The fresh spinach saute and potatoes were both fine side dishes and the carrots and onions from the braising liquid added a nice textural component to this dish. This plate was so large, I could only eat half of it! My waitress was so wonderful she laughed when she asked if I wanted dessert, seeing I had left so much of my main course on the plate. I told her no dessert, but a decaf espresso would be great.
The decaf espresso was great, with perfect crema and made with excellent Lavazza beans.

Zazou on Urbanspoon

I went to Paciugo Gelato, in Hermosa Beach, for my dessert since it gave me time to drop off my leftovers and walk off some of my dinner. I love gelato and to have a place in Hermosa that does it well was one of the changes I loved finding in my old hometown. A small cone or cup can hold up to three flavors for under $5, with exotic options like strawberry lavender, wedding cake, and black pepper olive oil, you can chose something new or in my case, two old flavors, like coconut chocolate rum and extra dark chocolate. The perfect way to end a day is with a stroll along the beach and a cone of excellent gelato!

Paciugo Gelato Caffe on Urbanspoon

A new day meant finding a great coffee place to start my day and it looked like Two Guns Espresso in Manhattan Beach was THE place to get something called a “Flat White”. They use 3 shots of espresso and 6 oz of steamed milk (I got soy) for this smooth nonfrothy drink. I loved it. I especially loved the friendly baristas and the fact that they use Caffe Vita beans from Seattle which emphasize Fair Trade and Organic beans. If you frequent the area (or their shop) get a frequent user card and get a free drink after buying nine. The first Tuesday of every month is Ducati night when you can  drink free coffee as you peruse the latest models of this classic Italian motorcycle.

Two Guns Espresso + Coffee on Urbanspoon

After my Flat White at Two Guns Espresso, I really didn’t need anymore espresso, so even though they had organic coffees and teas, I opted for a light but sustaining breakfast, so I went to Planet Earth in Hermosa. I chose their house made granola with soy milk for $5.95. It was delicious, with bits of dried unsulfured apricots, cherries, coconut, and almonds. They have plenty of options for vegans, those who are dairy or gluten sensitive, and anyone who wants their food to be organic, free trade, and home made. The only drawback to the place is that they are so disorganized they had trouble keeping up with orders and ran out of ingredients like bananas for my granola by 10 am. One customer waited 20 minutes for eggs, another waited 10 minutes for a quinoa bowl. Since most people don’t have the luxury of time for breakfast, especially on a weekday, they need to work on their executions and supplies so their mises (preparation of their ingredients for the dishes) are en place (ready). No matter how good their intentions and supplies, they will not survive without better organization.

Planet Earth Coffee and Tea on Urbanspoon        More Beach Bites tomorrow 🙂
I lived in Hermosa Beach for two years and moved away back to the “Inner City” of Los Angeles because I went to the beach maybe three times in those two years. Something about having the beach at my disposition disposes me to take it for granted. Since it’s been a few years since I’ve actually taken advantage of being at the beach, I decided to rent a room for only $77 per night from AirBnB in my former home town, proving that you can indeed go home again, even though it may not be exactly the same home you left.I stayed over a Sunday and Monday night, so I had practically the entire beach to myself.

The room I rented included full use of the immaculate kitchen, a BBQ, a covered parking space, and wifi. The owner, Todd, provided all the towels, linens, and even beach chairs!

There was even a large dining room off one of the three patios.
The house itself was on three levels, with a living room and loft/office space with a pinball machine that had a wonderful deck.
The top level had a nice couch with panoramic views of the ocean two blocks away and a large patio (hammock use optional).
This was the view from the top level office/deck space.
I had my own spacious room with small patio, full bathroom, walk-in closet, and flat screen tv. The room was so comfortable I could have stayed in it all day if the beach didn’t beckon.
The beach was the entire reason for my stay, so I spent my days on the soft white sand, reading, napping, and trying to decide where to eat:)
A superfecta of rarities converged at Joe’s in Venice this Sunday:
1) I woke up early enough to go to brunch
2) I met the family of a friend whose current and past spouses who get along
3) A new moon

Our meal started with delicious brioche bread, walnut bread, and home made strawberry jam. We had to remind ourselves to stop devouring this side so we would have room to eat our meals.

The professional chef in the group, Cathy, ordered the Little Gem Wedge Salad for $6 which was served with pickled shallots, walnut crumble, pancetta with a blue cheese dressing. She generously shared bites of this fresh salad with the table.

We ordered sweet grits for $4 that was delightful. Sweetened with brown sugar and generously buttered, this Southern comfort side dish made me (a Northerner) a grits fan!

We also ordered two orders of the Brioche French Toast with Gravenstein Apples, Golden Raisins Orange Flower Cream for the table. Everyone agreed this was the lightest yet most decadent French Toast we had ever tasted. As someone who usually does not gravitate towards sweets, I was so impressed with this “appetizer” that I actually took TWO bites!

The teenager in our group, Sidra, ordered the Buttermilk Pancakes with Scrambled Eggs, Applewood Smoked Bacon, and Vermont Maple Syrup for $10. For a basic breakfast, the version here was done with better ingredients and a deft hand.

My fellow foodie friend David ordered the Open Faced Porchetta Sandwich, made with Salsa Verde, Fried Egg, Parmesan, Market Salad for $14 which he polished off with a smile.

The artist, Krista, ordered the Green Chili and Turkey Chorizo Breakfast Burrito, made with Ranchero Sauce, Guacamole, Sour Cream, Cilantro for $12 (she took this perfect picture) and enjoyed it.

I ordered the Pacific Stone Crab Hash with soft poached eggs, made with Red & Yellow Peppers, Potatoes, and Rosemary-Mustard Nage for $15. The eggs were so perfectly done the artist of our party wanted to take a picture from her seat at my side to capture their beauty. I should have taken her up on her offer to do that since my shadow detracted from this shot.

Cathy ordered the Grilled Jidori Chicken Breast panzanella salad, white balsamic, tomatoes and zucchini. Although the chicken was moist, it needed a bit more flavor, so she asked for a side of salsa verde which made the dish as tasty as it looks.

Perhaps Sunday’s Superfecta is a sign that the rest of year will be filled with the good food and friends:)

Joe's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

There are some places which I return to religiously because I know they have consistently excellent food and service. Il Grano is one of those rare restaurants which combines an addiction to fresh ingredients (the chef grows his own tomatoes), with consummate culinary skill, and superb presentations.

It has been about two years since I last wrote about Il Grano, and I am glad to report that they have maintained both their gracious attitude as well as their gorgeous decor.

Somehow they have also managed to keep their prices on par with places which are not nearly as fastidious about their purveyors and ingredients.

Bob’s Lunch special is still only $20 for three courses. The Mercato salad is a work of edible art, pleasing to both the palate and the eye. It is a perfect vegetarian starter.

The simple salad with the lunch special was not as spectacular, but still colorful and composed of delightfully fresh (home grown) tomatoes and greens in a light vinaigrette.

The special lunch includes a choice of the market fish or lasagna and I had to try the skate in a sea urchin broth. The dish succeeded in showcasing the fresh flavor of the sea urchin without detracting from the tender skate (picked out earlier the same morning at the fish market). The beautiful edible flowers and dried tomato added both visual and textural accents. The squid ink around the inside of the bowl added a contemporary artistic flourish of flavor which made me smile 🙂

The lasagna made with hand pulled spinach pasta and bolognese achieved that nearly impossible distinction of being both hearty and light at the same time. My 50+ year old Italian dining partner declared this the best lasagna she had ever eaten in her life.

The dessert of chocolate gelato came with personally chosen fruit (yes the chef/owner personally tastes everything he buys at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market). When the owner takes the time to pay attention to the small details like the berries he uses as accompaniments to gelato, it goes without saying that the gelato is superb.

I chose the passionfruit sorbet which was one of the best sorbets I have ever eaten. Served along with a perfect slice of peach and berries selected to compliment the colors and flavors, this is now my favorite Summer dessert.

In addition to the 3 course lunch menu, my friend wanted to try the cannoli, which featured a peach infused filling and caramel sauce on the plate. As a former pastry chef, my friend was so impressed she insisted the chef come over so she could compliment him.

They offer a special weekly menu which features the chef’s home grown tomatoes in every item on the small bites menu, so if you would like to experience the fruits of love, make a reservation on a Wednesday.

For wine lovers, Il Grano has a wine list of over 700 wines and an enomatic wine serving system to preserve the integrity of fine wines by the glass. Keeping it all in the family, the chef/owner’s wife’s family owns the Terrabianca vineyards, and they offer their wines on the wine list.

Excellence should be applauded, and Il Grano deserves a standing ovation.

Il Grano on Urbanspoon

Since Tart is on my route to Lindy Grundy, I’ve been meaning to stop for a bite, especially after looking at their menu of a protein and three sides for only $15.99. All their meats are grass fed, and they offer fish and vegetarian choices for those who don’t want beef, pork, or chicken.

The restaurant is part of the Farmer’s Daughter Motel, which explains the small print on the bottom of the menu which says they will give you half off your meal if you jump in the pool with all your clothes on, and fully comp your meal if you jump in with all your clothes AND your cell phone!

Although the interior space is comfortable and welcoming, I loved the outdoor patio, which had nice touches on the tables like these flowers.

The outdoor patio on a warm Southern California afternoon is the perfect place to retreat from the busy traffic and commotion of mid City.

They are famous for their chicken, so they combined their most popular protein with a contribution to support GLAAD (and to counter the negative attitudes and sentiments of that other place that is famous for serving chicken).

The cornbread was a generous portion, but a bit dry. The honey butter helped make it a pleasant side.

They have bottomless mimosas for $15 from 11am-4pm everyday, but I opted for a spicy Bloody Mary, which had a nice kick from the horseradish and the alcohol. If you are driving, I would recommend only ordering one!

Since this was my first time here, I had to get the Fried Chicken, and since this was a Southern based menu, I chose the collard greens (cooked with chicken stock and turkey hooks), confit garlic mashed potatoes, and simple salad with balsamic dressing. I was surprised that the fried chicken had a wet coating of slightly sweet honey glaze since I was expecting crispy skin, but the chicken was very juicy and had a nice slightly spicy flavor. Adding hot sauce to it helped it tremendously (since I like my Southern food with Tabasco). The collard greens were some of the best I’ve eaten, with plenty of flavor from the chicken stock and turkey hook, and not at all overdone with either time or grease. Even though I don’t usually order mashed potatoes, I loved these, especially since the garlic confit added a wonderful depth to the side dish.

I wanted a bit of chocolate after my meal, so I chose the chocolate cake for $5, but it lacked both the chocolate flavor and decadence that I wanted. I ate two bites and left the rest. My server, Michael, noticed and asked what was wrong (it’s always a good sign when a server in any restaurant sees a barely touched plate and asks why). I told him what I disliked and he offered a replacement, but I was full from my meal anyway so I declined. He promised that he would tell them and that the next time I came in that my dessert would be on the house. This is the kind of service that insures my return to a place, even if the food is not perfect, the fact that they care about their customers and want to improve on what they do.

The bill came with a twinkie 🙂

Even though it was about 90 degrees and humid out, I didn’t jump in the pool this time (even though I wanted to), but I will dress in more “washable” clothes next time and try more of their menu!

Tart Restaurant on Urbanspoon

It’s sad when a place than locals love lose their chefs. This happened in my neighborhood with La Petite Creperie (five times in one year), and it has apparently happened at Eat Italian.

On the bright side, Bob brought this wonderful Italian wine and I brought my French Chateau Courreges 2006, so our drinks were great (it’s not a good first sign when you must bring what you want to drink because their menu does not offer a selection you would want to imbibe).

Their thin crust pizza with prosciutto had excellent prosciutto, but that was the only thing going for it. There was no texture or flavor to it. If you like matzo bread, you will like this “pizza”. I am a huge fan of of a Napoli style thin crust, but this one did not work for me.

I ordered the Napoli with anchovies, and although it was decent for a flat bread, but I would not order this (or any) pizza here again.

The grilled vegetable salad was one of the best plates we ate all night. Simply grilled eggplant, red and yellow peppers, onions, and zucchini in a balsamic glaze was done simply and perfectly.

My friend Dar ordered the spaghetti carbonara which was so bland she added salt to make it palatable. I tasted it and found it lacking any depth or richness, which is the whole point of a carbonara!

Katie (the future food blogger) and her mom Janet, ordered the tagliatelle bolognese with their home made pasta. Although the pasta was cooked perfectly, there was no seasoning in the dish, and it was about as good as the blurry picture of it.

I ordered the spaghetti puttanesca which promised a spicy anchovy flavor and delivered only a salty  pasta with olives, capers, and the barest hint of anchovy and pepper. I will never order this dish here again.

Bob and John ordered the lasagna and although their orders took at least 10 minutes longer to arrive to our table, they were looking forward to it until they tasted their plates and found their lasagna was lukewarm (or cold in parts). They asked for their orders to be heated and when they arrived for the second time they were piping hot, but still bland.

It’s nice to see the open factory where they make their pastas.

And to see an open clean kitchen is always a plus.

A nice assortment of pastries and desserts makes the industrial space warmer and more welcoming.

The best part of this entire dinner and space is their home made gelato!

I got the coconut and passion fruit and both flavors made me forget the mediocre meal I had eaten.

Katie (the future food blogger) got the nutella and mint.

Bob got the caramel and cappuccino.

Dar got the strawberry.

John got the green apple and berry.

We were all happy with the gelato ending of our meal, but my South Bay friends (who have been here many times before) apologized profusely for the meal we ate. I told them that they did not cook it, so they had no reason to apologize.

Would I ever come back? Only for their gelato, which is made in house and absolutely epitomizes fresh perfect Italian cuisine. But I would eat elsewhere, at least until they get a new replacement chef.

Eatalian Cafe on Urbanspoon

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