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The Eataly finale ends on a sweet note 🙂

After perusing every sit down or take away option, my friend and I decided to eat lunch elsewhere. We made our decision based on our very picky standards; she has lived in and traveled extensively through Italy, and she has even taken cooking classes in Italy. I am just picky, especially after having eaten incredible meals in Rome for very reasonable prices.

The rotisserie had a lamb special that day, but once we got to the counter, they said, “Sorry, no lamb today, they sold it yesterday by mistake, so we have tri tip today”. Neither one of us wanted to pay over $20 for a small pizza or plate of simple pasta plus another $20 for a decent glass of wine.

Being in the newly remodeled Westfield Century City Mall, there were many other wonderful options, so we went to my old favorite Rock Sugar, and came back for a coffee and pastry.

We looked through all the pastry and dessert cases,

and the candy cases, including the chocolate cases, and gelato stand,

 but we decided on coffee and viennoiseries.

 I chose the raisin twist,

and she chose the almond cream. We tasted both but we each wisely chose our favorite. Because there were no seats, we ended up having our coffee standing up at the coffee bar, just as we would have done in Italy 🙂

Since we were fortified with some sugar and caffeine, we wandered upstairs to shop in the cookware and toys section, where we saw the SMEG500, a Fiat fridge!

For the ultimate Italian wine cooler/conversation piece! As the saying goes if you must ask how much it is, you should not buy it (you must apply to purchase it)!

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I must confess that I did not like Eataly in Rome. There were beautiful products, from pasta to condiments, many counters serving snacks and sweets, and several options for eating both inside and outside, but it made no sense to me to shop or eat there when I was in ITALY, with authentic local options literally surrounding me. The only people I saw buying and eating anything there were tourists and they were mostly American, seeking perhaps the comfort of a known brand name from the US. The equivalent of this experience would be going to chain lobster restaurant in Maine instead of a local joint, or *shudder* buying a supermarket baguette in France instead of getting one from a boulangerie. WHY?!?!?!?! Just DO NOT do it. Taste at least one peach, ripe, fresh off the tree; you can always open a can of peaches afterwards, if you still prefer them 🙂

Eataly in Los Angeles offers a few products that are a challenge to find here, but those who know good Italian and European markets can easily find most things for for less. Bay Cities in Santa Monica is still my all time favorite place to shop for any Italian ingredient. A1 in San Pedro has a nice selection, and Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and Deli has many great products. I like keeping small businesses alive, and the personal interactions are as important to me as the presentation, so even though I love to peruse the big name financed stores, when it comes to actually buying, I will continue to spend my money with the smaller shops.

If you prefer one stop shopping with gorgeous presentation, then Eataly Los Angeles is your new mecca. Just as Paris has the gorgeous La Grande Epicerie, and tourist centric Lafayette Gourmet, Eataly is a feast for foodie eyes. My next three posts will be mostly photographic, so enjoy the eyefest:)

Timing is crucial if you want your visit to Porto’s Bakery to be pleasurable. The line is usually out the door and down the street during popular meal times, so if you can visit between the rush times, you will be much happier and enjoy your visit much more. I came in one day around 1:30 PM and the wait was only about 30 minutes.

They are famous for both sweet and savory, with a selection that will leave you salivating and indecisive, especially if it is your first visit. There is a cafe on one side and the bakery on the other, so if you want to sit down and eat go to the cafe side, if you want to take it away, go to the bakery side. They also serve sandwiches and plates on both sides, so if you want more than pastries, you can also order a full meal for under $10.

 

 

 

 

They have full cakes to go and a shorter line in the bakery for the full cakes, as well as cakes that were ordered ahead of time.

 There is a hot section of their famous potato balls.

 I got two of the beef and one of the seafood (a seasonal specialty).

The seafood was slightly spicy and reminded me of NOLA type flavors, a great choice if it’s available.

They are famous for their beef potato balls and with a drop or two of tapatio or tabasco, they are addictive!

I got a sample of their sweets to go and liked every one, from the Polvoron cookie, with a crumbly almond flavor, to their cheese roll, and apple turnover. All were light, crisp, not overly sweet.

 The inside of the apple turnover; my only suggestion would be more apple please!

The three potato balls and three sweets all came to less than $7!!!!

My desserts are usually fruit or cheese, but there are times when I crave chocolate or cookies. Thankfully I found two places to indulge those cravings when they arise 🙂

Lolli and Pops is like heaven for those with a weakness for sweets; they offer ROOMS full of whatever temptation might entice you to replace your meal with a sugar high. If you don’t have a location near you, they make gift packages and will ship to whomever you wish to bestow some sweetness.

 Some candies are sold by piece or weight.

 You can mix and match flavors while as you fill containers of different sizes.

 Some sweets are packaged for you.

 If you are nostalgic, there is an entire room of vintage candy.

 

 If you crave candy from other countries, they stock a few classic items.

 Classic US candies, from Jelly Belly

 to Pez,

 and Gummy Bears,

 each have their own section (or dedicated room).

 They have their in house brand

 as well as famous names like Vosges,

 and Harry Potter.

After wandering through the store and feeling a bit overwhelmed, I decided I wanted a cookie (or two, or three), so I went into the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery. They are also a grocery store and deli, making sandwiches to go, and selling Italian olive oil, balsamic vinegar, semolina pasta, and more kinds of tomato products than I could count. It’s a small selection compared to Bay Cities in Santa Monica, but the products are all curated for quality.

 

I practiced extraordinary restraint by eating only 2-3 of these light buttery treats a day. It’s going to require super-human resolve to limit my purchase and consumption now that I know how delicious they taste!

When I first moved back to the US, I asked my gluten loving friends where they found their favorite baguettes and croissants. Since I now live on the eastside, making the trek to Bouchon in Beverly Hills on a regular basis was not going to be part of my life. The consensus was that I should try the croissants at Euro Pane in Pasadena. I was in for a shock when I saw how big they were. Easily 8″ long and 3″ wide in the center, they are HUGE by French standards. Since they use real butter, the flavor was good, and it was light and airy on the inside, but I had to “crisp” up the outside by popping it into the oven for a few minutes. This was a very good rendition, but I didn’t salivate and want to run back for another one (the true test of a great viennoiserie is that you want another one).

A very good croissant is at Mr Holmes Bakehouse, famous for their croissant muffin hybrid, the Cruffin, as well as filled donuts.

The Holmes croissant is a butter intense version that some people adore, with a nice flaky exterior and good air pocket interior. I prefer a less butter saturated version, but for those who love butter, this croissant would be very satisfying.

Bread Lounge in DTLA makes a very good croissant, with a light airy center layers, and a crisp outer shell. It’s about twice the size of the ones in France, but normal sized for the US. Slightly buttery and very light interior, but it doesn’t have that delightfully chewy texture that I love.

I found Proof Bakery in Atwater Village on Instagram. If you look at their feed, have some napkins nearby because you will salivate onto your phone 🙂 I got both a regular croissant and an almond, since those are my two favorites. The sizes were normal by French standards and I skipped the pain au chocolat because I’m one of the rare people who doesn’t like their bread with chocolate!

After one bite of the croissant I wanted to go back and get a dozen! It is as close to an excellent Parisian one as I’ve eaten since I’ve been back in the US; flaky crisp exterior and layers of soft buttery interior with just the right amount of toothiness. I ate all the crumbs off my plate:)

The almond was just as authentically made and had a generous filling of almond paste on the inside and outside. This was so good I wanted to save some for later, but I kept eating “just one more bite” until it was gone.

I don’t live on croissants alone, so I also looked for baguettes. A local showed me Nicole’s in South Pasadena, a gourmet shop and cafe. When I saw they had beautiful products and cheeses from France I swooned, and then nearly fainted when I saw the prices were 3-5 times what I paid in France! I picked up one of their baguettes, anticipating a traditional rendition.

I was disappointed beyond words. I could have bought a baguette at a chain supermarket with better crust and texture, not to mention flavor.

Frogs Organic Bakery got rave reviews for their baguette, but by the time I arrived at the South Pasadena Farmers Market, they were already sold out! I settled for a loaf of their sourdough. It was a nice loaf of bread, but it lacked the crackling crisp crust, sour tang, and springy texture that I love. I was so uninspired by this loaf that I didn’t go back for a baguette.

For artisan bread, the loaves at Seed Bakery are made with made with freshly milled organic ingredients, so if your tastes are for denser more robust bread, this is the place to go. You can literally see the difference in the crust and air pockets between the Frog’s Bakery vs. Seed Bakery loaves; buy according to your preference.

Since my favorite baguette before I left was at Bouchon Bakery, and I was in Beverly Hills for a Yelp Event, I stopped by to get one. After three years of eating baguette tradition in France, this was more like a regular baguette.

I was thankful for a decent crust, proper air pockets, and good flavor after the previous shop.

The baguette I got from Bottega Louie was twice as expensive but better in all aspects from crust to interior and much bigger. Since it is so close to two metro stops, this easy and pricey choice is one of my favorite baguettes in Los Angeles.

Bread Lounge is another of my favorites; they not only bake a wonderful baguette, complete with crackling crust and airy interior, but it is about half the cost of the baguette at Bottega Louie. Bread Lounge is in an industrial part of town, so not easy to access with public transportation, but easy to find parking if you are driving. The loaf doesn’t have the toothy chew of the Bottega Louie baguette, but the crust has a nice crunch.

Another favorite is the baguette from Clark Street Bread, available now only at the Grand Central Market in DTLA (and various restaurants around town) until their shop opens in Echo Park. At $3.50, their price is in line with Bread Lounge, and although the crust needed a bit of crisping in the oven, the interior has the chewy texture I like, and the aroma of the loaf belies the quality ingredients used in its formation.

As in many other aspects of life, there are tradeoffs, and happiness lies in finding a balance that works. I’m grateful to have several choices which make me happy. If I could combine the best of all my favorites, I would have the Bread Lounge crust combined with the chewier interior of Bottega Louie, and the flavor of the Clark Street baguette 🙂

A great bagel is nearly as rare as a great baguette, but for NYers looking for a taste of breakfast from home,  Belle’s Bagels is worth both the trek to Highland Park and the early morning journey (they sometimes sell out by noon or earlier on week-ends). Get a container or two of their Sierra Nevada Cream Cheese to complete your order and you will be set until they are open again (Thursday-Sunday).

In my hunt for bread, I found Float in Pasadena. They got rave reviews for their sandwich baguettes so I went for lunch and I agree, they have some of the best bread not for sale individually:) My friend ordered the tuna salad with avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and whole grain mustard. She thought she could only finish half, but it was so good she ate it all.

I ordered the pastrami banh mi with hot pastrami, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, red onion and cilantro. It was a refreshing take on both a traditional banh mi and a regular pastrami sandwich which I thoroughly enjoyed and would order again any day. They also have floats as the name implies, but after their hearty sandwiches there was no room left in my stomach.

In the foodie mecca of the eastside, aka Eagle Rock, I saw Milkfarm‘s enormous cheese counter and was drawn inside like a moth to flame, or in my case a raclette to a heat source (here’s a video of how raclette is eaten). I saw a customer eating the turkey press and got one for myself:) It was made with turkey, roasted eggplant, roasted shallots, sundried tomatoes, pesto, kale, smoked mozzarella and fontina on multigrain. Even though it wasn’t on a baguette, I was absolutely happy.

Who wouldn’t be happy eating this?!??!?!

They also sell Bread Lounge Baguettes, so if I need a local quick baguette fix, I have a place to go!

One of my friends used to live in South Pasadena so she suggested that we meet for lunch at Heirloom Bakery. They have a nice outdoor patio and they are only a few steps from the South Pasadena Metro stop, so it’s a pleasant and easy stop for breakfast or lunch. I chose the turkey panini with fresh spinach and tomato with a schmear of pesto that helped elevate the flavor beyond the ordinary.

My friend chose the quiche of the day and I had a taste so I could write about it. The filling was light but I found the underdone. The fresh tomatoes on the side were a nice touch, but some needed some dressing and a better presentation imho.

My friend ordered the bean salad as a side and this definitely needed some zest and seasoning.

On another evening my friends and I walked over to Communal half a block away from the Farmers’ Market for some craft beers and more food.

They were very generous with allowing us to taste several before making up our minds. I decided on the locally brewed Smog City Amber Ale. We ordered the twice fried Kennebec fries for $5 but they were too starchy for my taste, although my friends liked them.

We also ordered the crispy chicken wings with spicy porter BBQ  sauce and we all enjoyed them $8.

The hit of the evening were the mussels (a special) with a spicy tomato broth and a fabulous garlic toast that was absolutely perfect for either a full meal or for sharing.

Few places in Los Angeles embellish their eating establishments with extravagant displays during the Winter holidays like they do in France. Bottega Louie is an exception, with a towering “tree” of macarons, including gold ones, reaching to the ceiling, one of several throughout the restaurant and market, but the grand centerpiece in the dining area can be seen from the pastry counter at the other end of the cavernous space.

I’ve been enthralled by this place ever since my first meals here years ago, so much so I wrote two posts, back to back on it back in 2011. Since my return to the US, I have been wanting to revisit some old favorites, and when friends came into town for the week-end, it was a perfect opportunity to meet for brunch downtown.

After years in France, the macarons looked very bright to me, but I’m sure the intense colors sell well here, where bright intense colors are an enticement.

If you can’t decide what to choose, you can always opt for one of the prepackaged gift boxes of varying sizes (they will ship many of their products if you don’t want to carry it back home).

Some things can’t be shipped and should be eaten fresh, like their viennoiseries and

bread, which are very good even to a bread snob like me. The big baguette is pricey at over $5, but it is huge and it freezes well if you can’t eat it all the same day.

Since I usually came for lunch or late supper, this was the first time I encountered the brunch choices, like this freshly squeezed pineapple juice for $7. They had other choices like melon, carrot, and “green”, if you want something other than the usual fruit and citrus.

Once one of my friends saw the table next to us eating the two eggs with turkey sausage, potatoes, and smoked bacon, she didn’t want to get anything else, and she was very happy that they made her order exactly as she wanted, right down to the “burnt” whole wheat toast for $17.

Another friend and I both ordered the Lobster Hash for $20 with lobster, yukon potatoes, shallots, brussel sprouts, and two poached eggs napped with a smoked paprika hollandaise. I liked how the poached eggs were slightly runny, but she preferred her eggs runnier; I thought that the kitchen did a nice job of “middle ground” eggs in a dining room with over 200 seats. Our server was very attentive and literally followed every request with a smile and “Yes, of course”! Including one for warmed milk with the filtered coffee ($.50 surcharge), and as I mentioned earlier, making sure the wheat toast on the side was “well done”.

When we had all cleaned our plates, I tempted everyone to get an order of beignets ($12) to split; the table next to ours chimed in on my description and echoed that they were indeed wonderful. These are still the best beignets I’ve ever had 🙂 Light and buttery, with the raspberry compote so addictive that my friends were licking it off their fingers and “double dunking”!

No one had room for anything else,

but our eyes feasted on all the pastries as we left 🙂

Blé Sucré is on so many lists as the best croissant in Paris that I had to taste them for myself 🙂 The tiny shop has a few tables outside if you want to have a coffee and eat facing the park, but I didn’t want my croissant accompanied by the melody of screeching children, so I took mine to go. This is a pâtisserie not a boulangerie, which means they offer pastries but do not sell bread. If you want a baguette, go elsewhere, but come here for the madeleines, the pain au chocolat, or the croissants. The croissants here are HUGE by Parisian standards, easily twice as big as others.

The airy light layers and satisfying crunchy flakiness make for the best of combinations, and I added these croissants to my favorites list along with all the others who came before I did 🙂

Not far away is another kind of pâtisserie, La Rose de Tunis, specializing in North African sweets infused with honey, nuts, and spices. This one is in Belleville in the 11th, but there are other locations in the 15th and 18th, as well as in other cities throughout Europe. There is always a line out the door, so be prepared to wait for your sweet treats.

Since I went to the Yelp event at Les Piaules, I wanted to explore the Belleville area a bit more along Blvd Belleville with all the streetside vendors making freshly grilled breads filled with your choice of meat, tomatoes, onions; think of it as an alternative to pizza:)

The stores sell products I’ve never seen before, like Rose jam!

There were also markets that sell products I knew very well,

like roasted ducks and char siu.

Off Rue Belleville, which intersects Blvd Belleville, the famous graffiti of Rue Denoyez adds color

 and art to everything from the storefronts to the plant holders.

Some artists were working as I passed by, but this area will be transforming in the next few years to “modernize” the street and about 30 of the local workshops and artists will be displaced despite a petition with over 10,000 signatures trying to preserve the character of this street.

The most surprising thing I saw in the neighborhood wasn’t the rose jam or the graffiti, but a Lamborghini, the only one I’ve ever seen in Paris 🙂

There are many ways to get around Barcelona, from the old fashioned horse and carriage,

to the modern electric car, but my favorite was simply to walk.

The modes of transportation are the only things that offer both old and new; construction of modern buildings around historical monuments abounds.

Before starting my day, I tried a second cafe

that had the nicest service

with good coffee, excellent freshly squeezed orange juice, and mediocre croissants

but a good apple pastry (according to the person who ate it and let me take a picture).

A few metro stops away, I saw this bakery, which looked fantastic, but there was no way I was going to start my day on the metro without breakfast.

I had a cone of Iberico in La Boqueria from Mas, but I saw that they also have stand alone stores.

Walking can lead to unexpected discoveries, like this shrine near Park Güell,

or these passageways

some leading into courtyards.

As dusk fell, it was time for dinner. Gilda has great reviews in the Gothic Quarter, and since it was a few blocks from where I was staying, I made a reservation through The Fork, which gives diners a discount on two tapas and a main course. The welcome and ambiance are warm, and the artwork is for sale, making it a showcase for artists.

I chose the ham croquetas for one of my tapas and was surprised at how big they were, there was definitely enough to share. As for the croquetas, they used quality ham and I would certainly order these again.

The garlic prawns were my favorite bite of all, lightly cooked and slightly spicy, I wanted to make a meal of them!

The steak and fries were a disappointment after the rock star prawns. I ordered the steak very rare and it came out pink, but not red. It came with a peppercorn sauce, but it lacked flavor and I was glad there was salt and pepper on the table. The Belgians are known for great fries, and they did not disappoint on this plate. Service was a bit hit and miss the night I was there; they had a problem in the kitchen and it affected the wait staff who forgot to bring me a steak knife, added a charge for bottled water I did not order, and neglected my discount from The Fork*. All remedied in the end, but a reminder to always check your bill before paying it. My total with a glass of wine and the discount came to 20 Euros or about $23 for quality food in a nice atmosphere.

The strolling the Ramblas after dinner

I passed the Gran Teatre del Liceu where they were getting ready to open for an evening of Opera.

I was about to turn in for the night when my host invited another house guest and me to a Couchsurfing event at Polaroid Bar, literally next to our place. I’m glad I accepted the invitation because I met people from all over the world, including Latvia, Germany, Italy, France, and of course the US. It was a Couchsurfing event, so we got discounted draft beer, and even though I don’t usually drink beer, it was better than the wine and the sweet mixed drinks, so I had my first beer in years here for the incredible price of 1.50 Euros (less than $2) for a pint!

On another night we went to Juanita Lalà, which had much better wine, and very loud music, but a great patio and enough space for some South Americans to strut their dance moves. We left when the place emptied at 3 AM, and headed to the Placa Reial to go clubbing but all three places we tried to get into were full or had monster lines!

After getting some snacks at the local market, we headed back around 4AM, but we weren’t the only ones out. I felt perfectly safe out that late with other people, but if I had been alone, I would definitely stick to the main streets and take a taxi if I was coming back from or to the Gothic quarter.

*Note : They had a problem with my US credit card, so bring cash or an EU credit card.

My name is Elaine and I am a bread addict. In fact my addiction is so all encompassing that I may have moved to France for the bread:) My favorite bread in Paris (so far) is the Pain des Amis that I’ve written and photographed constantly in other posts, but my daily bread is the baguette tradition bien cuit (cooked well done, because unlike my meat, which I like raw, I like my bread crispy). The Fournil Daguerre won the award for best bio baguette last year, so although I love my local Gontran Cherrier, I wanted to compare this winner to what I normally buy.

At the further end of the market street Daguerre in the 14th, the boulangerie has a pleasant corner location with a few seats and tables so you can enjoy a sandwich or pastry sur place (at the shop instead of to take away).

The baguette tradition exterior had a nice chewy crust with the perfect amount of crunch vs. springiness.

The center was absolutely delightful with the soft air pocketed texture and yeasty flavor that gives baguettes their worldwide reputation. Once you’ve tasted a baguette like this, you will never be able to eat supermarket bread again:)

A few blocks down Daguerre near the busy metro station where the Orly Bus stops is Moisan, on Ave. Général Leclerc, which specializes in organic breads and pastries.

Their baguette tradition was far too dense for my taste and didn’t have the finesse or flavor of the one from Fournil Daguerre. I did like their pain complet which was meant to be dense and still managed to be flavorful.

It’s said that no one does everything well, and while I didn’t like their baguettes, Moisan does the best almond chocolate viennoiseries I’ve tasted in Paris. In my opinion, they are better than La Durée or Eric Kayser. Because they use organic ingredients, the flavors are more subtle, rich, and nuanced than other boulangeries. Sorry about the slightly unsymmetrical form, but I broke off a piece before taking the picture.

Normally, I don’t finish my viennoiseries or desserts, but once I bit into this delicate pastry with a perfectly proportioned almond filling, I couldn’t stop

until I got to the back with chocolate, and yes it was enough chocolate, and yes, I ate the entire thing!

If one viennoiserie was great, two would better better, right? Yes! Their pain aux raisins was exquisite! A buttery, circular roll of plump raisins in a delicate pastry that somehow managed to be light yet satisfying without the annoying excess of sweetness that some places use as a substitute for quality ingredients. This was the best pain aux raisins I’ve ever tasted.

Having the two places within blocks of each other means I can get a great baguette tradition and wonderful viennoiseries without having to take a metro from one to the other, and in Paris, that is considered “easy shopping”:)

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