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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

It’s always fun to have lunch with friends, and one of them suggested Ford’s Filling Station. I love the food at Tender Greens next door, and the recently opened LYFE across the street, so stopping at a new spot was a challenge when my reflex is to go to the tried and true.

This was one of the original gastropubs in downtown Culver City, and it has managed to remain in business, so they must be doing something right. Personable service is one of the things they are doing right; from the moment I entered everyone made sure that I was comfortable waiting for the rest of my group to arrive.

When everyone did arrive, we sat in the shaded and sheltered patio and asked our waiter for suggestions on the lunch menu. Since I heard that they source their pigs from the same place as Lindy & Grundy, I knew the Bacon in the BLTA with roasted tomato, arugula and garlic aioli for $12 would be good. The bacon was great, unfortunately the aioli was basically just mayonnaise and the rest of the sandwich was not noteworthy with an excess of bun to filling ratio.

The crab salad with watercress, spring citrus, avocado, and a Meyer lemon dressing for $14 vied for my choice of entrees. It was freshly prepared and a pleasant light meal.

Two of us ordered the special of the day, the Grilled Steak Salad for $14. It arrived in a big wooden “trough” with butter lettuce, avocado (which seems to be a signature ingredient here), parmesan, and radishes. The steak was only offered medium rare and it was marinated in a chimichurri sauce, but it lacked flavor and seasoning and I found the entire salad rather bland.

Sometimes trying a new place makes you appreciate old favorites and as I ate my steak salad I longingly looked next door at Tender Greens, wishing I was eating there where I could have ordered a flavorful rare steak salad.

The drinks we had were great, one of us even got a shot of jalapeno infused tequila which she enjoyed, so if you are looking for a great place to have drinks and maybe a snack, like fried chick peas, taquitos, or bacon wrapped dates, this would be a good choice.

Ford's Filling Station on Urbanspoon

Tender Greens on Urbanspoon

Life in Los Angeles can be very good with a bit of advice. Double or triple the estimated drive time given by your map/direction/gps application. Don’t drive too far during rush hour (1 mile may take 30 minutes by car at 5pm). Don’t drive at all when it rains because even if you know how to drive in the rain, most other people who live here do not. Yes, all my advice has to do with driving, because even though I will travel for food, there are limits to the amount of stress I will endure. I would gladly swap going through TSA at LAX rather than be stuck in a car on the 405 heading to the Valley at 5pm.

Thankfully Lyfe (Love Your Food Everyday) just opened in Culver City, which means that I don’t have to drive to Stanford in Northern California to eat their lovely food. Lyfe focuses on sustainability, community, and being eco-friendly. Their version of “fast food” is healthy, varied, and embraces those who are gluten intolerant or vegetarian.

Everyone I encountered at Lyfe did their best to be helpful from the moment I entered (or got into line to enter) the restaurant, explaining the availability of different menus (one for regular, one for gluten free, and one for vegetarian), and offering samples (the flatbread Margherita was superb).

I ate in the first few times and received a GPS table tracker after placing my order. This handy device lets the food runners know EXACTLY where you are in the restaurant so you are assured to get your order as soon as it is ready.

For to go orders, their utensils are biobased (made from potatoes).

You may add either free range chicken, Gardein “chicken”, agave-lime tofu, grilled shrimp or grilled salmon to any salad for an additional $2-$4, so I added Gardein to the Farmer’s market salad ($8.99) of organic winter greens, blackberries, agave pickled onions, spiced pecans, and goat cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette. The menu listed calorie counts and sodium counts beside every item, so I knew my meal came in at 428 calories and 649 mg of sodium. I didn’t care about the counts as much as I cared about the flavor, so I was very happy to find that the low calorie count did not diminish the taste. The combination of fresh berries with the crunchy sweetness of the pecans, the creamy goat cheese, and the tartness of the vinaigrette worked very well together. I could eat this salad with a different protein combination all week.

I also tried the Gardein crispy chicken sandwich for $8.99 which came with a small side salad of kale and carrots. The sandwich had some very nice components, like shishito pepper relish, organic tomato and romaine lettuce, red onions, and chipotle aioli on multigrain bread. The quality of ingredients and the creativity of this sandwich recipe makes this a good choice for anyone who wants a healthier (and tastier) chicken sandwich than most places offer.

Seeing grilled Barramundi listed as one of their entree choices for only $12.99 surprised me in the best possible way. Barramundi is one of my favorite fishes and for those who like Sea Bass, it is a great alternative to the ubiquitous salmon found on nearly every menu. Served with edamame, napa cabbage, baby spinach, shittake mushrooms, and scallions in a spicy broth, you can choose the regular version with soba noodles, or the gluten free without (which is what I chose because I don’t like soba noodles). It was not very spicy at all, but I enjoyed the broth, vegetable, and fish combination very much. The grilled Barramundi was a bit over cooked, but dipping it in the broth alleviated the minor dryness.

Yes, life and Lyfe are good in Southern California, especially when there are fresh and healthy choices in a pedestrian area close to home.

LYFE Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sourdough Pizza? Yes, you read that correctly. Wildcraft has combined a Neapolitan style pizza place with gastropub ingredients to create a hybrid that works. With a wood oven that heats to 900 degrees Farenheit, the pizzas are literally made to order and delivered to you in minutes. For those die hard fans of authentic Napoli or New York style pizza, this is neither, but it is a nice fusion stepchild of both. This is the latest venture by the people who created Abigaile in Hermosa Beach, so it’s nice that I get the same food talent now closer to home.

Located in the heart of Culver City, it is easy to access with two free parking structures and is walking distance to both the movie theater and Sony studios. Whether you are watching a movie or making one nearby, this is a convenient place for lunch, happy hour, or dinner.

I could make a meal out of the appetizers here. The fried green olives wrapped in fennel sausage, topped with grated parmesan and almonds for $8 ($5 during happy hour) are the perfect small bites to share for those who want a bit of meaty substance to a bar bite.

When I ordered these I thought the olives were stuffed WITH the fennel sausage, but the olives are stuffed IN the fennel sausage. It actually tastes better this way because it tastes more like meat with a surprise filling, and how often do you find that?

For vegetarians, there are several pizzas and menu items like the baby spinach salad with salt roasted beets, walnuts, goat cheese, and avocado in a balsamic dressing for $9-14 depending on the size. You can add chicken to this and make it a heartier dish if you wish for $3.25. The one pictured is the large size and I recommend this only for a full meal unless you are a a large rabbit! The flavors were superb, but the dressing was a bit excessive, so if you like your greens lightly dressed, ask for your dressing on the side.

Another one of the appetizers I could eat as a meal by itself is the tuna crudo with veggie couscous, pistachios, and pea tendrils for $14 ($10 during happy hour). This is a light and filling dish that would please any pescatarian. What other pizza place would have this on their menu?

I had to try one of their pizzas, so I went with the white pizza with pork belly, fresh Manila clams, oregano, and red onions for $17 (I could not find nor taste any of the chilies nor fried sage that was supposed to have been on this pizza). I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I liked the slightly sourdough crust and that the toppings worked well together. I would have liked more toppings and the missing chilies and fried sage would have added a nice complexity that I found lacking in this pizza, but I enjoyed it enough to take half of the 12″ pie home.

Go for their “Rest & Relaxation” happy hour from 4-7pm when you can get a Cabernet or Pinot Gris for $5, or one of their micro brew ales for $4. They offer complimentary flat or sparkling filtered water, and if you want a full meal with dessert, they also have espresso and tea.

Sometimes Californian hybrids work, and they do in this case.

Wildcraft Sourdough Pizza on Urbanspoon

After trying Muddy Leek during Dine LA last week, I went back with a friend for lunch today. The house salad with arugula, baby beets, pistachios, and goat cheese is a fresh way to start your meal for $10.

Today’s salad special was made with avocado, mandarin orange segments, radishes, candied almonds, and arugula with a citrus dressing. No matter which salad you prefer, each is made with farm fresh produce and prepared with a light dressing which enhances the ingredients instead of masking or drowning them.

The special soup was chicken with a fermented cabbage (think of a mild version of kimchee). It’s a wonderfully hearty dish and I could have easily made this my meal. If you like hot & sour soup, you would probably enjoy this milder version made with chicken thigh meat. They also had a turnip puree and a sweet potato rosemary soup if you prefer other more vegetable based soups for $5.

I chose the leek and potato tart for $12 which came with a nicely dressed arugula salad. The tart needed some salt, and the crust was a bit underdone, but overall it was a pleasant vegetarian dish.

The hit of the meal was the grass fed sliders with wasabi aioli on brioche mini buns and sweet potato fries for $14. We asked for extra rare and got it 🙂 The excellent buns with just the right amount of aioli to slider ratio made this the perfect small bite (two 4 oz sliders). Sweet potato fries were a nice creative variation on the standard fries that accompany burgers.

The warm chocolate cake with freshly made whipped cream for $7 was such a delight that I actually ate more than one spoonful! The consistency of the warm cake with chocolate sauce and freshly whipped cream made this about as close to perfection as I have eaten in a chocolate dessert. Not too sweet and not too rich, but sweet and rich enough to satisfy a dessert lover (my friend the former pastry chef)!

The decor is modern with music by Nina Simone, and outdoor seating on warmer days makes this a perfect spot for a lazy afternoon, especially if you can stop by for happy hour between 4-6pm when they serve bites like pizzettes and merguez “hot dogs”.

Eating in a place which embraces local organic and sustainable ingredients with servers like Sergio providing the paradigm of excellent service makes Muddy Leek a wonderful stop next time you’re shopping at nearby Surfas for that must have gourmet spice or gadget.

Muddy Leek on Urbanspoon

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