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Rabano is one of those places that make me appreciate living in the South Bay.  Supporting small businesses that make fresh, tasty. and healthy food is always a pleasure, and the added bonus of having them close by, makes it on my list of go to places when I don’t want to either cook or drive.

It is popular and the parking lot is tiny, so either go at a non peak time, or park on a nearby street like Artesia or Prospect. The parking is the only drawback here; once you get inside you may either order on the tablets in front of the large menu on the wall (there are daily blackboard specials by the cashier) and take a number, or if you prefer human interaction, order at the cash register. The choices are very straightforward, but on my first visit, it was a bit overwhelming. For the bowls, you can choose any item with white or brown rice, ancient grains, or salad. For the salads and sandwiches, it pretty much self explanatory unless you want an upgrade or add on.

I was very impressed at the quality of the ingredients for the prices. Grass fed beef burgers for $12, free-range chicken in the salads and sandwiches, hand made sodas and dressings.

Their pork belly knockout, with lemongrass marinated pork belly, a sweet miso glaze, gochujang, wilted spinach, pickled slaw and watercress on ancients grains for $11.50, was a hearty meal. Tender pork belly with the contrasting bright pickled slaw, and greens made it a filling bowl, but not heavy or greasy. I put my leftovers on arugula when I got home and had a second meal from my leftovers.

The Lechon Cubano of cuban style pulled pork, mojo criollo, black beans, red pickled onions, and sweet plantains for $9.50 nice riff on Cuban pork. I found my serving about half fat, half pork, but even so, there was more than enough pork and flavor to make me happy. I added lots of hot sauce to spice it up, and next time I would ask for more of the pickled red onions to perk it up.

My favorite bowl here is the El Koreano for $11.50 with grilled certified Angus beef (you can choose free range chicken instead), baby bok choy, cucumber, carrot, gochujang, house kimchi, and a sweet umami glaze. I chose it over white rice, but next time I would choose either ancient grains or brown rice. All the contrasting textures and flavors, from the crunch of the cucumbers to the tender meat and the wonderful home-made spice of the kimchi, worked together to create a colorful complimentary composition.

Service was both friendly and efficient, with a harmonious energy that echoed the food they serve; it really is true that the back of the house is as important as the front of the house, and the house at Rabano is well kept inside and out.

Since my first visit in 2009, I’ve been enamored with Rock Sugar. (For those of you who missed my previous posts, here are #1#2, and #3) I wrote my first back to back posts on Rock Sugar because I just couldn’t wait to go back to eat more and share the beautiful space and excellent food.

It’s always comforting to go back to a favorite and find that it is still a favorite; as I found with A Food Affair recently 🙂 Even though the Westfield Century City Mall was literally torn to the ground and rebuilt into a completely modern chic mecca of food and shopping (Eataly is now here), some of the older restaurants and stores remain in the same place and still draw their loyal clientele.

This water wall on the patio was a soothing sight on a busy week-end.

The most soothing of all is eating comfort food like Singaporean noodles with shrimp, done so perfectly that you have no desire to even attempt to recreate it at home. The balance of spices, textures, and seasoning was so completely satisfying that somehow we finished the plate even though we said we were full halfway through it.

The short rib banh mi was a nice counterpoint to the noodles, with slightly sweet beef, crunchy pickled vegetables, and a side salad with crispy taro strips.

 Even the bathrooms are every bit as delightful as the food 🙂

The saddest part is leaving, but we must leave in order to return again 🙂

Sunny Spot is an aptly named eatery in Marina Del Rey with an expansive enclosed patio which allows glimpses of blue skies even during the grayest of Southern California days. Our weather this week has been overcast skies with temperatures that have hovered in the 60-70 Fahrenheit range. Fortunately the smiles and the Caribbean ambiance here would brighten even rainy days, and they have indoor seating if the rumor is true that it truly rains in Southern California.

I am always impressed when the service team works together, but I am absolutely astounded when a manager steps in to take orders and clear plates. Matt, the manager during a prime time Sunday brunch came to take my order, gave it to my waitress, came back, cleared my plate, and asked how everything was, all with the grace of a symphony conductor who was filling in for one of the musicians in his orchestra, never missing a note.

I learned that one reason that brunch is so popular is that they offer bottomless mix and match cocktails like Mimosas and Bloody Marys for $10, so people come and stay all afternoon. I tried a Bloody Mary and it was delicious, with enough spice and kick to rival another brunch hot spot, Joe’s, in nearby Venice. Although it was VERY loud, several people came with children in strollers, so this place is a kid friendly for brunch. Hopefully the kids in the strollers all had a sober driver to get them home…..

My waitress recommended the “Cash Money Calamari” for $9 ($6 during happy hour) and when it arrived I was disappointed with the color, which made it look undercooked. It was perfectly tender and lightly salted, but for aesthetics I would have preferred a more golden appearance. The spicy cocktail sauce and lemon helped, but it lacked flavor that would have made it special.

Since I wanted something spicy, and they are known for their wings marinated in habanero for $9 ($5 during happy hour), I segued on to their jerk wings. At first bite, I didn’t feel any spice, but as I kept eating the warmth glowed like an ember, a bit stronger with every bite. If you are in the least bit sensitive to heat, do NOT get these because although I loved the flavor, by the end of my second wing I was looking for some milk. If you love heat, go for these. They are not super crispy even though they are double fried, but they are not mushy or greasy either.

The “one fisted” slider was adorable, about 3″ in diameter, on a brioche bun with tomato jam, arugula, cheddar, herb mayo, and the perfect bar bite at $3 during happy hour or you can get the “two fisted” burger for $13 which is “normal” sized.

The brunch menu had a “Sunfire chicken salad” which is their Sunfire Salad, made butter lettuce, radicchio, arugula, cauliflower, grapefruit, goat cheese, a chili lime vinaigrette, made with the addition of jerk chicken for $13. This was my least favorite item because the jerk chicken was barely spiced, the greens were overly dressed, and it was not tossed well, with nearly all of the ingredients at the bottom of the plate under the lettuce. Because I ordered this during their Brunch and they were literally jam packed, I might try this again when the kitchen isn’t slammed.

When the hostess, wait staff, bus staff, and manager all work together as a team during the height of a holiday brunch and manage to stay upbeat as they do their work, they bring a bright Sunny Spot to the gloomiest days in Marina Del Rey.

Sunny Spot on Urbanspoon

My friend Cindy wanted to spend a day shopping, eating, and getting our nails done, so we chose to spend our day in the neighborhood around Robertson in Beverly Hills. Robertson is paparazzi central during the day with numerous stores and restaurants which attract both celebrities and their stalkers; tourists get can a taste of the Hollywood lifestyle here and for an out of towner like Cindy, it added an element of entertainment to our day together.

We went to Chaya because it had been nearly a year since we have gone there and they have since remodeled and hired a new chef; it was like going to a new restaurant in a familiar location. The remodel took away the outdated rattan fans and replaced them with a bamboo and white muslin garden, creating a relaxing atrium space in the center of the restaurant. It felt clean and peaceful and the food was as clean and fresh as the new space.

Nice crusty bread was offered with an olive tapenade as we sat down.

Cindy chose to start with the roasted beet salad with oranges, mizuna, goat cheese, and campari for $9. She adored the detail design of the goat cheese and delighted in the taste of the campari.

I began with the tuna tartare for $16. It was a great rendition of this classic, with lightly dressed fresh sashimi on an avocado base. The tasted bread accompaniment was a nice touch, adding a hearty crunchiness to the delicate tartare.

Cindy chose the tuna, tuna, tuna as her entree, with spicy tuna, tuna sashimi, and tuna tataki on a bed of mixed greens for $18. She asked for pickled ginger to accompany her dish, but enjoyed her salad without the accompaniment. She said it was the best tuna combination she has ever had (and she has had a lot of tuna).

I chose the soy glazed black cod with sesame soy dressing, bok choy, steamed rice, and a side of fried shittake mushrooms for $20. I love how Chaya Venice does their fish, and this branch is just as deft in their handling of fish; it was perfectly cooked and the sides were a nice contrast of textures with the crunchy tempura shittakes and the tender steamed bok choy. Although only the fish was soy glazed, the sides really did not need any sauce since the glaze on the rice added a nice accent without overpowering the main flavor of the fish.

We had no room for dessert so we paraded ourselves around Robertson, but no paparazzi were interested in photographing us; no matter, we preferred being happy rather than being famous anyway.

Chaya on Urbanspoon

One of my favorite times of the year is when Dine LA week is in effect, and it’s even better when one of the participating restaurants is one I frequent, like Rock Sugar. When $16 buys you three courses at lunch, it’s time to eat lunch out, and try out new dishes, while ordering old favorites.

We started with an appetizer we had never tried here before, the chicken potstickers. The dense meaty dumplings were served with a ponzu dipping sauce which boosted the rich flavor with a little zing. These are not my favorite potstickers, I found the meat too coarsely chopped and densely packed in doughy wrappers, but they were not bad.

We also ordered our favorite chicken samosas, filled with a chicken and a spice medley that was not hot, but very aromatic. The crunchy envelope of filo was a nice contrast to the tender ground chicken, and the cilantro dipping sauce added a nice extra component of texture for those who want it. This was the appetizer favorite for the table.

One of my friends ordered the chicken with red curry and received a small cast iron pot filled with vegetables. This was one of the new dishes (for us) and since she does not like shiitake mushrooms, she asked for them to be omitted. She was pleasantly surprised when the dish arrived with the addition of asparagus, which she loves. This is a very rich hearty dish, and you can have brown or white rice with it, so it is perfect cold weather food.

Our favorite main course here is the clay pot beef, and although the lunch portion is smaller than the dinner version, it was still more than I could finish in one sitting. If you only order one dish here, order this one.

Since we wisely stopped eating our entrees when we felt full, we saved some room for dessert. The popular banana caramelized cake served with chocolate ice cream was a hit, but our favorite dessert was not this one.

We have a weakness for doughnuts, so when we saw coconut doughnuts served with a passion fruit sauce on the menu, we knew we had to try it. If everything else in the meal had been terrible, these doughnuts would have saved it. The delicate doughnuts, still hot from the fryer and topped with toasted coconut were divine, but when dipped in the passionfruit sauce, they became ethereal. Everyone fought over this dessert, even though a dessert for one included TWO doughnuts!

Fortunately, DineLA week lasts two weeks and comes around twice a year, unlike Christmas; I know what I am going to be ordering at Rock Sugar during the next DineLA week (well, I should say that I know what I want for dessert).

Rock Sugar on Urbanspoon

Having been to Beacon for dinner (see my previous post), I wanted to try lunch on their patio during the day, and what better day than one in October when temperatures hit 80 here in Los Angeles? Even better than the weather, was the deal they had with set lunch menus for $16 during Dine LA week.

I started with the roasted beet and apple salad, served with goat cheese, toasted almonds and dressed with a miso white balsamic sauce. This salad is fusion as it should be, a medley of flavors which actually compliment each other without battling for attention. It was a nice refreshing way to start of my meal.

For my main course I chose the pulled pork sandwich with Asian slaw, and just looking at the picture is making my mouth water for another bite of this rich and crunchy balance. The soft bread allowed me to actually take a full bite and taste the sweetly sauced tender pork with the crisp cabbage and carrot Asian slaw which offered a nice counterpoint to the rich pork.

Portions were reasonable enough that I actually had room for my dessert of coconut panna cotta with strawberries and lychees. Normally I don’t like panna cotta, but I love coconut, so I figured I would give this dessert a taste. I liked the smooth light panna cotta so much I ate nearly half of it before eating the fruit!

Beacon is not only a Beacon in the night, but also in the day when you can enjoy the creative cuisine of Asians living in the West. Beacon truly is the best of both worlds.

Beacon on Urbanspoon

I have been wanting to try Beacon for years, but I wanted fellow foodies to join me so we could try several things on the menu. Tonight I finally went with Bob & Janet and we were all so happy with every course that we all agreed to come back and try the rest of the menu.

We started with the Kaki Fry ($6.50) of crispy oysters in lettuce cups with a Yuzu-tartar sauce. A perfect balance of crunchy, rich, warm and cold textures in a delectable two bite appetizer.

We chose the Lamb Sliders ($6.25) as our next appetizer. Made with grilled Colorado lamb, kimchee and feta, this taste sensation was a combo of exotic ingredients that worked so well, we ordered another as soon as we tasted the first one. This was our favorite dish of all for all three of us.

Janet ordered the roasted beet and apple salad ($11.50) and we were glad she did as soon as we tasted the herbed goat cheese tart and toasted almonds in a white balsamic vinegar miso dressing. This would have been a wonderful meal by itself for a small eater, but none of us was a small eater.

We also tried the 5 spice chicken salad ($10.50) with Napa slaw, crispy noodles and sesame dressing, which was a nice juxtaposition of flavors and a refreshing addition to our menu.

The Ahi Tuna Pizza ($8.95) was too intriguing to pass up, so we had to try it and we were all surprised at how well the raw tuna on top of the wasabi mayonnaise worked with the pickled ginger on a pizza crust.

Because there was a sushi roll named after the place, we had to order the Beacon roll ($7.95) which was a cucumber wrapped salmon, avocado and crab filled roll with ponzu gelee on top. We would have ordered another one if we did not have another large plate coming.

Our last plate of the evening was the Grilled Hanger Steak ($18.95) with a tamarind sauce, served with a three cheese macaroni dish that was our second favorite dish of the night. The meat was cooked exactly as we ordered it (medium rare), tender, juicy, and infused with a flavor unique to tamarind. Even though I usually do not like macaroni & cheese, I could not stop eating this side dish with its perfect crust and melange of cheesy creaminess.

I don’t know how we managed to eat dessert, but somehow the rice crispy treats with vanilla ice cream and a caramel and chocolate sauce made us all loosen our belts enough for a taste. It was very well done, but a bit “normal” after all the taste sensation we had been treated to all night.

Go and head to Beacon, it was truly a beacon of extraordinary innovative cuisine in the heart of Culver City.

Beacon on Urbanspoon




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