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Sausal means Willow in old Spanish (before this area became part of the US, this was Alta California, as opposed to Baja California which is still part of Mexico). The old styles of ranch cooking over flames and wood are now used with fresh local ingredients to create the cuisine that epitomizes the best blending of the old and new world sensibilities.

Since The Yelp Elite event, Experience El Segundo, I’ve been wanting to come back and enjoy the small town hospitality and flavors. As fate would have it, I am moving here! I will now be a local in a town that is literally midway between my South Bay friends and my Valley friends! While I was sitting in both Sausal the the local cafe, Blue Butterfly, the people who walked in were ALL greeted by name (none of them were named Norm)! I am very much looking forward to becoming part of this community 🙂

Happy Hour at Sausal is EVERYDAY from 3-6pm and their margarita was one of the tastiest and strongest I’ve ever imbibed for only $6. It was brilliant to serve it with a half salt rim because drinking from the midway point gave me just enough salt!

One of the Happy Hour Specials was the batter fried shrimp taco for $4 that was piled high with crunchy slaw. I had to cut it in half to get a bite into my mouth!

Since I had not eaten lunch, I ordered the chorizo quesadilla for $7, that was big enough to share.

Did I mention, I had not eaten lunch? I also ordered the short rib empanada, perhaps my favorite $4 happy hour bite, filled with tender tasty beef, and surrounded by a perfect crunchy pastry.

My first Happy Hour experience was so good, I had to repeat it a week later, with a beef mole tostada, loaded with so much tender, delectable chunks of shredded beef that every mouthful made me smile:) Even more amazing than the flavor was the quality and quantity of the serving at Happy Hour of only $4.

I could have easily stopped eating after the beef tostada, but I wanted just one more bite, so I chose the wild caught crispy ling cod fish taco off the regular menu for $6.50. Served on a blue corn tortilla, with charred tomato crema, and lots of grape tomatoes, this may be one of be best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten!

For vegetarians or vegans they offer a cauliflower taco $6

The margarita was so strong, that I stopped by Blue Butterfly for an Americano before driving away. I think I’ve found two places where I will become one of the regulars they know by name:)

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Does anyone know what this is?

Are any of you fans of the TV series M*A*S*H*? Klinger’s favorite diner Tony Packo’s is famous for this! I was asked all those questions and didn’t know…so I will tell you the answer: a fried dill pickle! It was delicious! Sour, crunchy, salty, and you will definitely want more than one slice! Friends who live in the area near Old Town Torrance know this place well and had almost polished off the entire plate of ale battered fried pickles ($6.95) before I got there! They saved me one just because they love me:)

It was my first fried pickle, my first visit to Red Car Brewery, and my first Impossible Burger, a trifecta of winning experiences!

One of my friends ordered the Cobb Salad ($13.95) with balsamic and no bacon….I don’t share my friend’s palate, but the dish looked fresh. She didn’t care for the balsamic so asked for some ranch which she added to the salad…it didn’t seem to help her opinion of her meal.

Another friend ordered the grilled salmon ($17.95) with fresh vegetables which he demolished with relish.

I have been wanting to try the impossible burger, so when I saw it on the menu I had to order it! It came with coleslaw and either a salad or fries, so I opted for fries.

It was a very decent vegan burger with good taste and honestly with all the other components of the burger, it could have passed for meat. My friends thought the texture was a bit odd but they enjoyed it nonetheless.

I’m sure there will be return visits, but next time I will get there early and grab at least TWO slices of the fried pickle!

I live near the coastline again, but much further south, so when I am in the vicinity of my old neighborhood, I stop by for some of the local places that are now a trek (24 miles=1+ hour in traffic) from Palos Verdes.

 

The Independence is just a short block away from the beach, and they have a great Happy Hour. This is where I had my first Paloma, and I must say none I’ve had since have even come close to the perfectly balanced tart tequila and grapefruit drink I had here. The Happy hour half off price of $6 made it even better 🙂

I had the oysters, but I would order something else, like the mussels or meatballs at this gastropub next time.

Every so often I crave a great donut….Sidecar is my favorite in Los Angeles, and their gingerbread during the holiday season with powdered sugar stars (which I messed up, sorry) is as beautiful as it is delicious. I’m glad it is seasonal or I might devour one a day (ginger is good for you after all)!

 

The most dangerous donut is their bacon donut, especially when it is warm….I am not responsible if you eat more than one 🙂

Los Angeles is infamous for its traffic, and sometimes it just is not worth getting on any freeway or surface street until it’s a bit less clogged. Notice I said “a bit”…lately it seems there is no “off peak” time anymore, but unless you are masochistic or have the patience of a saint, avoiding anytime between 4-6 pm might save a life (your own if you have high blood pressure). Happy hours are a great invention to get some food and calming liquid into your system. Please don’t over indulge and drive drunk, but if you have some time and eat something, one drink might mellow you out for your 2-3 hour commute. I take the metro more  often than I drive, so not only do I get to indulge in adult beverages, but I also watch the cars on the freeway from my perch on the rails 🙂

I took the metro Expo line to the terminus at Santa Monica and discovered the Independence about a block away. Weekdays from 3-6pm they offer a selection of $5 drinks and bites. I had my first Paloma here and loved it! It was nice and tart and strong enough that even though I was walking, I only had one 🙂

I couldn’t resist the oysters, but I wouldn’t choose them again….the lack of expert shucking left bits of shell and they were not the freshest. Neighboring patrons had the mussels and meatballs that smelled wonderful, but I didn’t want to ruin my appetite for dinner.

I was out in Claremont and happened to be in time for Bardot’s Happy Hour from 3-6pm on weekdays. They have special promos most evenings and Wednesday is Whiskey night with $7 cocktails and delicious $3 bites like crab cake sliders. I had a food issue which was resolved so quickly and professionally that I went back the next week.

The drink and food specials change depending on the day of the week for happy hour, so when I went back it was Martini Monday night; $7 for top shelf brands like Ketel One, Grey Goose, or Bombay Sapphire. I chose a “hot and dirty”, basically a dirty martini with a splash of tabasco 🙂

The $5 tuna tartare was fantastic with a bit of seaweed, guacamole, mango, and micro greens to complement the very fresh and excellent ahi. The crispy fried and salted wonton chips were so good that I defy you to have just one!

I already love Red Herring for brunch, but after trying their happy hour, I also love them for later in the day. Their Happy Hour is Tuesday-Friday from 5-7pm when you can get wine or cava for $7 and duroc pork belly bacon BLT sliders for $5 on a parker house roll (you get TWO for that price).

Frida is a popular place for Mexican drinks and bites, but I’d never tried them until recently. They have Happy Hour everyday from 3-7pm, with additional late night Happy Hour Sunday-Thursday from 9-10pm and Friday-Saturday from 10-11pm. Well drinks are $5 and margaritas are $6 (add $2 for Cadillac or Agave). I chose the spicy and was very pleasantly surprised by the level of spice 🙂 

I didn’t want to drink on an empty stomach, so I ordered a veggie taco with portobello, zucchini, bell peppers, and tomato for $4. It was just enough to absorb some alcohol without filling me up too much to eat dinner.

When two friends braved the freeways to come see me, we stopped by for a quick drink and bite at Eden on Brand before a show. The space is modern, light, and airy, with the bar as the central focal point underneath a light sculpture.

One of my friends craved mac and cheese so we ordered it off the regular menu for $12. The pasta was a bit dense and thick for the lightly creamy sauce, but she enjoyed the flavors nonetheless.

Besides our drinks being discounted, their shrimp ceviche, with avocado cream, radish, and yuzu, was only $7 instead of $12. We all enjoyed this so much we would have ordered another if we had not been running late to the show. My friends loved their mojito, and when I told the bartender I preferred my paloma less sweet, he adjusted it perfectly 🙂

I think that happy hour doesn’t have to involve alcohol or savory food, and it can be anytime you want something to make you happy!

Three Twins organic ice cream makes me happy and if you don’t live near a location, you can buy their products in many markets nationwide. My cone of mint confetti in a teensy size was the perfect portion for me after a big lunch.

My other friends combined scoops of cardamom, strawberry, and Mexican chocolate to create their own bowl of joy:)

I may be a wine connoisseur, but I am a beer novice. I tasted my first beer in England before I was old enough to drink in the US, and after one sip, I decided I would rather drink cider. Many years later I tried some Japanese beer with my sushi and discovered that it was a fine beverage, but it was not my favorite, nor my first choice with my Japanese meals (I prefer sake). My first encounter with a beer I actually liked was in Belgium when I tasted the brews of my friends and found that I actually would have chosen their beer instead of my very mediocre glass of wine. Once I moved back to the US and was faced with the exorbitant prices of good glasses and bottles of wine, I wondered if a locally produced craft beer might actually be a good alternative. I have several friends who are well versed in beer and very happy to introduce me to their world. Another great educational resource here is the wonderful American attitude of service which means that many places will give you a taste of several beers so that you can decide which you prefer (unheard of in Europe). Aside from one pub that served four tastes of beers that my friends and I literally spit out, most places that pride themselves in their beers, offer delicious choices.

Most breweries offer food, and sometimes their food is as tasty as their beer, e.g., I would go to eat at Abigaile in Hermosa Beach even if I did not drink beer.

Some of my dearest friends live in San Pedro so when I visit them, we head to the San Pedro Brewery. It’s a very casual neighborhood place that feels like a West Coast version of Cheers where everyone knows if you are a local, and yes, they may even know your name. My friends knew the other patrons and the owner, and visa versa. Out of towners are welcome and treated like guests who will become regulars. Their menu includes everything from huge salads, to ribs, pasta, and full entrées. Most prices are in the $10-$15 range including the sides. They brew their own beers (they have won 80 awards), and have a blackboard full of choices ranging from blondes to stouts if you prefer another brewer.

Besides beef burgers, they have chicken, with a side of pasta salad,

ahi with vegetables (the teriyaki sauce was too sweet for me),

and of course fish and chips (my favorite of the three) with a crunchy crisp beer batter and tender cod, served with coleslaw and fries.

This unusual shot was called “chocolate cake” and tasted like a slice!

Congregation Ale House has several locations, all playing along the theme of a church where you would want to give thanks to a Beer and a Burger for saving your weary body from trekking somewhere else. They aren’t a gastro pub, but they do decent versions of snacks and burgers all for around or under $10.

This is their regular burger, always made with rib eye,

as is their weekly special California burger. They tend to cook them more done than not, so if you like your burger rare, you will probably not find it here.

Every table seemed to have an order of the spicy wings, served up in a very generous portion (about 8 pieces) and fairly spicy heat, with great crudites.

The specials on tap change constantly, and they will allow you a taste or two before deciding, so you can be sure to find something you like before committing the sin of ordering blindly 🙂

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.

Yelp Elite events in Paris are all fun, but the one last week at Les Piaules was one of my favorites:) Les Piaules translates to “little room” or crashpad” so it’s a perfect name for a hostel! Les Piaules is also a local hangout offering free wifi, 3€ ($3.30 USD) craft beer, and weekly events like live music and movies. This is one of the rare places that comfortably and easily allows tourists to mingle with people in the neighborhood.

A spacious outside terrace lets everyone take advantage of the rare days when it doesn’t rain, but comfortable sofas and stuffed chairs inside by the fireplace offer a cozy haven when the weather is chilly or wet.

Rooms come in a variety of sizes and prices, ranging from private double rooms with its own bathroom, to a shared dormitory for eight with shared bathroom. Prices range from around 35-120€ ($40-140 USD) depending on the season and space. This is one of the 4 bed dorms, with privacy blackout curtains, individual sockets, a private locker, and reading lamps.

The sense of humor of the owners is evident in the hallway signs 🙂

If you want to escape your room, and don’t want to relax in the bar, the rooftop is reserved for guests of the hostel with panoramic views of Montparnasse to Sacré Coeur.

Even on a gray day, the sunset over Paris rooftops is a picture worthy way to say goodnight 🙂

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 first Yelp Elite event* in Paris was in the neighborhood I know best, Paris’ 2nd arrondissement, but I would never have found Lockwood if not for the Yelp Community manager/organisers Elodie and Zeva, who put this event together. Meeting other people who love to eat and socialize here was fun, and even better when it’s in a place that is cozy, casual, and friendly with a great atmosphere!

The ground floor has small tables and a long communal one where people were sharing bites and drinks, but our private party was held downstairs in the cave, literally a cave that was carved out of stone walls. We had three marvelous bartenders mixing and pouring drinks which will be on their menu shortly.

This was the Ruby Caroll, a light slightly sweet drink, that would be great on a warm night.

I had the Mary Used to Smoke, and it was like a thin gazpacho with a smoky and spicy lingering taste that I enjoyed. It was an aromatic accompaniment to savory bites.

Behind the bar downstairs was a cozy lounge which was perfect for conversations with smaller groups.

We were treated to samples of their bites; Croque Monsieurs, a seared charcuterie on toast, and a tuna spread. I enjoyed all the savory bites, but the sweeter one that arrived later (that everyone demolished before I could take a picture of) was a hit with everyone except me.  I’m not really a sweet lover aside from excellent chocolate, so I’d say if you like sweet creamy foods, you would love their sweet bites.

The small lounge area behind the bar downstairs was next to their store of liquor….yes, kept behind bars and padlocked!

Definitely an address to go for drinks (they serve breakfast, lunch, and coffees too) and/or bites, when you want some place that’s unique and fun with nice service (they were swamped and still smiled)!

*Since this was a Yelp Elite event all my food and drinks were comped. Regular prices for food was between 5-8€ ($7-10), wine averaged 5€ ($7), cocktails 7-13€ ($10-16)and coffees were between 2,50-4 € ($4-7).

France may be known as a culinary capital, but buying kitchen supplies here can be so expensive that you may need to choose whether to invest in your retirement or your kitchen. Luckily I came here well equipped, but if I hadn’t, I would have tried to brave the crowds and crowded space of E. Dehillerin in Paris (I’m shuddering at the thought as I write this).

I would gladly travel to Dille and Kamille in Brussels to stock up on everything kitchen, garden, and housewares wise and carry it all back on the train with me to Paris. Dille & Kamille is a store which originated in the Netherlands and it’s a haven (or heaven) for anyone seeking any kitchen tool or accessory, garden supplies, spices, or herbal infusions for refreshingly low prices. It’s like a Crate & Barrel in the US, but with European products.

When I say they have everything, they really do, including a truffle mandoline for 14,95€ (about $20). There’s a small tea bar in the back so you can sample the infusions they offer before buying some to take home, and their prices are amazingly low for Europe.

A few blocks away there is a perfume shop which features high end and unique fragrances, candles, and infusers called Senteurs d’Ailleurs. It’s like entering a jewelbox with prices to match for candles that go to over 400€. It’s a treat for the senses, and if you want something unique, they will blend you a fragance or you can choose one that you won’t find in a regular shop.

Brussels is an ancient city and many of the former homes have been converted into shops. The former main residence (mansion) may be a shop or restaurant today with a long alley to the back where smaller offices or shops reside. The long corridors linking the front and back were once carriage passages, and the gardens surrounded by thick walls offer a quiet refuge from the street noise.

Some of the old accessories remain as part of the store entrances, like these chandeliers at the entrance to Abercrombie and Fitch.

After shopping all day, we headed towards the Grand Place and on the way walked past what was once a high end store called Old England. It’s now a music museum which has a tea salon on the top floor!

One of the most famous bars in Brussels is also a marionette museum called Toone. The alleys leading into and away from it were slightly creepy. Inside, ancient marionettes were on display and they have shows with them for entertainment.

Toone was not scary at all compared to La Cercueil, which as the name suggests has a coffin theme. Yes, your tables are atop actual coffins and the decor is very death oriented with skeletons. We went only because it was one of the must see places, but it was not at all my style and we did not stay more than the time it took to enter and turn around to leave.

Since evening was approaching, the lights of the city began to flicker on

giving a warm glow to the streets around the Grand Place.

There are several covered passages leading to the Grand Place and they were all lined with shops selling everything from chocolates to books.

Upon entering the Grand Place we went to one of the oldest brasseries, and got a seat on the 2nd floor with this view below.

It was a grand way to end the day 🙂

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