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I am an omnivore who likes almost everything except lima beans 🙂  Many of my friends are pescatarians, so finding places that offer delicious fish means more choices for everyone. I’ve heard good things about Urban Plates, so I tried their grilled wild albacore. It was a very generous portion for $13.50 and although all the ingredients were fresh, they were also plainly boiled or unseasoned, and unfortunately the vinaigrette did not perk things up.

After going to another location of King’s Fish House that was very disappointing, it was refreshing to go to the one in Victoria Gardens and find that everything was cooked with deft skills and served with a professional demeanor. The simple codfish and chips (substituted spinach for the chips) for $13.50,

and the grilled ahi with vegetable side and upgraded asparagus side for around $30 were executed perfectly, not overly done, and very generously portioned.

Sonny’s Bistro has a great lunch menu including the crunchy ahi salad for $14 that makes it a bargain for lunch. Because I love sand dabs and rarely find them on any menu, I ordered them here for $22 and devoured the plate along with a side salad that kept me satiated all day.

 

Sometimes all I need is a nice piece of grilled fish for a meal. A friend picked up a bento box for me along with an extra side of mackerel from At Home Kitchen. For only $6.50, this is a great alternative to cooking mackerel at home where you must deal with the smell and splatter.

I can count on one hand the people who are willing to wait for a table at Sushi Gen with me, but the ones who have the patience are rewarded with some of the freshest fish in Los Angeles. I always go for the chirashi at lunch, but if you are more traditional, the sushi deluxe or sashimi are equally good and none of them will serve you any of the crappy salmon that finds its way into most other sushi restaurants, and that alone is worth the wait!

 

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A local told me about Metro Cafe, but when we tried to go during brunch the line was so long that there was even a line going into their parking lot; a very unusual sight for a place that is attached to a Travelodge! This is one of those neighborhood gems hidden in plain sight, known only by the locals who are willing to ignore the usual association of bad diner food cafes attached to national chain motels. Once I tasted their food, I literally went back for breakfast lunch and dinner within 2 weeks and on one day went back for dinner after eating breakfast there!

Being a Californian cafe, they use local and organic ingredients in several of their items, but what sets them apart for me is the elevated skill of their kitchen to turn out the usual suspects of omelettes, salads, and entrées like lamb chops, into dishes worthy of a detour. Their generous portions, and efficient service have made this a regular stop for many who have their own reserved seats, so call ahead if you want a reservation especially during busy brunch week-end times, or end of the week dinner times.

This plate of ham and eggs looks plain and simple, but the flavor of the ham was accented by the grill, and the potatoes hidden under the toast were nicely crisp. Even garnish of the piece of fruit was ripe and juicy for $13 this was enough for two.

The Serbian Americana for $14 is served with cured meat and mozzarella, a hearty breakfast with a twist on the american meat and cheese.

All their omelettes are $13, and the pesto portabella mushroom was so fluffy and loaded with mushrooms, that I had trouble finishing the eggs, never mind the remainder of the plate.

Lunch of a simple tuna sandwich for $13 with sweet potato fries, was surprisingly tasty with a tuna salad that had the fresh crunch of vegetables, and a light hand with the mayo.

For the vegans and health conscious, they had several options like the farro salad, which you could add chicken, salmon, or steak to for an additional supplement. I added chicken breast for a total of $17 and was surprised at how moist and flavorful the chicken was, with a nice char to complement the hearty salad.

Dinner was equally impressive, with some very decent wines from around the world. Nearly all the entrées are around $30, including the lamb chops with grilled vegetables; when a meat lover eats all the vegetables on the plate, you know they are perfectly seasoned.

The lamb osso bucco was a giant lamb shank, that was my meal for 2 days. That is large slices of cheese on top that were really overkill for the delightfully slow cooked and tender shank.

The gorgeous sea beam was a spectacular sight to behold, along with marvelous roasted vegetables, but it was slightly overcooked. It was a very large portion for the price of $28, and I was impressed that they served the entire fish rather than just a filet.

If you are anywhere near Culver City or West Los Angeles, find this small cafe, and enjoy the food before it becomes so well known that you won’t be able to get a seat unless you are a regular:)

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.

There are very limited choices up here on the hill overlooking the ocean. There are a few fast food chains, or very mediocre expensive places, but a glimmer of good cooking using organic and farm fresh ingredients recently opened in the Promenade Shopping Center called Once Upon A Table. They are so new they don’t even have a Yelp listing yet (but I am sure that they will after this blog post goes live).

Brenda, the owner/chef, is a caterer who decided to open up a brick and mortar location, and although she is still catering, this set-up allows for a source of new clientele and a place that gives her the space to showcase her talents.

The tomato soup was so good that I came back for a bowl after having a cup with a sandwich on my first visit. It is a nice balance of acid and sweet tomato without any need for the addition of cream. It would be a perfect pair with their grilled cheese sandwich on a cold day (yes, they do have a grilled cheese sandwich on their menu).

I chose the pastrami sandwich for my first meal. Served hot on grilled rye bread, with coleslaw and cheese on rye, this was a bastardization of my beloved NY classic, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, which says a lot about the place that even the pickle was excellent:) Everything on the menu is around $10, so the prices are extremely reasonable for the quality of ingredients.

Another day, another sandwich, this time a grilled vegetable sandwich on focaccia. I liked the way the vegetables still had body and some texture, and the flavor of their essence was maintained. A wonderful choice for vegetarians and vegans.

This hearty and wonderful bowl of cobb salad to go was beautiful, and if the romaine had not been so bitter, I would have enjoyed it tremendously. Unfortunately it is not possible to control the bitterness or peppery flavor of certain ingredients, so they get an absolute pass on that because the other ingredients were superb, from the perfect avocado to the crisp bacon, the moist chicken, and the ripe tomatoes.

My favorite choice (so far) is the turkey sandwich, with moist perfectly sliced breast meat so perfectly balanced with ripe tomato, avocado, and a a thin slice of cheese to add a nice mouthfeel on toasted sourdough. It is a very hearty portion for under $10 including tax and tip.

I think I may have found my go to spot up on the hill for lunch 🙂

Los Angeles is more than 10 times more spread out than Paris, so my friends are also 10 times more spread out here than in France 😦

One of my lunches was in Orange County at Panini Cafe, a small chain that has branches throughout Southern California, serving Mediterranean inspired plates, with a few Southern California standards like the tuna melt I ordered. I liked the lack of mayonnaise in the tuna salad, but as you can see from the picture, the cheese was not melted.

My friend and I split the sandwich and this eggplant stuffed with rice and ground beef. It was a very generous portion and redolent with earthy spices that gave it comfort food appeal. In true Californian style, we took half our meal with us in doggie bags, so the mid teen $ prices are a bargain for the fresh flavors and portions.

Another day another lunch, or in this case, brunch in South Pasadena at Mike & Anne’s. We started with a Bloody Mary, that was as potent as the $15 price tag.

For this meal, we both chose the salad Niçoise with seared rare ahi. The ingredients were farm fresh, but we had to asked for extra dressing to make the salad pop.

For the third lunch with yet another friend, we went to Cafe del Rey in Marina Del Rey. We arrived around 2pm when most people had finished lunch and got an unobstructed view of the marina from our booth. Unfortunately we waited for 30 minutes before anyone came by our table. I went to the host stand to ask for a server and they realized at that point that no one had been assigned to serve our table. When our waitress arrived she apologized profusely even though it was not her fault.

My friend chose the poached salmon kale salad and loved the mix of golden raisins, almonds, and chickpeas for $22.

I chose the quiche, made with applewood smoked bacon, spinach, and Gruyère, served with a side of arugula for $15. The quiche was very good, but I found the thick crust a bit underdone in the middle.

To walk off our late lunch, we strolled Abbot Kinney and had macchiatos at Intelligentsia where I added a bit of chocolate to end our day on a sweet note 🙂

President Thai was recommended by two unrelated food lovers, so I went to to lunches 🙂 The immense building, menu, and long lines, could have been overwhelming, but the service was so kind, patient, efficient, and happy, that I felt as if I was their honored guest. If you are ever in the neighborhood, or simply want to be in a place where you are surrounded by genuine smiles, head over to president Thai.

They start off all lunch specials with either a bowl of delectable soup or a small salad.

The first time I tried their beef because this was their most popular dish. The meat was tender, the flavors were balanced, and the portion was huge! Even as a lunch special for around $10, this was easily enough for two meals; the picture is a bit deceiving because the layers of meat are a bit hidden under the garnish.

I chose the chicken with rice noodles for another lunch and was happy

to add any variety of spice I wanted to my dish. The portion was again very generous and I ate two meals from the one order.

Sushi Roku has many locations, and I have eaten there several times, but I had never tried their Happy Hour until recently. Served only in the bar area (inside or outside), the selections are varied enough for those who like cooked and raw choices. I began with a $5 beer since it was so hot.

A yellow tail and scallion cut roll and a salmon skin hand roll (not crisp) at $5 each started things off,

segued into $5 tempura green beans and another order of the yellow tail cut roll.

The Albacore tacos for $6 were a good choice for those who like fusion.

The hit of the happy hour was the $5 popcorn shrimp with jalapeno cut roll.

At the Thursday night South Pasadena Farmers Market, the longest line is always at Mama Musubi. I braved the wait one day and got three, the beef, the tuna, and the seaweed; my favorite was the seaweed, seen at the right edge of the photo, and apparently it’s also the most popular one:)

Even though Sushi Gen is probably my favorite place for fish, their location and popularity requires advance planning. Maki & Sushi is a good Plan B, located in a strip mall with easy parking and easy freeway access. They have the usual combination boxes with teriyaki, tempura, and sushi, but I chose the chirashi, a generous bowl with some upscale ingredients like amaebi, scallop, and unagi. The octopus salad on top was an unusual bonus topping, and because I requested no salmon, my bowl was nearly all white fish. Miso soup came with the meal and for $23 this was a good value. The cuts and presentation were not spectacular, but the service was efficient.

 

Church and State was one of my favorite places to go for French food before I left for France, so I wanted to go back and see if they would be able to maintain their rank on my list. The short answer is, maybe. I chose their salad niçoise with seared yellowtail for $18. The presentation was very nice, and the piping of tapenade around the plate added a nice punctuation to the salad, but as you can see the circles of tuna were tiny morsels for what was supposed to be a main course salad. The vinaigrette and vegetables were top notch (organic). They do have a prix fixe menu at $23 for 3 courses at lunch that is a bargain, but for a la carte considering the other options in town at that price point, I won’t be rushing back.

Fish King is a market, a fishmonger, a cafe, and a family owned and run pillar of the community since the 1950’s. It’s a beautifully clean, neatly organized, and pleasurable place to shop. The fish will be better than at your local chain supermarket, Whole Foods included, but don’t expect any bargains for the quality. Since I was too hungry to cook, I chose to have them prepare my halibut cajun style with a side of vegetables and coleslaw. At a little under $15, this was a big healthy meal, but I was disappointed that a fish cafe overcooked the fish filet and undercooked the vegetables. Even with the large assortment of condiments, I couldn’t fix my plate. I would happily buy fish or sushi from them, but I won’t have them cook anything for me again.

At this point, you may be wondering if I found any good places, but I saved the best for last 🙂 Fanta  Sea Grill is nearly hidden in a complex with a large Rite Aid, and the only reason I saw it at all was because I was going to the drugstore. They are a wholesale seafood importer, so they procure fresh fish at excellent prices, and as they proudly proclaim, they use no butter or msg in their preparations. I chose the garlic shrimp to go, and they not only included a large portion of prawns, but delicious vegetables, rice, and salad with citrus ponzu, all for under $20. The prawns were cooked perfectly, with easy to peel off shells, swimming in a garlic broth that I used over the rice and vegetables for an added savory burst of fun. This was so good, I literally licked my fingers after peeling the shrimp!

Tender Greens only has tuna on their regular menu, but sometimes their daily specials are fish, and one day I lucked out with Artic Char. All their fish is sourced from responsible fisheries, so no worries about healthy sustainable fish on their menu:) I paired the perfectly seared filet on top of quinoa with an arugula salad, making my taste buds dance in happiness.

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.

The American lures of ease and comfort have bred some incredibly wonderful (and horrible) inventions; the convenience of having services and products at the ready has become an expectation, from 24 hour supermarkets to dry cleaning services that guarantee an 1 hour turn around. Just as fishing lures can entice fish to bite, some conveniences make promises that are not executed well or at all. Finding any place that delivers more than promised is a joy, and Nordstrom’s Marketplace Café is one of those joys, found inside the Nordstrom’s at the Santa Anita Westfield Mall.

A friend invited me to experience the gift of a meal courtesy of her Nordstrom’s rewards, so we were treated to anything we desired on the menu except wine (but she used an additional gift certificate to include a nice bottle of a Layer Cake Pinot Noir with our meal). Nothing on their menu is more than $18, and most items are in the $12 range. Our server Shannon had worked at the Arcadia restaurant for 20 years and I highly recommend that you ask for her if you go to this location; she is an absolutely skilled professional and she has great taste. She suggested her favorites on the menu, and we enjoyed them all.

We started with the Korean flavored beef tacos as an appetizer. The beef was surprisingly tender and had enough of the taste of Kalbi that the crunchy pickled vegetables balanced out the sweetness nicely. The side salad of crunchy raw vegetables added a nice light counterpoint. This could easily have been a meal, but because this is the US, we took advantage of the American custom of taking extra food home in doggie bags. By the end of our meal, she had a shopping bag of food to take home for another meal with her husband.

Because we couldn’t decide on which salad to get, Shannon served us half portions of two so that we could share and taste. The half portions were so large they could have been a meal for anyone who has a small appetite. The first salad we tried had apple chips, raw apples, chicken, goat cheese, spiced candied almonds, and organic greens in a champagne vinaigrette. We were both delighted with this salad, especially enjoying the apple chips that added a satisfying crunchy texture, contrasting to the softer components.

The colorful berry and fig salad was less to our liking, mainly because of the vanilla bean vinaigrette. I am not a fan of vanilla beans used in anything other than desserts, and although I understand why a fruit and fig salad could be complemented by this kind of flavor, it was my least favorite dish of everything we tried. It w as impressive that with this salad they also used organic greens.

We split an order of the spicy wild shrimp with angel hair pasta, but it was plenty after the tacos and the salads. I was impressed that they used wild shrimp, that the pasta was actually spicy, and that the pasta was not overcooked! All this for under $16 is a bargain (remember the picture is of a HALF portion).

We also split an order of one of the specials of a short rib noodle dish with vegetables with Asian inspired flavors. The meat was tender and the vegetables were lightly sauteed, retaining their crunch. If we had not already eaten half the menu, we would have finished out half portions, but I could barely eat one bite before surrendering my half portion to the doggie bag.

Since we literally had no room for dessert, we chose cookies, which Shannon heated to give us a “freshly baked” flavor. My friend had literally one bite of her gingerbread cookie before also putting the remainder into our ever expanding doggie bag.

I did not do any better, breaking off just a taste of my oatmeal raisin cookie before including it in her shopping bag sized doggie bag.

A very big “grazie” to my VIP Shopper friend for her invitation, to Shannon for her outstanding service, and to the US for inventing the doggie bag 🙂

A cappuccino is the best way to start a day in Rome, especially since nearly every bakery, bar, and caffe makes an excellent cup. The bakery near where I was staying, Desideri Caffe, opens at the crack of dawn and serves locals heading off to work (I got my last cappuccino in Rome before my flight at 6am). The price of coffee is controlled at a certain amount if you drink it at the counter, and it was only 1.10 Euros. Yes, this wonderful cappuccino was only $1.20 US! Being a bakery, they had plenty of sweet temptations, but the best reason for me to go back was after one visit, the man behind the counter knew me and asked if I wanted my “usual”:) The residential parts of Rome, like Monte Verde, are big extended families, and once you arrive, you are welcomed, usually with a smile.

As lunch time approaches, the sweets in the case become sandwiches, to go or to eat at the tables inside or on the patio of the bakery, which also has a full bar if you want a shot of alcohol in your coffee.

Isola Tiburina, or Tiber Island had more tourists, as you can see by the signs in English,

and the cappuccino at Tiberino was more expensive at a whopping 1.50 Euros, or $1.70 US at the counter. It was hands down the best cappuccino I’ve ever tasted. Yes, thank-you, more please…except I would have been a jittery wreck all day. It was a good thing they were out of cornetti, the breakfast pastry that is not a croissant, or I would have added a sugar high to my caffeine high:)

Their sandwiches for around 5 Euros or $6 US, looked amazing, but I had other plans for lunch.

Enoteca Spiriti is a wine bar opposite the Temple of Hadrian, not far from the Pantheon. It was the least touristy place I found in the area, so I took a chance and had lunch there.

Every one of the men wore a blue suit with a red tie, and all the women carried expensive handbags. They all seemed to know each other, greeting each arrival with kisses and or handshakes. I wondered if I had walked into a secret club, but then I learned Temple of Hadrian now houses a bank. Ah no wonder so many people were drinking water in a wine bar!

The decor and artwork were very original and low key.

My small tuna salad for 12 Euros or $13 US was as simple as it looked without any flavor to the dressing but very fresh ingredients, and well presented. My glass of sauvignon blanc at 6 Euros or $7 US was equally fresh and pure,

which seemed to be the theme of the place, extending to the breadbasket.

Even their toilet had an attachment if you wanted to rinse yourself after your meal, which I nearly wanted to do when I went to pay my bill and the waitress tried to add an additional service fee of 3 Euros, but since I had gotten the bill at my table, she couldn’t ask me for more since I had the itemized total tally in writing in my hand. Bankers aren’t the only ones trying to add fees!

I had a much better experience, and much better food at Litro, which was very conveniently located directly in front of a bus stop on a line I took into the touristy parts of town 🙂 The wonderful thing about Litro is that they are open all day, serve everything from snacks to full meals, and they have a good selection of wines and desserts. It’s a casual place with a small patio. It’s so warm and friendly, one day one of the owners was there playing with his son and feeding him as he was serving the customers.

There are daily specials on the chalkboard outside, and one day it was a bruschetta with guanciale for 5 Euros or $6. This was a perfectly grilled toast topped with pork “jowl bacon” dressed with excellent olive oil, the tender thin slices of smoked cured meat nearly melted onto the hot bread, and was so redolent with thyme and pepper, that my mouth had a little dance party! I had a nice glass of Mescita for 4 Euros or $5 with the bruschetta and that kept my hunger at bay until restaurants opened for dinner three hours later.

On another day between Roman lunch and dinner restaurant hours, I was so hungry, I needed a meal, so I ordered their tuna salad for 12 Euros or $13. This salad was easily the biggest one I’ve seen since leaving Los Angeles! The bottom of the bowl was filled with even more goodies, from tomatoes to cucumbers and olives, besides the eggs and uniquely fabulous Italian tuna in olive oil with bits of crunchy croutons. This salad was so delicious that I actually wanted to go eat it again but I was so full from my other meals, that I never got a chance to go back for another. This picture really doesn’t do the salad justice, but I was too hungry to even toss the salad before digging in, and once I did, I couldn’t stop eating until I had finished the entire bowl!

They had fabulous bread which arrived in a bag! I should have taken the bag with me, which is why I think they served it in a bag, especially since it was 2 Euros or $2.30 US for the bread.

The Trastevere neighborhood has become touristy, but it’s still got some charming corners tucked away on the little streets leading into the central piazza, like this one with Vin Allegro.

They are a very well stocked wine bar with a virtual store room in plain view.

They have a generous happy hour where for the price of a drink, you get to choose as much as you wish, as many times as you wish from the two tiered buffet. The buffet has everything from sandwiches to salads, vegetables, to meat, and everything in between.

I sampled a bit and enjoyed everything on my plate. You could easily make a light meal from the buffet happy hour if you didn’t want a full dinner. They also have a menu if you prefer something hot to go with your wine. Most glasses are about 5 Euros or $6, so when you consider you can eat as much as you want with a drink for this price, it’s an amazing value. Add the charming ambience and indoor /outdoor seating, and you have a very good address to go to before or after dinner.

The Piazza Navona is a huge draw (you’ll see why in a later post), and sometimes finding a place in the heart of tourist central is a challenge, but I found a place to sit and people watch nearby, without all the crowds. Mimi & Coco is a wine bar, but like all the wine bars I saw in Rome, they offer food and coffee as well. My glass of organic red wine was 5 Euros or $6 US (5 Euros seems to be the standard price in Rome for a nice glass of wine). Chips and pretzels were offered with my drink, and the tables of tourists next to me were eating California sized pizzas and salads. A great plus at this place is free wifi, so I got to catch up on my social media as I rested my legs and watched other people navigate all the cobblestone streets:)

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