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Some places have wonderful views and terrible food, some places have wonderful food and no view. There is a story told of a few places have that unique combination of both wonderful views and wonderful food. Like a unicorn, the existence of the ultimate view and food combination is a mythical fairy tale that I wish to believe is true, so I keep looking for it…

Elephante was rumored to be one of those places. So on one of the many sunny warm Sundays in Southern California, I went with my neighbors, two of whom had been there before and told me that they enjoyed it.

We were one of the few tables with a child, and because we had reservations, we got one of the premiere view tables on the patio overlooking the Pacific. The vibe on a Sunday early afternoon was definitely a see and be seen. Younger crowd (at my age that translates to 20-30’s) all dressed and groomed to the hilt, and everyone had roving eyes to see who had just arrived and who was to be the center of attention. It was a telling sign of the clientele that the private elevator to the top had a security guard who had just kicked out a young woman with a fake ID because he said she had the same name and birthday as the ID of another woman in her group! Ahhh to be that eager to be part of the “in crowd” and to be that careless in trying to pass off a fake ID!

Our view was spectacular!

One of our group is vegetarian, so our choices veered towards the meatless. The brussel sprouts with a mountain of pecorino for $13 was a fresh but not perky salad. The dressing was lemon and white balsamic, but we could taste neither.

 

The fried calamari for $14 with balsamic aioli was perfectly fried and tender, and we appreciated that the tentacles were included in the serving.

The whipped eggplant for $12 had a pleasant smooth texture, but gave none of us any desire to order it again aside from the warm soft puff of bread that came with it to be torn apart for dipping.

 

The mushroom wood-fired pizzas for $20 each were decent with a nice assortment of cremini, maitake, and oyster mushrooms, lemon cream and parmigiano reggiano were decent but not noteworthy.

This is a good choice for a few bites but do not expect the be awed;

that is why there is a view 🙂

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Many people have tried Chinese Hot Pot, but it’s usually a communal pot where everyone dips whatever they wish into the common broth and then everyone personalizes their dipping sauces to their taste. Hai Di Lao gives everyone an opportunity to choose their own personal broth in heated stations at the table, ranging from mushroom, to miso spicy, to spicy. There are many ways to customize each soup base ranging from level of spice to kind of spice, and in some cases adding double umami to the mushroom base.

Their location in Arcadia is in the Santa Anita Mall and has lines on par with Din Tai Fung, so either go very early or very late. The ordering system is nearly completely automated, so you will be ordering from an iPad (with pictures) at the table, as servers bring you any drinks, extras, or perform the special custom noodle dance for you! There are aprons/bibs for everyone and they are meant to be so soft and cute that you will want to buy one…like hotel robes that are extra fluffy 🙂 They sell several of their items both online and in the restaurant, so if you want to try making your own at home you can.

This is a high end, high quality ingredient place, so expect to pay around $50 per person. The value is good for the choices, which range from wild Mexican Shrimp to kurobuta pork on the protein side, to yam noodles and assorted exotic mushrooms.

My choice of spicy soup base (I chose MEDIUM) was so spicy I had to have it changed out the mushroom. The smart waiter saw me suffering and said, “This is your first time here?” I learned after the fact that most people never order this hot pot base and only a few use it as an extra soup base. Even after rinsing off my meat in the mushroom base later, I was still tearing up from the spice 😦

One of my friends ordered the miso spicy soup which was what I would do if I wanted spice. It was hot enough for a spie lover, but still edible.

The meat was incredible! The quality was evident in every bite; we got both the pork and New Zealand Lamb

This is the full spread for 3 of us, including from the top, the assorted vegetables, egg noodles, rice cakes, New Zealand lamb, exotic mushroom assortment, Mexican Wild Shrimp, and the kurobuta pork in the center.

We also had 2 glasses of decent wine, a non alcoholic drink, and we gorged on the sauce and dessert bar, which featured everything from macaroni salad and rambutan fruit, to mini fried sesame balls.

It was a very fun evening out, with a noodle man pulling acrobatic noodles for nearby tables (you may order him for your table), then a dragon parade and magician giving the restaurant a festive show for young and old alike. For a celebration, this is a fun place with high quality food and presentations than most hot pot places. I would not come here alone or for a quiet meal, but definitely will be back with a group for more fun and food (and we will order the noodle man)!

Yelp held an Elite Event event at Heroic Deli and Wine Bar a few months ago, and after tasting nearly the entire menu, I had to go back with a friend who loves authentic Italian food as much as I do (she speaks Italian and lived in Italy). The chef, Barbara Pollastrini, is one of only 40 Ambasciatori del Gusto (Ambassador of Taste), and the only one based in the US. Marry this kind of expertise with a wine list of bottles rated 90+ points  that exemplifies the best of Italy and California, and you have a destination worth visiting even if you are not a local.

We got there early enough to begin with the Happy Hour menu and their cacio y pepe arancini for $8. It was a crisp peppery bite to start our taste buds salivating.

I love artichokes so next happy hour appetizer were the fried artichokes for $8, served with an aioli for those who like some creaminess to dip into.

My friend and i had been sadly disappointed by the octopus we had ordered at another meal in a well known large restaurant downtown, but we were thrilled with the Polpo Croccante with potatoes for $24 here. The octopus was perfectly tender on the inside and crispy on the edges, with garlicky russet potatoes that were so good we nearly attacked the waiter who tried to take the plate away before we had eaten the last bite:)

One of the highlights was the fresh live Santa Barbara prawn and live uni on blue ocean pasta with crispy prawn head for $36. Thankfully we are good friends or we might have fought to eat this entire dish!

Because the chef makes her own guanciale, we finished our savory courses with the amatriciana for $22 with slow roasted tomatoes that showcased the quality of great ingredients expertly handled.

The owner Jeffrey Merrihue was there and remembered me from the Yelp event, so he offered us the torta di mele, a deconstructed apple pie ($10) with salt caramel, bufala ricotta, lemon zest and vanilla gratis and suggested that we try the Soave as a slight change from the Italian Chardonnay. Since I had only tried the Italian Chardonnay because of his suggestion at the Yelp Event, we tried the Soave and once again learned that there are many exceptions to a rule. Both wines were nicely balanced, the Chardonnay had no oak, and the Soave was not at all sweet! Bravo! Also bravo to our waiter who managed to exactly evenly split the last glass of wine we ordered into two equal servings 🙂

Heroic is a beautiful environment with excellent service, quality ingredients, and a talented chef, and has become one of my favorite places to eat in Santa Monica.

French food is my comfort food, but for visitors from NYC who came to town, finding a spot worthy of two picky palates became a foodie challenge, especially when one of them is a working chef. Sadly few good options are on the westside of town, and not wanting to trek east on a week-end night, I remembered that I had tried take out from Cathay Palisades at a dinner party, so a quick text later, the restaurant welcomed us as friends of their regular customers (it always helps to be referred). We had enough people to try several things and I’m happy to say everything was fresh, flavorful, and we cleaned all the plates 🙂

The mushroom medley for $13.25 was served with steamed broccoli. It is great as a side dish or main for vegetarians, with a nice assortment of mushrooms in an oyster sauce.

The salt and pepper shrimp for $19 was a crowd favorite for nostalgic reasons, but although the shrimp were fine, I found it lacked anything to rave about.

Another group favorite were the garlic noodles, but again I found them good, but not outstanding.

One of my favorite dishes was the calamari with bok choy for $18.50, with perfectly cooked tender calamari and lightly stir fried bok choy that used only the tender baby bok choy.

My other favorite dish was the shrimp with snow pea pods for $18.50 which featured the high quality shrimp once again, but this time with the pea pods which had been painstakingly defibered so that every pod was tender and crunchy without any strings. The hallmark of any good food is the care and attention they take to ensure fresh quality ingredients, but the extra mile of proper preparation and technique add to the enjoyment of the diners who reap the benefits of taste and textures that make for happy eaters.

Everyone who came in was welcomed by name, so they obviously have a loyal regular base of customers who appreciate their food, as well as very efficient and friendly service. It was a pleasure to share the comfort of good Chinese food with friends, locally and from afar.

Some places are fun even if the food is not great, just because the service is fun and the ambiance is lively. I have one serious concern regarding Chez Paul but I am writing this to highlight both the wonderful points and to warn about places that may be popular but also not properly adhering to proper temperatures and food handling practices; this particular warning applies to EVERY place.

Chez Paul is a few blocks from Bastille, in a lively neighborhood with not shortage of bars and bistros, so when my friends and I settled on giving this place a try it was because the location offered wonderful streetlife entertainment, old world charm, and the place was packed with a mix of locals and visitors.

Six escargots for under 10 Euros were done perfectly with bubbling butter, parsley, and garlic, and toasted baguette for dipping.

The steak tartare at 18 Euros was obviously machine ground as opposed to knife cut, and this was the dish that gave my friend diarrhea all night long. Having eaten three steak tartares during my 2 weeks, I knew not to order this one when I saw the plates coming out of the kitchen, but my friend was craving the dish so ignored my warning.

ANY machine cut/ground steak tartare is a dangerous bacteria breeding ground because no one cleans the machine after every grind, so you are grinding any meat, that serving may be contaminated with all the other meat that was ground previously. This is especially dangerous on a warm evening when when you have no idea how long or at what temperature the raw meat has been sitting out. I will ONLY eat steak tartare at a place where it is knife cut. PERIOD. Being knife cut doesn’t mean the meat is great, or was stored at a proper temperature, but it considerably lessens the likelihood of cross contamination. This is exactly why ground beef is a major cause of e coli illness, even in the USA where we rarely eat beef tartare.

The scallops with pasta and a tomato sauce were decently done and a very generous portion.

 The duck confit for 19 Euros was my choice and again a copious portion.

The tarte tatin at 8.50 Euros was large enough to share between three of us and ended our evening on a sweet note.

Madame Shawn is a Thai restaurant that has a branch in Bangkok and four in Paris, so if you are craving something spicy in Paris, I highly recommend that you stop by and savor the flavors that are a rarity in Paris where anything spicier than pepper is met with shocked and frightened looks by the locals 😉

Luckily my friends are not afraid of spice and love to travel by both palate and plane, so we went to the Madame Shawn next door to my favorite Boulangerie Du Pain et des Idées in the 10th. I had discovered Madame Shawn because it was next door to the bakery and I was too hungry to just eat bread for a meal. they offer lunch menus from 14-19 Euros  and their dinners are fantastic!

Their 18 Euro sampler of appetizers will give you a taste of all the variations of taste they offer.

Their #47 with rice noodles and chicken was a delicious version of pad see ew in Los Angeles with vegetables and a citrus spark.

The #321, a spicy vegetarian stir fry with tofu, was a nice piquant plate to add to our assortment for 13 Euros.

Their #306 for 18 Euros was a beautiful coconut presentation with  creamy lemongrass flavored shrimp.

 This is the plated view of that curry 🙂

 Desserts ranged from sorbets and ice cream for 7.50 euros,

 to the best mango and sticky rice I’ve e er tasted for 8.50 euros.

You may not crave Thai food while in Paris, but if you do, you won’t be disappointed by Madame Shawn.

Milestone birthdays should be celebrated, and what better way to celebrate than to enjoy a Michelin star meal in Paris? Especially when the person has never eaten at a Michelin star restaurant and loves food 🙂

Montée is a tiny 15 seat restaurant in the 14th, and before it became a starred place, it was my favorite place to eat in Paris. It is now under the helm of Takayuki Nameura and the evolution of status in the culinary world is very well merited. They offer a lunch or dinner menu that is set by whatever is is in season and / or ignites the chef’s creative fire. Dinner is 10 courses, but they served 2 additional amuse-bouche and because it was a birthday celebration, they also presented us with a birthday plate.

I chose a lovely 2014 Graves that was mid range priced to accompany the meal and we took Le Cab there and back so that we could enjoy the entire bottle 🙂

I neglected to take a picture of the veal/spinach schnitzel, probably because it was one of my favorite courses and I enjoyed it so much I completely forgot about documenting it, but that is a good sign of living in the moment, rather than seeking to preserve it.

Enjoy the feast for your eyes until you can get there to feast your palate on these incredible flavors.

Multi layer amuse bouche

another amuse bouche with candied walnuts, dried shitake, and puff pastry

tomato ice and corn souffle

 blue lobster, cashew, and caviar

 foie gras, banana, and smoke

 cod, potato, and sorrel

 white asparagus, almond, and chives

 flounder and leek

 amazing veal, spinach and schnitzel that I forgot to photograph,

then this apple, cider and saffron dessert

 chocolat

 crisp powdered sugar oreillettes

 fabulous wine

 and a lovely birthday plate 🙂

I’ve never been to Ethiopia, so the food I’ve eaten here in Los Angeles may or may not be authentic to the food served and eaten in that country. I can only describe the flavors and my preferences, so if any Ethiopians read this blog, please comment and let me know what places you enjoy and describe the dishes that you recommend!

Queen of Sheba in Inglewood serves what I guess is very authentic Ethiopian food since both times I’ve gone the place was filled with Ethiopians 🙂 It’s in a very nondescript and worn looking strip mall, so don’t be put off by the outside appearance. The warm welcome and the fragrant flavors inside will more than make up for the first impression.

We tried the In and Out (Geba Wet) for $13.99 with the vegetarian combination $12.99, and although the flavors were wonderful, the beef had many fatty and sinewy bites, so next time perhaps one of the other beef choices would be better.

On another night, we got the lamb tibs $14.99 with the vegetarian combo $12.99, which was definitely our favorite combination with purified butter and onions, the lamb melted into tender shreds as we scooped it up with the bites of the Mesir wot, Yater Alicha, Gomen, cabbage and salad.

Messob is on the stretch of Fairfax known as Little Ethiopia, in a much more appealing section of town, and they also serve wine. Unfortunately their signature dish of doro wat (chicken stew) tasted burnt and bitter, and after all the tasty vegetarian variations at Queen of Sheba, the offerings here were bland and a bit sad. Service was slow since we were seated in the back section by the bathrooms and the poor server was running all over the main dining room and our section by herself. (BTW that round oval in the middle of the doro wat was a hard boiled egg.)

Thankfully Meals by Genet, made famous by the sorely missed Jonathan Gold, is just a block away from Messob, but a world away in terms of flavors, service, and ambiance in the best of ways. You will likely need a reservation so plan ahead or be prepared to wait a long while for one of the few tables.

The vegetarian combo, which included every vegetarian dish, is $22, and the Chicken Tibs were $20. Prices reflected the upgraded ambiance and the option of nice bottles or glasses of wine with your meal, makes this a great date destination. Our waiter was an absolute professional with an entertaining flair that made our meal even more enjoyable.

Depending on your mood, timing, and your location, you may opt for either Queen of Sheba or Meals by Genet, but you can’t go wrong with either!

Good pork is hard to find, and if the preparation is as good as the product, it becomes a reason to partake of porcine pleasure as often as possible. Pikoh does many things well, and their pork tonkatsu with shredded cabbage, caramelized lemon, and Japanese mustard for $16 is one of those things. What’s not to love about a crispy fried tender piece of pork?

That same pork is available with curry, rice, and egg, for $24, enough to satiate those who have hearty appetites.

During happy hour, the had pork ribs which had nice tenderness, but I found them a bit lacking in oomph (how else do you describe something that is good but not great?). I haven’t been back for happy hour, so not sure if it is still on the menu…

One new dish that definitely had oomph and has become one of my favorite dishes there is the kim chee fried rice with pork belly for $16. This version of the classic comfort dish is not only well rounded in textures and flavors, but it delights with every bite.

Having become a regular here, it is nice to see that they keep some classic favorites like the tonkatsu, while adding new ones like the kim chee fried rice to keep giving me choices that are far from boring 🙂

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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