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>I miss France and whenever I am not there I look for places that remind me of France, especially the food. Since I brought back some macarons from Paul (a French Bakery) for a friend here in Los Angeles, he suggested I try the macarons at La Provence in Brentwood to contrast and compare the authentic ones from the Brentwood version. The motto of the cafe is “local, fresh, and organic” so if you care about where your food is sourced, this place will put you at ease.

This cute bakery/cafe has a beautiful display showcasing their macarons and pastries as you enter, and it is a very casual place where you order at the counter and they deliver the food to you, so it’s perfect for a quick lunch (they also serve dinner).

We decided to make a lunch of it with two other friends on a warm day when sitting out on the patio in March was not only pleasant, but preferable to sitting indoors. Shelly chose the Turkey Club Sandwich, served with a side of fries or salad for $10.95, and she enjoyed the oven roasted turkey, baked bacon, avocado, tomato, muenster cheese and mayo on fresh french bread.

Both Wendy & Jessie ordered panninis, made with avocado, mozzarella, tomato, arugula, and aioli pesto for $10.50; they both were cafe habitu├ęs and this was one of their favorites.

I chose the Nicoise Salad with Ahi, made with green beans, tomatoes, hard boiled egg, and kalamata olives served on a bed of greens in a mustard vinaigrette for $14.95; it was a decent version, with medium rare ahi and a nice balance of classic ingredients. I would probably order one of the sandwiches or specials next time, but I wanted to try my standard for lunch and see how they fared (passing).

We came for dessert, and particularly the macarons, so I got their chocolate ganache cupcake and a chocolate macaron to go. The macaron was a good version of the classic French ones, but I found them a bit too big and sweet for my taste, however most Americans would probably love them. I also found the flavors a bit artificial and the coloring a bit bright, so although they are fresh and delicate, they fell short of my requirements for excellent macarons. My friends all loved them, so I must note that I am simply pickier than most when it comes to a product I know from its place of origin.

On the other hand, the chocolate cupcake was THE BEST I have EVER had! I would come back to eat the cupcake alone! It had the perfect balance of frosting to cake, a wonderful texture with just enough moisture and crumb, and just enough sweetness to make you want to eat the entire thing (and not get a toothache). I can not rave about this cupcake enough, so you will just have to go and taste one for yourself. If you don’t like deep chocolate nirvana, there are other choices, like a red velvet and a salted caramel.

La Provence is a full fledged bakery, making full sized cakes (think a party version of the chocolate ganache cupcake), so if you fancy a white chocolate strawberry shortcake, or a hazelnut mousse cake, or a lemon caramel meringue brulee cake for a party (or dinner), order one and delight your senses.

With decent food, a varied menu, reasonable prices, and a nice atmosphere, La Provence may not be the South of France, but it is a nice place to stop by for lunch or dessert in Brentwood (or Beverly Hills) until you can get to Provence, France.

La Provence Cafe on Urbanspoon

>Today is Mardi Gras, and what better way to splurge than to spend the night in Beverly Hills? Even better, how would you like an extra free night in your plush Beverly Hills hotel room?

Click here for the list of participating hotels in Beverly Hills which are giving away a free night if you book 1-3 nights*, and they are including a free breakfast in the deal! You have until June 30, 2011 to book your stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel (in a bungalow), L’Ermitage, The Penninsula (in a suite), The Montage, or the Beverly Hilton.

Laissez les bons temps rouler today or as they might say in Beverly Hills, “Let the marvelous times begin”.

*There are varying minimum stays required for different hotels, so check before you book.

>The best advertising a restaurant can have is a line of potential patrons waiting for a table. I first noticed Porta Via while walking around Beverly Hills because it has a very inviting sidewalk patio and there was a line of diners waiting for a seat.

When Cindy came to town for lunch, we decided to try it even though we waited for nearly 20 minutes for a table at 1:30pm. I would suggest reserving a table if you want to eat during the height of lunch or dinner rush times to avoid a wait.

The hostess and waitress were both very friendly and professional, a refreshing way to be welcomed in attitude-centric Beverly Hills. The hostess even took our drink order and had it delivered before we could decide what we wanted to eat!

I chose one of the daily specials, a seared sesame encrusted tuna salad, with avocado,  daikon sprouts, shaved red onions, pickled ginger, and green beans in a ponzu vinaigrette that was so delicious I literally cleaned my plate of the last sprout. If this is ever offered as a special, order it!

Cindy ordered a half sandwich and half salad combo with a Tuna Sandwich made with white albacore tuna, homemade lemon mayonnaise, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, on honey wheat bread. For her salad she chose the chopped version, made with organic beets, organic chopped lettuces, green beans, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, shaved parmigiano champagne shallot vinaigrette. She adored her salad, but not the tuna sandwich as much. I tasted the tuna and found it fine, but Cindy found it a bit boring.

Using fresh organic produce and quality free range products, this is a great choice for anyone concerned with pure ingredients in their food. The biggest reason to come here is the tasty food and the range of options, for vegetarians and carnivores alike (even the daily special soup always has a nondairy version). With warm service and very reasonable prices (we paid $46 for both meals, including one non alcoholic drink, tax and a 20% tip).

Porta Via will become a regular stop whenever we are hungry in Beverly Hills.

Porta Via on Urbanspoon

One of my favorite Italian restaurants is Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills with pasta that is so delicate and light that it literally melts in your mouth. With Dine LA week in full force, I tried their sister restaurant next door, Enoteca Drago for lunch.

I went on a wonderfully sunny day in January, where in Beverly Hills, the temperature was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Dining outdoors, I got some sun and enjoyed people watching at the same time. The friendly welcome was a harbinger of the professional service to come as I was invited to pick any seat on the patio and told about the Dine LA $22 menu as soon as I sat down.

I started with the Vitello Tonnato, which I have never seen on any menu here in Los Angeles. For those who have never had this dish of thinly sliced veal with a creamy tuna infused sauce, this version is an excellent introduction; the tender veal and caper accents made this a mouthwatering appetizer.

For my entree I chose the shrimp ravioli with lobster sauce and zucchini puree. The ravioli was unusual with one side of each ravioli made of squid ink pasta. I found the lobster sauce magnificent, but the texture of the pasta here was not the light heavenly version found next door at Il Pastaio. The squid ink pasta was partially to blame for this, but I literally needed a knife to cut the ravioli and it made me long to go next door for the ethereal pasta at the sister restaurant.
The shrimp were slightly over done, but not to the point of being rubbery and the filling was a nice if not inspired mixture of seafood.

I chose the pear Napoleon for dessert and received this architectural medley of pear chutney with almond ice cream and almond brittle. It was beautiful and not too sweet, but a bit difficult to eat, even with the spoon and fork given with the dish.

The service I received here was among the best; no one hovered, yet as soon as I placed my silverware on the plate after eating, it was immediately removed. I was asked if I wanted any drinks with my meal, then asked if I wanted coffee with my dessert. After every dish I was asked how I liked it and I am sure if there had been any problems it would have been rectified immediately. Timing is very important when it comes to service, and the timing of the staff here is impeccable.

Enoteca Drago on Urbanspoon

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