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Yelp held an Elite Event event at Heroic Deli and Wine Bar a few months ago, and after tasting nearly the entire menu, I had to go back with a friend who loves authentic Italian food as much as I do (she speaks Italian and lived in Italy). The chef, Barbara Pollastrini, is one of only 40 Ambasciatori del Gusto (Ambassador of Taste), and the only one based in the US. Marry this kind of expertise with a wine list of bottles rated 90+ points  that exemplifies the best of Italy and California, and you have a destination worth visiting even if you are not a local.

We got there early enough to begin with the Happy Hour menu and their cacio y pepe arancini for $8. It was a crisp peppery bite to start our taste buds salivating.

I love artichokes so next happy hour appetizer were the fried artichokes for $8, served with an aioli for those who like some creaminess to dip into.

My friend and i had been sadly disappointed by the octopus we had ordered at another meal in a well known large restaurant downtown, but we were thrilled with the Polpo Croccante with potatoes for $24 here. The octopus was perfectly tender on the inside and crispy on the edges, with garlicky russet potatoes that were so good we nearly attacked the waiter who tried to take the plate away before we had eaten the last bite:)

One of the highlights was the fresh live Santa Barbara prawn and live uni on blue ocean pasta with crispy prawn head for $36. Thankfully we are good friends or we might have fought to eat this entire dish!

Because the chef makes her own guanciale, we finished our savory courses with the amatriciana for $22 with slow roasted tomatoes that showcased the quality of great ingredients expertly handled.

The owner Jeffrey Merrihue was there and remembered me from the Yelp event, so he offered us the torta di mele, a deconstructed apple pie ($10) with salt caramel, bufala ricotta, lemon zest and vanilla gratis and suggested that we try the Soave as a slight change from the Italian Chardonnay. Since I had only tried the Italian Chardonnay because of his suggestion at the Yelp Event, we tried the Soave and once again learned that there are many exceptions to a rule. Both wines were nicely balanced, the Chardonnay had no oak, and the Soave was not at all sweet! Bravo! Also bravo to our waiter who managed to exactly evenly split the last glass of wine we ordered into two equal servings 🙂

Heroic is a beautiful environment with excellent service, quality ingredients, and a talented chef, and has become one of my favorite places to eat in Santa Monica.

When the owner of Pikoh said they were going to open a new place with a new chef Alex Carrasco from Mexico City (but who has worked in many prestigious places around town) in the West Adams neighborhood called Bee Taqueria, I filed it into my “To Be Tried” list, and I am glad I did!

It is a welcome and very colorful addition to this up and coming neighborhood. Very casual, very unique, and very personable since the chef was both cooking and serving during the weekday afternoon.

The back patio portion is big enough to host a large function or be filled with food lovers on a sultry Southern California evening. They are beginning to host some taco omakase evenings, so I’m sure the place will be packed on those occasions.

I had to get a sampler of the tacos, which came with side beans, pickles, and consommé on hand made blue corn tortillas. Nothing on the menu is over $8 and they offer vegetarian options like beet for those who don’t want to partake of the beef, lamb, or pork that were all distinctly delicious in different ways. I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite, but because I am a lamb fan, I slightly preferred the Cordero BBQ.

They were out of the ceviche, but not the fried ceviche made with Sea Bass 🙂 The mix of the crunchy roasted corn nuts, sweet potato, and the acidic squeeze of lime juice, made this a lick the bowl kind of dish.

You order and pay at the window, and they *buzz* you when your order is ready for pickup. Come by before the buzz for this place created lines that will have people swarming!

French connections make for great food connections around the world 🙂 My friend’s friend’s daughter (does that make sense?) spent some time living and working in France and came back to the US around the time I left for Paris. We finally met her in the US and she talked about one of her friends who opened up a French Creperie in Westwood, so of course we had to try it out! It turns out that Irina, the owner, is Russian, as is my neighbor and her child so there will be another international introduction shortly! La Table de Sophie is named after Irina’s mother, Sophie, so the place is named in her mother’s honor:)

Irina serves authentic Brittany crepes, using organic buckwheat flour for the savory galettes, and even the flags at the entrance proclaim her allegiance to the origin of the delicious crisp holder of savory delights.

I started off with a cappuccino and the wonderful flavor and texture was a good portend of the food to come.

One of us had the forestière with free range chicken, egg, mushrooms, gruyère, and onions cooked in hard Cider for $21. Sophie obligingly cooked up the egg that is normally sunny side up (au plat in Paris, or mirroir in Brittany) for the American palate.

I chose the Printanière with gruyère, egg, spinach, asparagus, zucchini,sweet peas, and bell pepper for $20. The galette was probably the best I’ve ever eaten, perfectly crisp and the ingredients were so fresh and beautifully presented that I didn’t want to disturb the artwork! It was also a large portion, so I had no room for dessert 😦

They have several items from Farm Shop for sale, so I took a pain au chocolat home to enjoy the next morning 🙂 They were voted the best pain au chocolat for good reasons; flaky layers around valrhona chocolate make for the answer to your dessert or breakfast pastry quest.

I also took home a bar of Bovetti chocolate, just because I loved the design as well as the quality of the chocolate bar!

La table de Sophie has a marvelous gem of a bar adjacent to it and they serve happy hour between 5-7pm, so you can taste a bit of the French tradition of apéro in Los Angeles. La Table de Sophie made me a bit less homesick for France 🙂

French food is my comfort food, but for visitors from NYC who came to town, finding a spot worthy of two picky palates became a foodie challenge, especially when one of them is a working chef. Sadly few good options are on the westside of town, and not wanting to trek east on a week-end night, I remembered that I had tried take out from Cathay Palisades at a dinner party, so a quick text later, the restaurant welcomed us as friends of their regular customers (it always helps to be referred). We had enough people to try several things and I’m happy to say everything was fresh, flavorful, and we cleaned all the plates 🙂

The mushroom medley for $13.25 was served with steamed broccoli. It is great as a side dish or main for vegetarians, with a nice assortment of mushrooms in an oyster sauce.

The salt and pepper shrimp for $19 was a crowd favorite for nostalgic reasons, but although the shrimp were fine, I found it lacked anything to rave about.

Another group favorite were the garlic noodles, but again I found them good, but not outstanding.

One of my favorite dishes was the calamari with bok choy for $18.50, with perfectly cooked tender calamari and lightly stir fried bok choy that used only the tender baby bok choy.

My other favorite dish was the shrimp with snow pea pods for $18.50 which featured the high quality shrimp once again, but this time with the pea pods which had been painstakingly defibered so that every pod was tender and crunchy without any strings. The hallmark of any good food is the care and attention they take to ensure fresh quality ingredients, but the extra mile of proper preparation and technique add to the enjoyment of the diners who reap the benefits of taste and textures that make for happy eaters.

Everyone who came in was welcomed by name, so they obviously have a loyal regular base of customers who appreciate their food, as well as very efficient and friendly service. It was a pleasure to share the comfort of good Chinese food with friends, locally and from afar.

The Umbrella Sky Art Project takes place all over the world and I was fortunate to see their installation in Paris at the Village Royal near the Place de la Madeleine. Patricia Cunha is the artist who created this 800 umbrellas hung by cables over the passageway.

The place to stop is in the very heart of the installation at Le Village Royal where you may sit with a delightful glass of wine as you people watch.

A perfect tarte au citron provided a sweet ending to a beautiful day and trip to Paris 🙂

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