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As readers of this blog already know, I have a weakness for great bread. Unfortunately I’ve found very few bakeries worthy of my addiction in the U.S. and maybe it’s actually a good thing I can’t indulge in my vice. I’ve been known to eat two entire baguettes by myself in France (one on the way home from the bakery in the morning, the other with lunch and dinner). My favorite locally baked breads are Bouchon, Pain Quotidien, and Huckleberry, but I’m always on the look out for another source to feed my craving.

Farmshop in Brentwood looked very promising, with the chef owner coming from Bouchon. The under baked baguette did not look appetizing so I went with the croissant and a smaller loaf. The croissant was superb, nearly identical to Bouchon’s superb version. The bread was good, but fell short of the “Ahhhh” because of its density without depth of flavor. Yes, I would rather eat this than any supermarket bread anytime, but I would not go out of my way to buy it.

I had high hopes for the almond croissant since the plain one was so good. The texture was flaky and the presentation was very nice.

The proper ratio of butter baked into pastries makes them luscious; too much makes them greasy, and too little makes them dry. Finding that fine line is like balancing on a tightrope and few bakers find the right balance. Adding almond paste to be baked in a pastry is like trying to ride a unicycle on a tightrope, so it is better not to attempt without a safety net. Sadly in this case the safety net of slicing the croissant in half and spreading the almond paste in the middle, then baking it again resulted in a dry pastry.

On a much better note, the tuna salad sandwich was wonderful. Made with line caught albacore tuna, aioli, black olive tapenade, and served with a carrot, cabbage and golden raisin slaw for $14.50, this open faced sandwich served on an olive bread was a perfect lunch.

Go for the plain croissants, the sandwiches, and peruse the market for cheeses, meats, and incredible multicolored farm fresh eggs. Farmshop is part market, part bakery, and part café, so I’m sure there’s some part you will enjoy.

Farmshop Los Angeles on Urbanspoon

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People who work with food know where to find great restaurants, and that was how I heard about Pintung on Melrose. I had walked past it a week ago, but with its nondescript market facing the street (look for the sidewalk blackboard advertising Stumptown cold brewed coffee), you would never know that there are treasures to be found in the back patio. Like finding buried gold in your backyard, this new addition to Mid-City makes me smile with delight.

Once I walked into the back patio I literally said, “Wow”! With an enclosed section, and an open section decorated with bamboo plants, the warm and sleek aesthetic was such a welcome contrast to the dark marketplace storefront seating area that it wasn’t even a question as to which space I preferred to eat my meal.

The other customers ranged from hip Japanese in pink hair and working on pink tablets, to television people loudly discussing their projects (probably wanting to be overheard). There were of course quiet, “normal” people (like me:) but this place draws from all the people L.A. is infamous for, so if you want a taste of all the lifestyles in L.A., you can come here and people watch.

The cuisine is a cross section of all Asian cuisines in one place. There is banh mi from Vietnam, dim sum from China, ramen and sushi from Japan, and rice bowls which would probably be the common link between all Asian countries. Because they are in Los Angeles, they also have options like a vegetarian banh mi, and soy chicken with brown rice, but I wanted to see how authentic their Asian dishes were, so that is what I ordered.

I started with the sauteed pea shoots for $7.25, and was thrilled when they arrived spicy, flavored with sesame oil, and perfectly seasoned. It was a big bowl, so with the other dishes, I ended up taking half of it home, but it just got better a day later.

The crystal shrimp dumplings were $5.50 (the Asian server told me they were Har Gow when I asked what crystal dumplings were). They were bigger and better than any Har Gow I’ve ever eaten in any Dim Sum place (and I have eaten in dozens from NYC to SF). The wrapping was so fine and light that they literally fell apart when I lifted them up from the steamer basket. They were also at least twice as big as any in a Chinese restaurant, with whole shrimp (not chopped up shrimp mush) and bamboo shoots. The table had dumpling sauce as well as other condiments if you want to dip them in sauce, but they are great by themselves.

The only dish that was a miss was the chow fun noodles for $7.95. I chose beef, but you have the option of chicken or vegetarian. The chinese broccoli had too many woody stems, the noodles lacked flavor (you can doctor it with the tableside condiments, but you should not have to season your food), the beef was tender but scarce, and there was a puddle of oil at the bottom of the bowl. Skip this dish and go for one of the ramen bowls if you want noodles.

Seeing Sticky Rice with Chinese Sausage wrapped in Lotus Leaf for $5.50 on the menu, I had to order it. My Aunt used to make these and send me home with a dozen that I would make last for as long as possible until I saw her again. I haven’t had one since she passed away and I was almost afraid to try one made in a restaurant, but these are wonderful. I could only eat one, so I took the other home (to re steam).

The filling was full of pork, preserved salty egg, shittake, and the rice was perfectly infused with the lotus leaf flavor. One of the packages had more filling than the other, but both were delicious if you like this ethnic comfort food. I’m tempted to order a few orders of this to go and freeze them like I used to with the ones my Aunt made:)

As I told the server (another Asian), I am so very glad to have this place close to home without having to deal with those pesky Asian drivers in Chinatown or Monterey Park; I can say that because it takes one to know one:)

Pingtung on Urbanspoon

There are very few places I will go for coffee. I’m highly sensitive to pesticides and since coffee is usually grown in countries with lax regulation, I only drink organic. Unfortunately, you can’t always trust some cafés which say that they serve organic coffee on their menu. I found out recently that one place I had been frequenting had falsely advertised. My headaches and upset stomach led me to ask the owner the source of his coffee, and because I knew the purveyor, I also knew the coffee and tea listed on the menu as organic were not. Like my friends at Lindy & Grundy, who know which restaurants actually serve grass fed pasture raised meat, I know which cafés actually serve organic coffee.

Conservatory in Culver City is a small family run business that not only serves organic coffee, but they also roast their own beans. Because I live close by, I get only enough to last for a few weeks at a time. They label the bags with the roasting date, so if you forget when you bought a bag, it’s marked. The middle bag is of Blood Orange Rooibos tea, which has a citrusy aroma and tangy taste that makes a non tea drinker like me happy to imbibe it. The tea is my nighttime beverage because sipping this noncaffeinated red tea it actually helps me get to sleep.

I transfer my purchases into my own containers when I get home.

You can drink your coffee, tea, or cocoa at the Conservatory, although seats can be scarce during prime coffee hours right after lunch when the employees of Sony Studios across the street come in en mass. They offer pastries and munchies to go with your coffee or tea, and their large servings are in huge cups that resemble bowls, so this is a great place to come for some conversation, to study, or for a calm break. One of the joys of coming here is the wonderful service from the always friendly family behind the counter who greet regulars by name. If you don’t live nearby, you can still become a regular because they ship their coffees and teas to all 50 states:)

Conservatory for Coffee on Urbanspoon

Paichẽ is a prehistoric Amazonian fish which you can taste in Marina Del Rey, while promoting its sustainability in the Amazon. As a Southern Californian diner eating at a Peruvian Izakaya, you are also part taking part in a fusion of cultures and cuisines. Welcome to culinary globalization in Los Angeles.

On the ground floor of the MDR Hotel, Paichẽ is a comfortable modern space with a sleek clean feel. There is the center seating area which becomes quite animated when full. They’ve only been open since April, but I’ve heard the place gets packed during prime dinner hours, so make sure you make a reservation if you want to come on a week-end.

A more tranquil side area by the windows which feels more intimate.

With various signature drinks, I asked my waitress which was the least sweet, most sour, and she suggested the Margarita. I know I can be very boring, but theirs is made with Jimador tequila, house made orange bitters, lime juice, agave nectar, and a pinch of gusano salt for $12. It was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. The unique ingredients elevated this ubiquitous well drink to boutique level. It was also very strong, and I felt the effects for well over an hour even after all the food I ate (I walked over to one of the few remaining brick and mortar Barnes & Noble bookstores to shop and get sober before driving home).

I started with the tiradito (raw or lightly cooked) of seared sea bass with Amazonian sacha inchi oil, soy dressing, garlic, and oba for $9. A fantastic way to begin any meal, with fresh subtle flavors and a light dressing. This was one of my favorite plates. If I ordered five or six plates of this, I would have made this my meal, but the whole point of izakaya is tasting many things, so I tasted several more plates.

The waitress recommend the Paichẽ wrap lettuce, and I could not come here and not taste the anticucho miso marinated grilled Amazonian fish for $12. It was very similar to the sea bass, with a bit more firmness and it held up well to the anticucho miso which gave it a slightly spicy kick. I enjoyed the texture of the fish, lettuce, and crunchy fried topping, and I would recommend this to anyone who says they don’t like fish.

The calamari rellano for $10 is one of those fusion dishes that works perfectly. It’s a baby squid stuffed with morcilla sausage served with aji pepian. This is one of those comfort dishes that doesn’t look like a one; the creamy bed of rice with the morcilla covered in a tender squid wrapping made this a hearty small bite. My only note on this dish was the morcilla sausage had several bites of inedible cartilage, but it was so tasty that I would order this again in spite of that.

Tied for my favorite dish, was the perfectly fried chicarron of pescado for $11 with a lime yuzu sauce. Various pieces of tender fish, crispy on the outside, complimented with a very tangy yuzu sauce (which you really didn’t need, but it was so good you must try at least one bite of the fish with it). A benefit of small plates is that even when ordering something fried, it’s a small portion, so you can enjoy it without too much concern about your arteries. Since I ate all four plates, I skipped dessert, but for those who have room, Paiche does fantastic churros like Picca, its sibling restaurant.

I may never do any “fishing” outside of Marina del Rey’s Paichẽ, but I know when I come here that I will always get to eat great fish 🙂

Paiche on Urbanspoon

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