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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 🙂

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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:)

The idea is simple, make Korean inspired fast food. Kogi did it, but Seoul Sausage Company has done it with their own twist and style. Having won the Food Networks Great Food Truck Race #3 (A certificate is prominently displayed by the food pick up area), these guys know how to cook, market, and serve their clientele. 

The small storefront off Sawtelle has been open less than a year, but there are already regulars and lines out the door. The vibe is funky Asian, with hip music, kitschy anime toys, and a minimalist decor; you have a choice of eating at a stand up counter inside, nabbing one of the 8 seats at the picnic table outside, or taking your order to go. All the food is either wrapped in paper or delivered in paper boxes. This is an eco friendly place, but with their seven item menu and limited space, do not expect them to cater to your whimsical preferences.

I tried nearly half the menu, starting with their most popular ball, the Flaming Ball with DMZ sauce for $3. It’s a fried ball of rice, kimchi, cheese and served with a spicy dipping sauce.

If you like the Italian arancini di riso, this is a spicy Korean version. It was great plain without the sauce, but if you want to add a bit of spicy creaminess, the DMZ sauce is a great accompaniment.

Because it’s called the Seoul Sausage company, I had to try one of their sausages, so I went for the Galbi for $7. I was a bit apprehensive when I saw them pour a line of wasabi mayo onto the bun, but it wasn’t too much and it added just enough viscosity.

I was pleasantly surprised by the “relish” of diced kimchi at the bottom of the roll, and the bread had just the right amount of “toothiness” to make this a great sandwich. If you love sausages, you will love this version!

One of their specialties is the “Da KFC” served with a kimchi cornbread and pickled daikon radish for $8. A mix of both light and dark meat with a slightly sweet “BBQ” sauce on the bottom of the box, this tasted like a cross between Japanese karage and Chinese sweet and sour. It is an addictive version of KFC, and in this case, I have no qualms about being addicted:)

I thought the cornbread was half the box, but it turns out, it covered more chicken! There was no way to finish this after eating the ball and tasting the sausage, so I saved it to reheat for another meal.

Their menu offers Poutine and Spam, which are both low on my list of cravings, but if their versions are as good as what I’ve tasted so far, they may convert me.

Seoul Sausage Company on Urbanspoon

The good thing about living close to the beach but not AT the beach is that I don’t have to suffer the throngs of people who descend on the week-ends, I don’t have to deal with cars blocking my driveway (“for just a minute”), and I can enjoy virtually marine layer free blue sunny days. Can you tell that I am glad I no longer live at the beach? All this being said, it’s still fun to GO to the beach. Just like it’s fun to rent a convertible even though you may not enjoy owning one (yes, I’ve been there and done that too).

So when friends came in from out of town who also used to live at the beach, we went to the beach! Venice’s Abbot Kinney was a funky artsy area before all the high end hipsters, but the “revitalization” has added some great places to eat in addition to what used to be the only good place to eat, Joe’s.

Feed Body & Soul has a beautiful facade, a covered patio, and that rarity that makes it worthy of a visit even on Summer week-ends, an adjacent valet parking lot.

We sat on the patio and since we all wanted to taste everything, we decided to literally taste three dishes by each eating a third of a plate and passing it on to the next person.

The crabcakes with a habernero sauce on a bed of organic greens with avocado was not as spicy as it sounds, but rather a lightly spiced salad that highlighted fresh crab. If you are a crabcake lover, you will be pleased with this choice.

The sesame crusted seared ahi with micro greens, wheatberries and a wasabi sauce was done perfectly rare. If you don’t like tuna tartare or tuna sashimi, do not order this, but if you do, this is a whole grain version of a dish you might find in a sushi restaurant. The wasabi sauce was quite spicy, so be forewarned.

My favorite dish was the one I ordered, the wild salmon on a bed of quinoa with spinach and a pea shoot sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, the greens and grains moist and tasty, and I would have definitely eaten all of this dish without sharing!

The portions were not huge and our total for the three of us including tax and tip was about $90 without drinks, but for the atmosphere and the food, this is definitely worth the price for the quality of ingredients.

We went across the street for dessert at N’Ice Cream. They make their gelatos and sorbets fresh every day from ingredients that are organic in other countries but have not been certified as organic in the US. If you love creamy gelato, this is the place to go in Venice. In Hermosa, I prefer Paciugo, but for a place closer to me and with excellent flavors, this is a great find. Prices are about the same starting at $4 for a single serving. I chose the pistachio, a very creamy version made with imported Italian pistachios.

One friend got the maple and it tasted as fresh and creamy as my pistachio.

The third person of our trio chose the chocolate which was soooo chocolaty that I my one bite taste was enough to satiate me!

Maybe next time we’ll rent a convertible when we go to the beach 🙂

Feed Body & Soul on Urbanspoon

N'ice Cream on Urbanspoon

I like my red meat very rare or raw (yes, I love steak tartare), so for me to eat a burger, I have to trust the source of the meat. Even with the plethora of burger places in Los Angeles, very few casual places serve grass fed meat and even fewer are burger places.

Short Order in the Farmer’s Market not only grinds their own meat from grass fed whole steers, but they use local, organic and artisanal products on their menu. The buns are as important as the burger, and you can rest assured that they bake their own bread since Nancy Silverton (La Brea Bakery) is one of the partners.

If you want a classic lunch combo, you can pair your burger with a milkshake or a beer starting at $6, or you can order wine by the glass starting at $10, but with 90+ degree heat and humidity, I opted for a herbal crimson berry iced tea for $3.50. It was slightly tart blend, and perfect if you want to quench your thirst without any added sugar.

The Commando is literally a “naked” beef burger for $8, but I “dressed” it a bit by adding raw onions. It was perfectly juicy and seasoned, so if you’re a purist, this burger is the one to order. I loved getting a rare burger and not having to worry about the quality and safety of the ground meat! If you want to be more gourmet, you can opt for truffle mayo for $2 or a chipotle BBQ sauce for .75 more.

Besides beef, they have tuna, portobello and free range turkey burgers, along with salads, home made sausages, and sandwiches made with pork belly, so no matter how you want to eat, you will find something on the menu to fit your appetite. I was intrigued by the grass fed lamb, feta, salsa verde and wild arugula burger for $14, so I ordered it on another visit.

The seasoning that was so perfect on the Commando burger made this burger too salty with the feta cheese, but aside from that, this was a good alternative for a red meat burger even though it is a bit pricey.

Thrice cooked fries for $3 were ok, not especially crisp or addictive, but decent. They offer sweet potato fries with cinnamon and thyme for $5 but with the classic Commando, I wanted classic fries.

The wood grilled asparagus with almond basil pesto for $7 was wonderful as a side dish, but I could have easily made a meal of three plates of this!

For a quick lunch in the Farmer’s Market, Short Order has good food ethics and enough options for everyone, so I’m keeping it on my short list of burger places:)

Short Order on Urbanspoon

 

As readers of this blog already know, I have a weakness for great bread. Unfortunately I’ve found very few bakeries worthy of my addiction in the U.S. and maybe it’s actually a good thing I can’t indulge in my vice. I’ve been known to eat two entire baguettes by myself in France (one on the way home from the bakery in the morning, the other with lunch and dinner). My favorite locally baked breads are Bouchon, Pain Quotidien, and Huckleberry, but I’m always on the look out for another source to feed my craving.

Farmshop in Brentwood looked very promising, with the chef owner coming from Bouchon. The under baked baguette did not look appetizing so I went with the croissant and a smaller loaf. The croissant was superb, nearly identical to Bouchon’s superb version. The bread was good, but fell short of the “Ahhhh” because of its density without depth of flavor. Yes, I would rather eat this than any supermarket bread anytime, but I would not go out of my way to buy it.

I had high hopes for the almond croissant since the plain one was so good. The texture was flaky and the presentation was very nice.

The proper ratio of butter baked into pastries makes them luscious; too much makes them greasy, and too little makes them dry. Finding that fine line is like balancing on a tightrope and few bakers find the right balance. Adding almond paste to be baked in a pastry is like trying to ride a unicycle on a tightrope, so it is better not to attempt without a safety net. Sadly in this case the safety net of slicing the croissant in half and spreading the almond paste in the middle, then baking it again resulted in a dry pastry.

On a much better note, the tuna salad sandwich was wonderful. Made with line caught albacore tuna, aioli, black olive tapenade, and served with a carrot, cabbage and golden raisin slaw for $14.50, this open faced sandwich served on an olive bread was a perfect lunch.

Go for the plain croissants, the sandwiches, and peruse the market for cheeses, meats, and incredible multicolored farm fresh eggs. Farmshop is part market, part bakery, and part café, so I’m sure there’s some part you will enjoy.

Farmshop Los Angeles on Urbanspoon

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