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Few places in Los Angeles embellish their eating establishments with extravagant displays during the Winter holidays like they do in France. Bottega Louie is an exception, with a towering “tree” of macarons, including gold ones, reaching to the ceiling, one of several throughout the restaurant and market, but the grand centerpiece in the dining area can be seen from the pastry counter at the other end of the cavernous space.

I’ve been enthralled by this place ever since my first meals here years ago, so much so I wrote two posts, back to back on it back in 2011. Since my return to the US, I have been wanting to revisit some old favorites, and when friends came into town for the week-end, it was a perfect opportunity to meet for brunch downtown.

After years in France, the macarons looked very bright to me, but I’m sure the intense colors sell well here, where bright intense colors are an enticement.

If you can’t decide what to choose, you can always opt for one of the prepackaged gift boxes of varying sizes (they will shipย many of their products if you don’t want to carry it back home).

Some things can’t be shipped and should be eaten fresh, like their viennoiseries and

bread, which are very good even to a bread snob like me. The big baguette is pricey at over $5, but it is huge and it freezes well if you can’t eat it all the same day.

Since I usually came for lunch or late supper, this was the first time I encountered the brunch choices, like this freshly squeezed pineapple juice for $7. They had other choices like melon, carrot, and “green”, if you want something other than the usual fruit and citrus.

Once one of my friends saw the table next to us eating the two eggs with turkey sausage, potatoes, and smoked bacon, she didn’t want to get anything else, and she was very happy that they made her order exactly as she wanted, right down to the “burnt” whole wheat toast for $17.

Another friend and I both ordered the Lobster Hash for $20 with lobster, yukon potatoes, shallots, brussel sprouts, and two poached eggs napped with a smoked paprika hollandaise. I liked how the poached eggs were slightly runny, but she preferred her eggs runnier; I thought that the kitchen did a nice job of “middle ground” eggs in a dining room with over 200 seats. Our server was very attentive and literally followed every request with a smile and “Yes, of course”! Including one for warmed milk with the filtered coffee ($.50 surcharge), and as I mentioned earlier, making sure the wheat toast on the side was “well done”.

When we had all cleaned our plates, I tempted everyone to get an order of beignets ($12) to split; the table next to ours chimed in on my description and echoed that they were indeed wonderful. These are still the best beignets I’ve ever had ๐Ÿ™‚ Light and buttery, with the raspberry compote so addictive that my friends were licking it off their fingers and “double dunking”!

No one had room for anything else,

but our eyes feasted on all the pastries as we left ๐Ÿ™‚

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Since my motto is “I will travel for great food”, the main reason I went to Rome was to eat ๐Ÿ™‚

I ate so many delicious things in one week that I may have been channeling Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat, Pray, Love“. I believe that there is very little in life as satisfying as the pleasure of taking your time to savor all the flavors and delights of great food, sharing it with others perhaps, but I got to do that a bit later in the trip.

The only appointment I had made for a sight was for the Vatican Museum and Pizzarium is literally one block from the Metro Station Cipro which is the stop for that attraction. The place also goes by the nameย Bonci, the creator/owner of Pizzarium, who was there one of the three times I went, training staff on how to dress some slices properly. A rarity in Rome is that they are open every day of the week, although the hours vary a bit on Sunday. If you don’t want to wait during Lunch and Dinner go in the lull of the afternoon or late at night. The first day I went around 1pm and waited about 30 minutes, another day I went around 6pm and there was no line at all. If it’s crowded, grab a number and watch for it to be posted on the screen above the counter. You order on the left, pick up your drinks and then go pay as you wait for your order to be delivered on the right side of the counter. Condiments are also on the right side of the counter, but I didn’t want to ruin the perfect flavors by doctoring up my slices.

Every hour and every day, there are new selections, and everything is sold by weight. Prices range from about 20 Euros to over 30 Euros per kilo, a good sized portion will run you 8-12 Euros or about $10-15 US. If you want to try more than one flavor, ask for small slices so you can eat two because their scissors work fast and cut generously unless you tell or show them you want smaller slices. I learned that Rome is almost like the US when it comes to portion sizes, but without doggie bags unless you order your pizza to go:)

I went three out of my seven days in Rome, and never tried another pizza place after my first bite here! The first pizza I got was a spinach, buffalo mozzarella, and anchovy on tomato sauce. The toppings were outstandingly fresh (these were not the canned anchovies you find in the US), and the crust had a crunchy bottom, but the soft chewy texture of a great baguette on top. It was the best combination of topping and crust I’ve ever tasted in a pizza. There was a reason there was only a small bit of this choice left in the case, and I was glad I got some before it was gone. At first I thought it was too much to finish, but I couldn’t stop eating and “somehow” I polished off the entire serving.

My second time I went for something more traditional, a tomato basil, and an artichoke heart and potato dusted with pecorino cheese. Once again, astounding crust and incredible vegetables. This combo would be a vegetarian’s dream, and this time I got two smaller slices and a beer to wash it all down.

For my last day, I went back and saw Bonci putting out the sausage, ricotta, tomato, and basil, so I had to try that as well as the kale with cured lard and mushrooms which Bonci dressed himself with more kale and olive oil. I couldn’t stop smiling from happiness with every bite. I could happily eat here every day. With an ever changing menu, friendly staff, and an owner who is passionate about his pizza, you can’t go wrong with any choice.

Italy is famous for their gelato, so one day for breakfast (yes, I really did channel Elizabeth Gilbert), I got some at Sora Lella on Isola Tiberino (the island in the middle of Rome). I wasn’t the only one, getting gelato for breakfast at 11am ๐Ÿ™‚

Since it was a nice day, I strolled over to the bank of the river and ate it with a view of the water.

My friend Chantal had just been to Rome a few months ago for her birthday and she told me I HAD to go to La Romana because she didn’t even like gelato and loved it here so much that she went daily.

Just as Bonci’s Pizzarium was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, La Romana was the best gelato I’ve ever eaten. They make it there, and have been since 1947. I chose a “small” Fiordelatte (flower of milk) and Sacher (like the chocolate torte flavor) for 2 Euros, or about $2.30 US, which included chocolate or vanilla sauce in the cone, AND home made whipped cream on top! I only added the chocolate at the bottom of my cone and luckily I had plenty of napkins because I forgot and bit into it making a delightful mess like a kid eating a sundae:) The consistency is lighter and smoother than any gelato I’ve tasted, and the flavors range from the unusual to the approachable, like tiramisu.

La Romana is near Termini Station, so grab a cone or cup on your way to or from the station. It’s behind the ruins and across from the government buildings with all the armed guards, not far from the planetarium which had this inscribed above the door, a quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy, “Love that moves the sun and other stars.” Dante may have been referring to the pizza and gelato in Rome ๐Ÿ™‚

Ever since Antica Pizza left the Marina, I’ve been in Napoletana pizza withdrawal. The nearest VPN (certified Napoletana pizza made with ingredients and methods approved by the association from Naples) was Settebello in Pasadena. I just couldn’t convince myself that the drive through down town traffic and then into Pasadena for pizza was worth it. I was thrilled when I saw that Settebello was going to come to the Marina in the same (newly rebuilt and redesigned) center that used to be Antica’s home.

Settebello opened a few weeks ago and the space both inside and outside is comfortable and casual. Servers are young and helpful, even though the fine details of orders and specials haven’t yet been refined. One one occasion I was asked if I wanted peppers and Parmesan, on another not, whereas I was asked how many slices I wanted my pizza cut into, but on another occasion not. I also heard the chef explaining to the bartender what chard was and how it was spelled as he described one of the specials.

The pizza that is the litmus test for a truly great Napoletana Pizza is the DOC Margherita, made with Crushed Tomatoes, Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil, Parmigiano Reggiano, Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $14, this 12 inch pizza is the classically simple staple for purists. This was a very good version, but it wasn’t as good as Antica’s. The flavor of the tomatoes needed a bit more zing (adding red peppers helped) and the crust, although perfectly thin and chewy, needed a touch more salt. Sinceย  I was not asked how many slices I wanted on this order, it was cut into four huge slices. The pizzas here are meant to be eaten with a knife and fork, so keep that in mind if you are used to thicker crusts that you can hold in your hands.

I came back for another visit and since the signature pizza the Settebello, I ordered it and got Crushed Tomatoes, Pancetta, Wood Oven Sausage, Roasted Mushrooms, Toasted Pine Nuts, Mozzarella, Basil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $14. In this case the lack of salt in the crust worked well since the pancetta and sausage both had enough to create a great balance of flavor. This signature offering was great, a hearty yet refined combination of meat, cheese, mushrooms and the interesting crunch of roasted pine nuts. Whereas I easily ate the Margherita in one sitting, two slices of the Settebello (this was cut into six) was plenty for my lunch.

I don’t often eat pizza (you will see this makes only my 7th pizza post on this blog) but having VPN Settebello close by means that when I do get a craving, I won’t have to make a trek to Pasadena ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Ever since Antica Pizza closed, I’ve been searching for a pizza place to love. Bravo does a very good job, but their pizza is more New York style than Napoletana style, and the closest VPN member is in Pasadena, so I tried nearby Sotto.

Located downstairs under the wonderful Peruvian restaurant Picca, Sotto has a slightly speakeasy feel, as if you need a password to get a seat. No need to worry, your name is enough of a password if you make a reservation. You should definitely reserve a table, the place was packed in the middle of the week in the middle of the day.

The Dine LA menu is a steal at only $20 for three courses. I started with the shaved beet and mixed lettuce salad, composed of wheatberries, lemon vinaigrette, and Fiore Sardo. The beautiful rainbow beets added an unusual visual dimension to this salad, and the thinly shaved Parmesan added a nice sharp and slightly salty enhancement without overpowering the greens. I loved this salad and could probably eat it several times a week.

But I came for the pizza, so I chose the classic margherita, made with tomato, mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. The ingredients were all high quality and the crust was chewy and thin in the center, but somehow the center was soggy! The pizza was also a bit too salty since they salted the dough and the tomatoes (salt one or the other, but both is overkill). It was still a very tasty pizza, although after eating at Antica Pizza, they fell short on the texture and flavor of the dough.

Dessert was a cannolo Siciliano, made with riccota, orange marmalade, pistachios and chocolate. I didn’t taste any chocolate (unless they were tiny chocolate chips hiding in the filling), but this was one of the few cannoli I’ve ever liked. The crunchy exterior was as great container for the light and flavorful filling.

Service was very slow (more the fault of a full Dine LA onslaught than the server), so be prepared for a leisurely meal. My search for my perfect pizza continues, but Sotto is a nice local option.

Sotto on Urbanspoon

Today’s post is for the Parellis and any other pizza aficionado who insists that their pizzas are cooked with a wood fire. Los Angeles has many places, but as any transplanted New Yorker will tell you, quantity does not qualify as a measure of quality. My favorite pizza place in Los Angeles is Antica, in Marina del Rey, but because it is Naples style, the crust is thin, and the toppings are not Americanized, so I tried Pitfire Pizza for my ex-NYer friends and those who want a US pizza, not an Italian one.

My friend Robin loves the Burrata Pie, for $9.95 made with Burrata Cheese, Tomato Sauce, Wild Arugula Caramelized Onion, Hazelnut, and Pesto Drizzle, but when she saw the special artichoke, arugula, fennel, and fennel sausage pizza, she got that instead of her usual. She loved it, but I was less impressed. I liked the toppings, but felt it was too dry to stand alone without any tomato sauce or tomatoes.

I chose the Merguez with spinach & Feta, Huntington Lamb Merguez, Wilted Spinach, Roasted Pepper Harissa, Feta, Red Onion for $9.95 and throughly enjoyed it. The crust was tender and thick enough for American tastes, the toppings were piquant and fresh, and I liked the overall combination.

Everyone has their perfect pizza, and my taste may not be yours. Pit Fire has good quality ingredients, hospitable service, and a casual atmosphere that welcomes families; you could do much worse in Los Angeles.

Pitfire Pizza Company on Urbanspoon

Since I was attending the French Film Festival COLCOA (City of Light City of Angels) all week, there were times when I could not go further than a few blocks for food in between movies. There is The Counter for burgers across the street, and Veggie Grill for vegans, two blocks away, and Trader Joe’s for ready made food, but I opted for the place I had not yet tried, Pizza Fusion, literally right next door.

It was more attractive simply because they advertised specials for Earth Day, they use organic ingredients, give all their employees who work more than 20 hours a week medical benefits, offer free sustainable classes for kids every month, and they even offer gluten free options for pizza, beer, and brownies; I don’t see either Veggie Grill or Trader Joe’s offering these kind of options and benefits.

On one break, I had a large Fusion Salad ($8.99), made with Arugula, romaine, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, basil, shaved carrots and toasted crostini (all the green items are organic and you can omit the crostini for gluten free diets). I chose the balsamic vinaigrette but it was drowned in Italian when it arrived; they switched it out for another one as soon as I tasted it and asked for a replacement with the dressing on the side. Everything was freshly prepared and had the added “feel good” component of being organic, so I knew no pesticides were in my plate of greens.

Because this is after all a pizza place, I had to come back for a pizza, so I opted for personal sized ($8.99) a multi grain crust (you can also choose an organic white) made with sauteed spinach, roasted portobello mushrooms, goat cheese, and Italian sausage (which was hormone & preservative free). They offer several cheese options, from organic Mozzarella to Daiya vegan.The tomato sauce is organic and very tasty and although this is not a classic pizza, I enjoyed the thin crispy crust and the flavors I combined. I would order this again as an alternative to the traditional American “pizza” any day.

I saw the stuffed mushrooms ($6.99) on the appetizer menu and had to try them. They are criminis (mini portobellos) stuffed with sausage, goat cheese, and herbs and they were my favorite of all the things I tried here. They would be perfect paired with a glass of the Malbec ($8) and during happy hour from 4-7pm they offer specials on either their beers (they offer flights of beers), wines, or appetizers.

Convenience is always a good reason to try something, but when it is combined with ethical actions that combine healthy food with happy employees in the community, that is a reason to come back.

Pizza Fusion on Urbanspoon

I have been wanting to try Antica Pizzeria ever since I saw the twitter posts from @ChefLudo and @FrenchChefWife; when a chef and a pizzaphile (Krissy) both rave about a pizza, it’s time to go for a taste. Even better than their posts was the actual experience of both the restaurant and the pizza.

Antica Pizzeria has two locations in Los Angeles, one on Third Street and one in Marina Del Rey (where I went). Do not confuse them with Pizza Antica in the new Santa Monica Place Mall. The major difference is that Antica Pizza has the one of the four VPN designations in California.

VPN is an organization (Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana) created to preserve and uphold true Neapolitan pizza. This designation makes sure that when you order a pizza from one of these establishments everything is done correctly, including the use of proper ingredients, like the flour (Tipo 00), San Marzano (plum) tomatoes, all natural Fior-di-Latte or Bufala fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, sea salt and yeast. Only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients (preferably imported from Naples or Campania region, are acceptable), the manner in which pizza is prepared (no machine, not even rolling pins), cooked (wood burning ovens only), even the measurements of the circumference and thickness of the center.

If you haven’t had pizza in Naples, this is as close as you will get to tasting it here in the US. I ordered the Napoletana ($13.50), made with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil, and anchovies. I know most of you shudder at the thought of anchovies, much less want them on your pizza, but it is so rare for me to even find anchovies on a menu that I had to order this classic.

They offer 15 other pizzas ranging from a Pizza Blanca al Prosciutto ($14.50), made with fresh mozzarella and garlic topped with Parma prosciutto and arugula (no tomato sauce); Pizza Capricciosa ($14.95), made with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, black olives, and Italian ham; or for those who can’t decide, Pizza Quatro Staggioni ($14.50), with a quarter section each of the mixed seafood, Margherita, Capricciosa, and Marinara.

Since they make everything to order, it took about 15 minutes for my order, so I had plenty of time to peruse the many articles praising Antica Pizzeria from the Los Angeles Times to Saveur magazine. You can create a meal to go if you are in a hurry from their very nice take out section of prepared foods from Arancino di Riso (rice cones filled with peas, ham, and smoked mozzarella), to meatballs and lasagna. They also offer salads, pastas, rissoti, and freshly grilled specialties if you are not in the mood for pizza; nothing on the menu is over $24 and portions are generous.

But I came for the VPN pizza and I could not wait to get the pizza home before trying a slice.

I felt as if I was in Italy from the first bite; the tomato sauce had a perfectly ripe sweetness, the fresh mozzarella was melted just enough to warm it without making it bubble, and the basil and anchovy were sprinkled throughout with a measured hand, neither overpowering nor underwhelming the cheese and sauce. The crust was so tender and thin that I actually ate the whole thing (ask anyone who has ever seen me eat American pizza and you will hear “she never eats the crust”). Pizza dough made by hand with top quality ingredients and baked in a wood burning oven is a taste sensation rivaled only by the taste of freshly made baguettes still warm out of the oven from a boulangerie in France. If you don’t eat carbohydrates, you are missing one of the great joys of life, especially if you don’t taste the pizza here.

I will be doing my best to bring everyone I know here whether or not they are going to see a movie in this complex on Maxella. Antica Pizzeria gives me hope that perhaps after tasting this pizza American taste buds will reject the processed disks they eat from other vendors. Once you taste something divine, you will never settle for less, and Antica Pizza is one of life’s pleasures,. What is the point of life if you do not experience pleasure?

Antica Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Everyone has been talking about Mozza since it opened, but the 10 miles in heavy traffic to its location from my house has made it one of the “I’ll get it it eventually” places on my list of eateries. Well today was finally the day I made the trek to Mozza2Go to get a taste of what has been the “hot pizza” place in Los Angeles. It is known for the celebrity chefs behind it and the innovative pizza combinations like this white anchovy, tomato and hot chili ($15):


And the slightly more traditional fennel sausage, panna, scallions and red onion ($16):


Both served on a satisfying chewy thin crust that would have been delicious on its own with no toppings whatsoever, but with the addition of freshly made tomato sauce or home made fennel sausage, the crust becomes spectacular. I do not eat the crust of most pizzas here in California, but I ate ALL the crust of both of these pizzas.

There are only a few things that would have made this the perfect pizzeria for me: first of all, the wait between the time I ordered by telephone to actually getting my pizza was well over 1.5 hours during midweek lunch hour even though I went to pick it up myself, so this is not a quick grab and go experience even though the name implies that it is; secondly, the delivery area is confined to about 3 miles from the location, which makes it inconvenient for those of us not living near Hancock Park to drive through midtown traffic for take out; thirdly, it cost over $30 for two personal size pizzas that were very delicious and well made, but for the price I would prefer to eat at a nice outdoor cafe close to home (like Cora Cafe) where it does not take me 1.5 hours to get my food and another half hour to get home.

All in all, yes, I would definitely eat here again and I am very glad I tasted the pizza from this truly fine venture by Silverton, Bastianich and Batali, if I was in the neighborhood, but I’m not sure I would make the detour again.

Mozza 2GO on Urbanspoon

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