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The team at Union showcase their talents in a small, discreet location, but their skills have brought people and press in from states and nations far removed from the town once renowned for little old ladies (for younger readers, this clip will explain). The dishes here are definitely old classics, but the flavors are fresh and robust, like Betty White 🙂

One of their signature pastas is the Spaghetti alla Chitarra with san marzano tomatoes, garlic, and fresno chili; simply great ingredients combined with skill and presented in a time honored cylindrical shape.

The fusilli with pork fennel sausage, spigarello, and pecorino-romano, hit all the accented notes of a savory mouthwatering ode to pasta.

There was a vegan in our group who ordered the special of roasted cauliflower that was so well executed that even the non vegans at the table wanted another bite.

As soon as I saw braised octopus, with chickpea  conserva, dukkah, and Meyer lemon yogurt, I knew that it would be my order. It was a tender, aromatic, and a generous portion, so it became my main instead of a starter.

Just as I was drawn to the octopus, another friend wanted the pork meatballs as soon as she saw them on the menu. Made with san marzano tomatoes, caper berries, lardo, and chile, they were juicy flavor bombs.

With stellar reviews from Jonathan Gold at the LA Times, The LA Weekly, and Zagat, I am just adding another voice in the chorus of voices singing the praises for this local gem.

Meeting someone in Los Angeles can be a daunting task, especially when you must drive across town to do it. Even choosing to meet halfway in the middle of the day can still lead to chaos. People say there are no accidents or coincidences, so when I was supposed to meet a friend at noon at the Hotel Angeleno, traffic and rain conspired to have me enjoy the views and food alone.

It was my first time in this circular building, although I’ve driven past it numerous times on the 405 going in and out of the San Fernando Valley. I will definitely stop by the next time traffic is crawling and I want to be above the mess rather than in it. If you stop by during Happy Hour, they have nice bites and drinks with the view and a $7 parking fee.

Since I was there in the afternoon, after the normal lunch hour, there weren’t many people and I had a choice of seats with a view. I chose the ones with cushions a bit further away from the windows, but there were hotel guests who chose otherwise. I had a glass of Pinot Grigio as I waited for my friend, but as I got updates that the trek from the airport was going to take at least 90 minutes, I decided to order lunch.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had the classic salad Crab Louie, and I was happy to see the large portion of crab and vegetables arrive. For a hotel, this was a very correct dish, with real crab (canned), and local vegetables, including heirloom cherry tomatoes. The dressing was a green goddess instead of the traditional Louie, but it was tasty enough for me to use it all with some additional salt and pepper to perk it up. Lunch was fairly priced for a hotel with a view; with my wine and tax, my total was $38; this is a non tipping hotel, so everyone is paid a living wage by the hotel from the maids to the waiters and bartenders.

By the time my friend finally arrived, it was time for Happy Hour and since I had only eaten a salad, I got the ceviche. It was a bargain for the ingredients and the unusual green chips made me think it was St Patrick’s Day, but it could have used some tapatio or zesty spice.

I got to see my friend’s room that had a view overlooking the condos on the other side of the freeway.

The bed looked comfy with modern touches like a lit headboard and USB plug in ports.

The desk area carried on the same modern theme and included numerous ports built into the wall. There was a safe and mini fridge hidden behind the placards, water and snacks at reasonable for hotel prices. There was even a little coffee/tea maker with Wolfgang Puck coffee and Numi organic green tea.

 

The bathroom had several nice amenities, including a robe, toiletries, and three sets of towels for one person!

 

 

I think the coolest part of the hotel is the emphasis on them doing things a bit differently, from the non tipping policy to the unusual shape of the building; they definitely are not square 🙂

Los Angeles has so many food options, it would take several lifetimes to cover all the choices, changes, and cuisines, but it’s fun trying 🙂 Today’s post is on some places where I only ate one meal, but I will be returning to all three.

King’s Gastro Pub is in an alley behind Old Town in Pasadena. I walked by one day and made a mental note to come by because it has a casual dog friendly patio, live music some nights, and once a month they do a pig roast! I’m not a beer connoisseur, but if you are, they have 24 on tap, as well as a full bar, so this place should be on your radar. I came for brunch one warm Winter day; it was around 78 F in January and people were in shorts and sandals! The patio filled up quickly as we got one of the last tables for our brunch. This is a family friendly place during the day because not only were dogs on the patio, but also lots of kids, and they even have high chairs!

We decided to share an order of fish and chips. The fish was a marvelous beer battered cod and so crisp and tasty we didn’t need any sauce other than a squeeze of the lemons. The fries were addictive and we ate every single one.

We shared a very brightly Californian salad of goat cheese, carrots, spring greens, walnuts, and red onions (covered by very greasy but fresh naan which we didn’t enjoy that much). This salad could have easily been a light meal by itself. Both the fish and chips and salad were under $15 each and well worth it.

Redbird is in Vibiana, the first city’s first Catholic Cathedral, now a full service event venue. The chef/owner, Neal Fraser, has always been one of my favorites since his days at Grace (which was one of my favorite restaurants until it closed in 2010). The DineLA $25 menu was a great excuse to experience what he’s been working on lately in a stately location.

I chose the starter of chicken pot pie with hearts, thigh, thyme, hen of the woods mushrooms. It arrived in a tiny saucepan that was both functional (oven to table in one receptacle) and fun.

Underneath the flaky top was a rich filling of complex and rich root vegetables with chicken pieces that was so rich it could have been a meal in and of itself. The filling was a bit salty, so you will want to dip the top into it.

The gorgeous Wyoming Golden Trout, with sultanas, oregon hazelnuts, quinoa, spinach and brown butter was an enormous, perfectly done filet, with crispy skin, tender flesh, and interesting sides. I loved the contrasting textures of the crunchy hazelnuts, the grainy quinoa, and the soft spinach. I have no idea how I managed to eat this entire serving after the chicken pot pie, but it was so good, I couldn’t stop. I just took my time and small bites 🙂

The last stop on today’s blog post is at Blue Plate Oysterette in Santa Monica.  Taking advantage of DineLA once again, I went for a $25 lunch. When I took a bite of the Ahi tuna tartare with lemon and olive oil on a herb pistou crostini, I smiled in delight. The  crunchy toast and the herb pistou added depth of flavor to the fresh fish with a brilliant twist on the ubiquitous appetizer.

Their famous lobster roll, offered dressed or undressed (I chose naked) on either brioche or butter lettuce (so it can be gluten-free for those who care), served with a large side of fries. The lobster was moist, warm, and already had plenty of butter, so the melted butter on the side was completely unnecessary. What can you add to lobster to make it any better? Nothing 🙂

My go to method of getting to DTLA is via Metro, especially during peak traffic hours and any day it rains in Los Angeles. Another perk of traveling by train is that I don’t have to think about whether I can drink since I don’t have to drive, so as I was waiting for a friend at Water Grill, I had a nice and spicy Bloody Mary. At $15 it was both strong and tasty enough to merit the price.

The lunch crowd was a bit sparse since it was chilly and rainy, but it did fill up a bit more as it got later.

The light fixtures at the bar carried the nautical theme with a fishing rod base.

When my friend arrived, we decided to split an appetizer as well as have the DineLA $25 menu, which included an appetizer and entrée. The Wild Tahitian Big Eye Tuna crudo with red beet jam, horseradish cream, mizuna, red beet chips and olive oil $15 which we shared had perfect tuna, but neither of us liked the horseradish cream which had neither bite nor flavor, but we did enjoy the beet chips for the contrasting texture.

We both chose the New England Clam Chowder with manila clams and Applewood smoked bacon as our appetizer. It was not the thick creamy chowder we were expecting and had a tart component which neither of us appreciated, but we enjoyed the soup enough to eat most of our very copious servings.

We loved all three kinds of freshly baked bread with butter and without. My favorite was the maldon salt, but the cheese and olive breads were great too.

We ordered the wild spanish grilled octopus $19 with tomato, feta and nicoise olives and when we tried to cut it it was so tough we each took one bite and sent it back. It’s difficult to ship any food overseas and maintain its integrity, and octopus is also fragile in that it is perishable. They saw how charred it was and when we said it was too tough to cut with our knives, they immediately offered to redo or replace our order. We decided to go with the crudo to completely avoid any risk of overcooking.

My friend chose the Wild Costa Rican Mahi Mahi caponata with Sherry gastrique and maldon salt and enjoyed it although the thinner parts of the filet were slightly overcooked; it’s a fine line between under and over cooking any piece of fish which is cut unevenly. Since we both cook, we know the challenge well and found it was still a nicely done piece of fish.

I ordered the salad nicoise with wild Australian Albacore with white anchovy and haricot verts and found this deconstructed presentation as unusual as the choice to serve the Albacore over beans. The ingredients were all good, but I had to add seasoning to my plate to perk it up a bit.

The atmosphere and service were impeccable; this is a perfect setting for a business meeting or if you want a good drink at a stylish bar. Portions are large, and the fish is very fresh, so if you stick to the oysters or raw/rare choices you can’t go wrong.

Talented people may begin working for other people, but most yearn to strike out on their own and create unfettered art, whether their art is hung in galleries, or presented on plates. Some are not good at business and do not work with people who are adept at the skills required, so they end up back where they started, but others soar to new heights as they flex their creative muscles.

Fishing With Dynamite is a small restaurant in Manhattan Beach, the seafood outpost next door to MB Post, both owned by renowned chef David LeFevre. Reservations for the 35 seat space are hard to get, so book your seat at least a week in advance, especially if you want to eat during prime dining hours. It’s worth the trouble; trust me:) I went twice in two weeks during DineLA week because their $25 lunch menu was too good not to repeat (prices noted below are the regular menu prices).

The rockfish and shrimp ceviche, with persimmon, radish, serrano, cilantro, avocado, and lime for $12 was as wonderful to eat as it was to behold. The textures and flavors belied the quality and freshness of the ingredients, and two orders would have made a very nice light meal.

Another appetizer was the hamachi, served with ponzu, avocado (hidden underneath the hamachi), radish, serrano and shiso for $18. If you are craving sashimi, this is a dressed up version.

When I saw the Shrimp Po Boy for $14 delivered to the table next to me, I had to order it on one of my visits. It comes LOADED with crunchy shrimp, weiser potato chips, and topped with a cajun remoulade on a buttered and toasted brioche bun. There was no way to hold this, even with two hands, until I ate two or three of the shrimp first!

My favorite meal was the Ono special during DineLA week; grilled rare, and served with eggplant (underneath the fish), pinenut gremolata, celery, and orange.

I don’t usually eat desserts after two courses, but I am very glad I got the Key Lime Pie, made with a graham cracker crust and kaffir lime meringue for $8. It was the BEST version of Key Lime Pie I’ve ever tasted!

The fresh meringue and the creamy filling were just slightly sweet and slightly tart over the buttery crust. I took half it it to go, unable to leave what I could not finish!

After a great meal, great scenery 🙂

Michelin stars used to only be award to the white gloved, ironed tablecloth, Baccarat crystal wine glass establishments where you pay as much for a meal as for a nice used car. Tastes have changed, not only in custom but in cuisine, and what was formerly considered too casual or colloquial, is now being recognized as masterful and artful.

Din Tai Fung the famous chain of 150 restaurants has a Michelin star. They are most famous for soup dumplings. One order of their famous dish costs less than $10 and their locations are inside three malls in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

A friend and I went when they first opened inside the Westfield Santa Anita a few months ago, after consolidating two nearby locations into a bigger one inside this mall. We were terribly disappointed by the famous soup dumplings being underdone on top. You can see the top bits are not translucent and look like underdone pasta; we didn’t even finish our order 😦

After subsequent visits, I am happy to report that they have worked out the kinks. They are now serving beautiful and delicious dumplings that are worthy of their reputation.

 Their vegetable side dishes were perfect, whether sautéed bok choy,

 dumplings with chili,

or mustard greens.

Side Chick is around the corner from the huge famous restaurant in the “Asian Alley” of food places on the second floor of the mall. Serving perhaps the only Hainan Chicken Rice in a mall in the USA. The superbly tenderly poached Mary’s chicken is good enough to eat plain, but if you mix the three containers of ginger/scallion, dark soy, and sambal together, you will create the most addictive of sauces. FYI, the rice is cooked with chicken fat, and you are supposed to eat the skin, so this is NOT a low calorie meal, but it is a tasty one! There is also a roasted chicken version that is slightly sweet, if you prefer, and you can specify combo, white, or dark meat. At around $10, this is a great deal,

and you can add garlicky sautéd onchoy side to complete your meal.

I go to malls to eat, not to shop:)

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 ship 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 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂

Mi Piace has become one of my regular places to meet friends for drinks, a bite, or both in the center of Old Town Pasadena. Its central location, with stress free parking options of a big public parking lot behind the restaurant or valet in front, make it an easy choice. They have daily specials, a happy hour, and a comfortable ambience that is versatile enough for a business meal or event, while also casual enough to go in on the spur of the moment from shopping on Colorado. Prices are moderate, between $15-$25 for most main dishes, less for pasta dishes, and glasses of wine between $9-$18, with bottles beginning at around $40.

One of my friends saw the photo on the drink menu and asked the waitress for “This” pointing to a fruity vodka libation made with fruit purée and garnished with a real flower:) It was a bit sweet for her taste until she stirred it a bit to mix the fruit purée with the other liquids.

They have some vegetarian salads, but some salads, like the Insalata Mediterranea, with salami, turkey, provolone, grilled zucchini, white beans, cucumber, olives, and red onions topped with feta cheese, make for a complete meal on a plate.

Their seafood pasta, with calamari and shrimp, is normally served with spaghetti but I requested angel hair, and added red pepper flakes, making it a personal variation. The serving was big enough for me to take half of it home, and although the sauce was a bit sweet for my taste, but it was done well enough that I looked forward to the leftovers.

Two friends split an order of the full sized pasta Penne all’ Arrabbiata garlic and crushed red pepper flakes in a marinara sauce as a side, so this picture is of HALF of an order.

One of the daily specials was this salmon with mango pineapple salsa, that my friend praised for the freshness of the fish and the bright fruity flavors.

The Piccata di Pollo chicken scaloppini with artichoke hearts in a white wine lemon butter sauce was a classic recipe served in a portion big enough for a large appetite or to take some home for another meal.

Since we had a leisurely late afternoon meal, we had after lunch drinks, of 12 year old Macallan served in beautiful gorgeous crystal before heading off to take naps 🙂

Finding good BBQ in France is like trying to find a great baguette in the US; it’s possible, but rare. Some foods are best in their native land, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some “low and slow” hardwood BBQ.

I’d wanted to try Bludso’s since they opened three years ago in Hollywood, but trying to find the time to drive to Hollywood on one of the nights when they had their beef short ribs was too much of a challenge right before my move. One of the perks of living in LA is that there are several delivery services which will bring you any meal you wish from nearly any restaurant you wish, all for a price. I am NOT recommending the service I used because they advertised a $2.99 delivery, then tacked on an additional $15 of “other” charges AFTER they processed my order, bringing my delivery total to about 30% of my total bill, and that was before my tip for the driver. The price was worth the lesson to either pick up a take-out order myself, or go eat at the restaurant.

I ordered the BBQ Beef Short Ribs, only offered on the Thursday-Monday dinner menu, a half rack of four for $20, and a half rack of the pork ribs for $16. There were two containers of BBQ sauce, one spicy and one mild, and even though I usually like spicy, I combined the two 🙂

with a side of collard greens $8 for a pint,

and a piece of cornbread for $1.75

Even though I had waited until a week-end night just to get the beef short ribs, I preferred the pork ribs. The amount of black pepper rub on the beef ribs overwhelmed the meat. Although tender and smoky, the beef short ribs needed the spicy sweet BBQ sauce to enhance the flavor, but I could (and did) eat the pork ribs without any sauce. They could stand by themselves on texture of the meat (not falling off the bone, but easily taken off with a bite), and the rub and smoke both married to the meat in a happy combination.

I was grateful that the collard greens were not cooked to death, and that they still retained some vibrancy along with their rich pork infused flavor. The cornbread was classically and simply made, instantly perked up with some honey or butter; they provided a container of “honey butter” but I preferred using my own.

I’d like to go back to try the beef brisket and pulled pork, but now that I’m back in the land of BBQ, it will be awhile before I go back to one I’ve already tried when there are so many other choices beckoning with masterful techniques and tantalizing aromas.

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