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Meeting a friend in Los Angeles means sometimes finding a midway point so that we don’t go crazy trying to deal with traffic for 40 miles and 3 hours (yes, it can take 3 hours to drive 40 miles here).

Studio City was a good halfway point between the East and West Valley, so we chose Granville. The first thing I ordered was this spicy Bloody Mary made with organic vodka for $10 that came with a celery salt rim and was so good that I considered ordering another one:)

My friend ordered the Granville salad with chicken for $14, which is basically a Greek salad and as you can see from the picture, a huge portion.

I ordered the Spring Chicken salad with antibiotic/hormone free chicken, seasonal berries, gorgonzola, pecans, and a caramel dressing that is one of their specialties for $13.50. I think next time I would order my friend’s salad simply because the sweetness of the berries and dressing made it a cross between a savory and sweet plate.

My friend finished with a Breve, or a cappuccino made with half and half, before braving her drive home.

After filling out the customer card on my first visit, I got an email for a free entrée worth up to $17 the week of my birthday with the purchase of another, so two friends and I went to their Glendale location. We started with the artichoke hummus, a perfect plate to share, just as our waiter Gary suggested. The crisped flatbread had a nice sprinkle of shaved red onion and the texture was just slightly chewy, a nice pairing for the slightly lemony hummus. This is a very generous portion, so unless you are very hungry or want to take some home, I would recommend this for at least 3 people to share (and we still took some home).

I couldn’t decide between the trout with pepita crust for $20 or the 12 oz pork chop with cajun spice for $24 so I asked our waiter, and easily decided on the pork chop when he said the pork chop was a favorite. One of my friends still opted for the trout so we traded bites. We enjoyed the crispy skin, but the fish was overcooked and dry, which no amount of lemon could help, so we told our server and he offered either a redo or something else. They removed the charge for the fish when she opted for a substitution of the poblano quinoa for $13.

She liked the poblano quinoa better but would have preferred less lemon or something to offset the flavor, like some butter lettuce to scoop it up or some endive spears. She said she liked it enough to take her leftovers home (where I’m sure she will eat it with some lettuce).

I chose the pork chop that was done perfectly medium, juicy, and the cran mango compote served on top gave a bonus burst of flavor. The yukon mashed potatoes and spinach with garlic were nice supporting players on the plate, but the pork chop was truly the star. I ate about half of the plate and took the rest home, but my other friend literally cleaned his plate (I think he would have licked it if he could have gotten away with it).

They gave me a complimentary birthday ice cream scoop with a candle that I had no room to eat, so we asked for 2 spoons so my friends could enjoy it. When we got the bill, they had given us the wrong discount so we brought that up to our server who said if he couldn’t make it right he would send his manager to us. It was resolved without needing to escalate it to management, but it ended our evening on a slightly uneven note since our service was so good. I would definitely go back, but I would also always inspect the bill before paying it.

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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:)

The open architecture of Cliff’s Edge makes it feel as though you are eating in a treehouse, a very sophisticated tree house that was definitely built for adults to enjoy 🙂

The colorful comfortable seats were definitely not made for toddlers.

I went with some friends for a LA Food Bowl event, and although we all live in the area, none of us had ever eaten here, so the special Caja Roast Pig dinner drew us to this beautiful space. The vegetable sides that came with our dinner did not inspire us; there were overwhelming onions,

 and dry roasted sweet potatoes.

The one dish we enjoyed was the fresh peas with morels that we ordered from the regular menu.

The star of the dinner was the roast suckling pig served family style for the three of us. The mojo bath of garlic, sour orange, and olive oil, still left the meat dry, although the crispy skin was everything we wished for (we all wanted more of it)!

The space is absolutely lovely, and it would be worth going back to try more of the regular menu, and partake of their Thursday night $1 oyster specials. The enclosed bar area is cosy and the perfect place for a plate of charcuterie with wine from their extensive wine list.

I may be a wine connoisseur, but I am a beer novice. I tasted my first beer in England before I was old enough to drink in the US, and after one sip, I decided I would rather drink cider. Many years later I tried some Japanese beer with my sushi and discovered that it was a fine beverage, but it was not my favorite, nor my first choice with my Japanese meals (I prefer sake). My first encounter with a beer I actually liked was in Belgium when I tasted the brews of my friends and found that I actually would have chosen their beer instead of my very mediocre glass of wine. Once I moved back to the US and was faced with the exorbitant prices of good glasses and bottles of wine, I wondered if a locally produced craft beer might actually be a good alternative. I have several friends who are well versed in beer and very happy to introduce me to their world. Another great educational resource here is the wonderful American attitude of service which means that many places will give you a taste of several beers so that you can decide which you prefer (unheard of in Europe). Aside from one pub that served four tastes of beers that my friends and I literally spit out, most places that pride themselves in their beers, offer delicious choices.

Most breweries offer food, and sometimes their food is as tasty as their beer, e.g., I would go to eat at Abigaile in Hermosa Beach even if I did not drink beer.

Some of my dearest friends live in San Pedro so when I visit them, we head to the San Pedro Brewery. It’s a very casual neighborhood place that feels like a West Coast version of Cheers where everyone knows if you are a local, and yes, they may even know your name. My friends knew the other patrons and the owner, and visa versa. Out of towners are welcome and treated like guests who will become regulars. Their menu includes everything from huge salads, to ribs, pasta, and full entrées. Most prices are in the $10-$15 range including the sides. They brew their own beers (they have won 80 awards), and have a blackboard full of choices ranging from blondes to stouts if you prefer another brewer.

Besides beef burgers, they have chicken, with a side of pasta salad,

ahi with vegetables (the teriyaki sauce was too sweet for me),

and of course fish and chips (my favorite of the three) with a crunchy crisp beer batter and tender cod, served with coleslaw and fries.

This unusual shot was called “chocolate cake” and tasted like a slice!

Congregation Ale House has several locations, all playing along the theme of a church where you would want to give thanks to a Beer and a Burger for saving your weary body from trekking somewhere else. They aren’t a gastro pub, but they do decent versions of snacks and burgers all for around or under $10.

This is their regular burger, always made with rib eye,

as is their weekly special California burger. They tend to cook them more done than not, so if you like your burger rare, you will probably not find it here.

Every table seemed to have an order of the spicy wings, served up in a very generous portion (about 8 pieces) and fairly spicy heat, with great crudites.

The specials on tap change constantly, and they will allow you a taste or two before deciding, so you can be sure to find something you like before committing the sin of ordering blindly 🙂

Little Sister in DTLA is across from Bottega Louie on 7th Street, but unless you are looking for it, you will miss the discreet signage and miss the mouthwatering flavors hidden inside this small space. My mouth has been dancing in joy ever since I found this place and I look forward to every meal there just as I look forward to every trip 🙂

I asked my server her favorite dish and I ordered it; grilled prawns, cabbage mix, mango, cucumber, onion, cashews in a lemongrass cilantro dressing. It’s a much bigger serving that it seems and it could easily have been my lunch with the complex and layered flavors and textures.

The pork, shrimp, and crab dumplings with a spicy black vinegar dressing, chive, spinach, and peanuts was so  tender and savory especially with the extra sauce on the side that I didn’t want to share any with my dining companions.

 The sauce could be a  savory cocktail 🙂

The rice paper pho banh cuon beef and beef tendon, herbs, lettuce, pickled onion was a melody of textures and flavors that combined like an accomplished band, bringing in elements of silky rice paper, with sweet spice and chewy tendon.

My least favorite was the spicy lemongrass chicken with garlic and dried chilies which had depth but not to my taste for the combination of spices.

Very little on the menu is over $15 and they have sandwiches, rice and noodle dishes, as well as congee for those who want more starch. It will take awhile to eat my way through their menu, but it’s a challenge I would like to accept!

Les Niçois hosted a Yelp Elite Event and thanks to Marine B., the Paris Community Manager, we got a taste of Nice in Paris. It was perfect timing, just as the train strikes were ending, the summer solstice began, and people were beginning their summer vacations!

Niçois is the French term for people and things from Nice, so all that you think of when you think of the South of France along the Mediterranean, is here, including pan-bagnat (sandwich made with ingredients you would put in a salad Niçoise), socca (a savory snack made from chick peas) and pissaladière (onion pizza). You can come for a snack or a full meal every day except Monday, which was the night we had the event, right after the Music Festival over the week-end, so the wonderful staff hosted our event after a very long and busy week-end (they have live music downstairs even when it’s not a music festival week-end). The only thing missing is a terrace, but the big windows make the space light and airy.

 Many bottles of rosé, beer, and

frozen cocktails made with pastis (of course) were served. Even though I’m not a big fan of the anise flavored drink, their specialty cocktail blended juices with it to make it delightful on a hot day. A non alcoholic cocktail was served alongside it and I mixed half of each into my glass to make sure I found my way home:)

My favorite taste was the socca, a pancake like savory snack made from chick peas that I could have eaten all night long it was so addictive. I missed taking a shot of the pissaladière because people were grabbing bites faster than I could whip out my camera, but it was thick with onions and so good that no one minded having onion breath because we all did!

They have a fun area downstairs with a pétanque space, so of course we played:) After playing for the first time last week in the southwest, I learned to throw over handed and placed second in my group of six! It’s basically like playing horseshoes, except that experts can throw balls to knock out others and get closer to the tiny target.

 Winners got a set of three boules, and second place got water bottles!

Prices are all very reasonable, under 20€ ($28) for entrée/plat or plat/dessert, but the best feature here is the easy going friendly attitude of the people who somehow served good bites with a sense of humor and a smile on a day when they would normally get to rest.

Spring showers soaked Paris for a week. On Monday, the rain was so heavy that at times people literally hid in storefront alcoves. I meant to take pictures of the new canopy over Les Halles, but the brief moments when it wasn’t pouring were so rare that I didn’t want to risk ruining my new camera. The only outdoor shot I got was this “canopy” in the five minutes it cleared enough to take a shot.

With weather like this, we literally just ran into a restaurant nearby, the chain from Brussels, Léon. My friends who live in Brussels say that they eat there, so caught between the downpour and flooded streets, we decided to try it. They are famous for their mussels, guaranteed fresh and inspected, and they offer an incredible lunch menu of salad, mussels, coffee and dessert for under 12€ ($15 US). Being in France means a nice selection of wines, and being a Belgian chain means their beer selection is equally good. My friend ordered the menu and I ordered the regular portion of mussels marinière. They offer many varieties from creamy to curry, and if you’re not a fan of mussels, they also have pasta, burgers, chicken, and fish, but why come here for a burger? The salad wasn’t particularly inspired, but decent and fresh.

This huge receptacle for our leftover mussel shells was in the shape of a mussel 🙂

My regular size portion was 800 grams, nearly two pounds, and yes I happily ate it all! The lunch menu portion is 400 grams since you get salad and dessert. My French friend taught me how to use the shells as “pinchers” to grab the mussels and I had fun playing with my food as I ate it 🙂

Fries accompany all the mussels, and this is one of the only things that I’ve ever seen here served with as many refills as you wish. They were obviously previously frozen, but not bad.

The dessert with coffee was a crème brulée and a very sweet rich chocolate mousse. All in all, a very decent meal for the price and our waitress was wonderfully friendly and efficient, so much so that my native French friend tipped her (usually no one tips here since service is included on the bill). They have locations all over the touristy areas, so if you are on the Champs-Elysées and looking for a decent place to eat, this is a safe bet; it’s like going to a Cheescake Factory in the US, nothing spectacular, but you won’t walk away hungry or angry.

My favorite “dessert” is a clear sunny day, when you can actually see La Défense instead of hazy pollution

and when the only water spouts come from fountains 🙂

 

No, Industriel is not a misspelling, it is a restaurant serving “Urban Farm Cuisine” in downtown Los Angeles. The interior is definitely a playful mixture of industrial “decor” like the metal chains & pulley by the stairs, combined with a rustic farm feel as they show off their home made pickled carrots, tomato jam, and pickles for sale. Everything that can be made in house IS made in house here and the quality ingredients are skillfully used in all their dishes.

The Quinoa, with roasted mushrooms, pecan, kale, and a caramelized shallot vinaigrette was one of the best dishes using quinoa which I have ever tasted. The textures and flavors each complimented each other and gave the dish a hearty yet fresh taste.

The Red Snapper Nicoise was a delightful variation on the usual tuna. The perfectly cooked snapper was served with barely blanched green beans, olives, tomatoes, and the most perfectly done boiled eggs I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant, I could eat this dish several times a week. The bottarga dressing lightly coated the greens and gave a well balanced acidity to the fish.

The only reason I would not come here for lunch more often is the location in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. If you work in the area, this spot is a treasure, but if you don’t live or work in the area, coming here can be a bit of a challenge with traffic and parking, so I would suggest you make a reservation for a week-end and enjoy the pleasures of having a lazy day at Industriel.

Note: Underground parking at the One Wilshire building, about a block away, is only $5 on week-ends (cash only).

Industriel on Urbanspoon

Zinc in the Shade Hotel has a prime location only a few blocks to the beach and pier in the heart of Manhattan Beach. It’s a rare treat to find great food in a great location, but add to that combination some very affordable prices, and you’ve got a formula for success. Zinc seems to have mastered the formula. With a $16 lunch menu that includes an appetizer, entree and dessert every weekday between 11-4pm, this is a great place to enjoy a lunch at the beach without breaking your piggy bank.

I started with a tomato bisque drizzled with basil oil. It was a good rendition, not as flavorful as Bottega Louie’s or Bouchon’s, but a solid starter.

For my main course I chose the Steak Frites, hanger steak with brown butter, red wine demi-glace, and shallots, served with hand cut fries. I ordered it rare and it came as ordered, but because it did, the quality of the meat showed and it was not pretty. The sinewy piece was so tough in places that I could only eat about two thirds of the steak. The sauce was good and the crispy shallots were wonderful accompaniments. I would definitely choose another main course, like the King Salmon burger (which was sold out).

The fries needed salt, but unfortunately adding them after they arrived was a little too late since it would not stick after they had cooled.

I chose a berry sorbet for my dessert, a refreshing finish, not too sweet or tart.

Would I go back? Sure, but I would pick another main course and try the chocolate pot de creme for dessert next time. With a location like this, I want to find food good enough to go back for next time.

Note: You can park under the Mettox shops in covered city metered parking, so bring plenty of change or buy a cash key.

Zinc 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

It’s one of my four favorite times of the year; Dine LA week started (again) yesterday and it was time to revisit Blue Stove since it’s been over a year since I last tried their menu. The Dine LA dinner menu for $25 includes three tapas and three pours of wine pairings, one for each plate.

I started with the Ahi Tuna Poke with fried wontons, which was paired with a 2009 Kenneth Volk Viongier. There was a bit too much soy sauce in the Poke, which not only made it a bit too salty, but made it a bit runny (as you can see on the plate). This composition of seaweed, avocado, and mango would have been delightful otherwise.

My second wine pairing was a pour of 2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir, which was my favorite wine of the night; light enough to pair with poultry or even seafood, yet full bodied enough to enjoy with my red meat course.

I ordered my skirt steak with romesco and balsamic onions rare, and I was thrilled to see that they actually cooked my steak “blue” (cold in the center)! The onions were a zesty counterpoint to the rich meat and romesco sauce and aside from the meat being a bit stringy, this was a great dish.

I had them wait to deliver my dessert because I was so full after my first two “small” plates, but when I finally felt I could take another bite, I had the berry cobbler with a pour of 2010 Catena Malbec. I managed to taste this HUGE dessert so I could write about it (the sacrifices I make for this blog:). The berries were wonderful and the ice cream was a good quality vanilla, but unless you are a cow (with 5 stomachs) there is no way anyone I know could finish this 8″ dessert after two courses!

Dine LA is a great excuse to revisit old places and try new ones, so I’m heading over to try a new one (Sotto) tomorrow since today I revisited an old one.

P.S. For those who don’t already know, you can valet park free for 3 hours at Santa Monica Place if you eat here (just remember to get a validation at the restaurant).

Blue Stove (Nordstrom) on Urbanspoon

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