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When I first moved back to the US, I asked my gluten loving friends where they found their favorite baguettes and croissants. Since I now live on the eastside, making the trek to Bouchon in Beverly Hills on a regular basis was not going to be part of my life. The consensus was that I should try the croissants at Euro Pane in Pasadena. I was in for a shock when I saw how big they were. Easily 8″ long and 3″ wide in the center, they are HUGE by French standards. Since they use real butter, the flavor was good, and it was light and airy on the inside, but I had to “crisp” up the outside by popping it into the oven for a few minutes. This was a very good rendition, but I didn’t salivate and want to run back for another one (the true test of a great viennoiserie is that you want another one).

A very good croissant is at Mr Holmes Bakehouse, famous for their croissant muffin hybrid, the Cruffin, as well as filled donuts.

The Holmes croissant is a butter intense version that some people adore, with a nice flaky exterior and good air pocket interior. I prefer a less butter saturated version, but for those who love butter, this croissant would be very satisfying.

Bread Lounge in DTLA makes a very good croissant, with a light airy center layers, and a crisp outer shell. It’s about twice the size of the ones in France, but normal sized for the US. Slightly buttery and very light interior, but it doesn’t have that delightfully chewy texture that I love.

I found Proof Bakery in Atwater Village on Instagram. If you look at their feed, have some napkins nearby because you will salivate onto your phone 🙂 I got both a regular croissant and an almond, since those are my two favorites. The sizes were normal by French standards and I skipped the pain au chocolat because I’m one of the rare people who doesn’t like their bread with chocolate!

After one bite of the croissant I wanted to go back and get a dozen! It is as close to an excellent Parisian one as I’ve eaten since I’ve been back in the US; flaky crisp exterior and layers of soft buttery interior with just the right amount of toothiness. I ate all the crumbs off my plate:)

The almond was just as authentically made and had a generous filling of almond paste on the inside and outside. This was so good I wanted to save some for later, but I kept eating “just one more bite” until it was gone.

I don’t live on croissants alone, so I also looked for baguettes. A local showed me Nicole’s in South Pasadena, a gourmet shop and cafe. When I saw they had beautiful products and cheeses from France I swooned, and then nearly fainted when I saw the prices were 3-5 times what I paid in France! I picked up one of their baguettes, anticipating a traditional rendition.

I was disappointed beyond words. I could have bought a baguette at a chain supermarket with better crust and texture, not to mention flavor.

Frogs Organic Bakery got rave reviews for their baguette, but by the time I arrived at the South Pasadena Farmers Market, they were already sold out! I settled for a loaf of their sourdough. It was a nice loaf of bread, but it lacked the crackling crisp crust, sour tang, and springy texture that I love. I was so uninspired by this loaf that I didn’t go back for a baguette.

For artisan bread, the loaves at Seed Bakery are made with made with freshly milled organic ingredients, so if your tastes are for denser more robust bread, this is the place to go. You can literally see the difference in the crust and air pockets between the Frog’s Bakery vs. Seed Bakery loaves; buy according to your preference.

Since my favorite baguette before I left was at Bouchon Bakery, and I was in Beverly Hills for a Yelp Event, I stopped by to get one. After three years of eating baguette tradition in France, this was more like a regular baguette.

I was thankful for a decent crust, proper air pockets, and good flavor after the previous shop.

The baguette I got from Bottega Louie was twice as expensive but better in all aspects from crust to interior and much bigger. Since it is so close to two metro stops, this easy and pricey choice is one of my favorite baguettes in Los Angeles.

Bread Lounge is another of my favorites; they not only bake a wonderful baguette, complete with crackling crust and airy interior, but it is about half the cost of the baguette at Bottega Louie. Bread Lounge is in an industrial part of town, so not easy to access with public transportation, but easy to find parking if you are driving. The loaf doesn’t have the toothy chew of the Bottega Louie baguette, but the crust has a nice crunch.

Another favorite is the baguette from Clark Street Bread, available now only at the Grand Central Market in DTLA (and various restaurants around town) until their shop opens in Echo Park. At $3.50, their price is in line with Bread Lounge, and although the crust needed a bit of crisping in the oven, the interior has the chewy texture I like, and the aroma of the loaf belies the quality ingredients used in its formation.

As in many other aspects of life, there are tradeoffs, and happiness lies in finding a balance that works. I’m grateful to have several choices which make me happy. If I could combine the best of all my favorites, I would have the Bread Lounge crust combined with the chewier interior of Bottega Louie, and the flavor of the Clark Street baguette 🙂

A great bagel is nearly as rare as a great baguette, but for NYers looking for a taste of breakfast from home,  Belle’s Bagels is worth both the trek to Highland Park and the early morning journey (they sometimes sell out by noon or earlier on week-ends). Get a container or two of their Sierra Nevada Cream Cheese to complete your order and you will be set until they are open again (Thursday-Sunday).

In my hunt for bread, I found Float in Pasadena. They got rave reviews for their sandwich baguettes so I went for lunch and I agree, they have some of the best bread not for sale individually:) My friend ordered the tuna salad with avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and whole grain mustard. She thought she could only finish half, but it was so good she ate it all.

I ordered the pastrami banh mi with hot pastrami, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, red onion and cilantro. It was a refreshing take on both a traditional banh mi and a regular pastrami sandwich which I thoroughly enjoyed and would order again any day. They also have floats as the name implies, but after their hearty sandwiches there was no room left in my stomach.

In the foodie mecca of the eastside, aka Eagle Rock, I saw Milkfarm‘s enormous cheese counter and was drawn inside like a moth to flame, or in my case a raclette to a heat source (here’s a video of how raclette is eaten). I saw a customer eating the turkey press and got one for myself:) It was made with turkey, roasted eggplant, roasted shallots, sundried tomatoes, pesto, kale, smoked mozzarella and fontina on multigrain. Even though it wasn’t on a baguette, I was absolutely happy.

Who wouldn’t be happy eating this?!??!?!

They also sell Bread Lounge Baguettes, so if I need a local quick baguette fix, I have a place to go!

A cappuccino is the best way to start a day in Rome, especially since nearly every bakery, bar, and caffe makes an excellent cup. The bakery near where I was staying, Desideri Caffe, opens at the crack of dawn and serves locals heading off to work (I got my last cappuccino in Rome before my flight at 6am). The price of coffee is controlled at a certain amount if you drink it at the counter, and it was only 1.10 Euros. Yes, this wonderful cappuccino was only $1.20 US! Being a bakery, they had plenty of sweet temptations, but the best reason for me to go back was after one visit, the man behind the counter knew me and asked if I wanted my “usual”:) The residential parts of Rome, like Monte Verde, are big extended families, and once you arrive, you are welcomed, usually with a smile.

As lunch time approaches, the sweets in the case become sandwiches, to go or to eat at the tables inside or on the patio of the bakery, which also has a full bar if you want a shot of alcohol in your coffee.

Isola Tiburina, or Tiber Island had more tourists, as you can see by the signs in English,

and the cappuccino at Tiberino was more expensive at a whopping 1.50 Euros, or $1.70 US at the counter. It was hands down the best cappuccino I’ve ever tasted. Yes, thank-you, more please…except I would have been a jittery wreck all day. It was a good thing they were out of cornetti, the breakfast pastry that is not a croissant, or I would have added a sugar high to my caffeine high:)

Their sandwiches for around 5 Euros or $6 US, looked amazing, but I had other plans for lunch.

Enoteca Spiriti is a wine bar opposite the Temple of Hadrian, not far from the Pantheon. It was the least touristy place I found in the area, so I took a chance and had lunch there.

Every one of the men wore a blue suit with a red tie, and all the women carried expensive handbags. They all seemed to know each other, greeting each arrival with kisses and or handshakes. I wondered if I had walked into a secret club, but then I learned Temple of Hadrian now houses a bank. Ah no wonder so many people were drinking water in a wine bar!

The decor and artwork were very original and low key.

My small tuna salad for 12 Euros or $13 US was as simple as it looked without any flavor to the dressing but very fresh ingredients, and well presented. My glass of sauvignon blanc at 6 Euros or $7 US was equally fresh and pure,

which seemed to be the theme of the place, extending to the breadbasket.

Even their toilet had an attachment if you wanted to rinse yourself after your meal, which I nearly wanted to do when I went to pay my bill and the waitress tried to add an additional service fee of 3 Euros, but since I had gotten the bill at my table, she couldn’t ask me for more since I had the itemized total tally in writing in my hand. Bankers aren’t the only ones trying to add fees!

I had a much better experience, and much better food at Litro, which was very conveniently located directly in front of a bus stop on a line I took into the touristy parts of town 🙂 The wonderful thing about Litro is that they are open all day, serve everything from snacks to full meals, and they have a good selection of wines and desserts. It’s a casual place with a small patio. It’s so warm and friendly, one day one of the owners was there playing with his son and feeding him as he was serving the customers.

There are daily specials on the chalkboard outside, and one day it was a bruschetta with guanciale for 5 Euros or $6. This was a perfectly grilled toast topped with pork “jowl bacon” dressed with excellent olive oil, the tender thin slices of smoked cured meat nearly melted onto the hot bread, and was so redolent with thyme and pepper, that my mouth had a little dance party! I had a nice glass of Mescita for 4 Euros or $5 with the bruschetta and that kept my hunger at bay until restaurants opened for dinner three hours later.

On another day between Roman lunch and dinner restaurant hours, I was so hungry, I needed a meal, so I ordered their tuna salad for 12 Euros or $13. This salad was easily the biggest one I’ve seen since leaving Los Angeles! The bottom of the bowl was filled with even more goodies, from tomatoes to cucumbers and olives, besides the eggs and uniquely fabulous Italian tuna in olive oil with bits of crunchy croutons. This salad was so delicious that I actually wanted to go eat it again but I was so full from my other meals, that I never got a chance to go back for another. This picture really doesn’t do the salad justice, but I was too hungry to even toss the salad before digging in, and once I did, I couldn’t stop eating until I had finished the entire bowl!

They had fabulous bread which arrived in a bag! I should have taken the bag with me, which is why I think they served it in a bag, especially since it was 2 Euros or $2.30 US for the bread.

The Trastevere neighborhood has become touristy, but it’s still got some charming corners tucked away on the little streets leading into the central piazza, like this one with Vin Allegro.

They are a very well stocked wine bar with a virtual store room in plain view.

They have a generous happy hour where for the price of a drink, you get to choose as much as you wish, as many times as you wish from the two tiered buffet. The buffet has everything from sandwiches to salads, vegetables, to meat, and everything in between.

I sampled a bit and enjoyed everything on my plate. You could easily make a light meal from the buffet happy hour if you didn’t want a full dinner. They also have a menu if you prefer something hot to go with your wine. Most glasses are about 5 Euros or $6, so when you consider you can eat as much as you want with a drink for this price, it’s an amazing value. Add the charming ambience and indoor /outdoor seating, and you have a very good address to go to before or after dinner.

The Piazza Navona is a huge draw (you’ll see why in a later post), and sometimes finding a place in the heart of tourist central is a challenge, but I found a place to sit and people watch nearby, without all the crowds. Mimi & Coco is a wine bar, but like all the wine bars I saw in Rome, they offer food and coffee as well. My glass of organic red wine was 5 Euros or $6 US (5 Euros seems to be the standard price in Rome for a nice glass of wine). Chips and pretzels were offered with my drink, and the tables of tourists next to me were eating California sized pizzas and salads. A great plus at this place is free wifi, so I got to catch up on my social media as I rested my legs and watched other people navigate all the cobblestone streets:)

Any place which maintains a loyal following for over 50 years must have something good going for it. It may be their location, their service, their celebrity, their food, or in the best case scenario all four; Johnnie’s Pastrami is one of those best case scenarios, combining of all of the aforementioned qualities in one place.

With easy access off the 405 freeway and on the major alternate street of Sepulveda, their location is probably along one of your drives. The service is wonderfully old fashioned, with friendly and efficient servers, and as I recently found, their food lives up to their reputation.

The crunchy Kosher pickles and VERY hot pickled peppers were addictive, and for those who can’t get enough, they sell the pickles to go (in sizes varying from one pound for $5.50 to one gallon for $22)!

The pastrami comes in just a sandwich or a deluxe platter with fries, coleslaw, lettuce and tomato. My friend chose the platter for $15.50 and took half of her plate home. The fries were excellent, with a crisp exterior and tender center, lightly salted. The French roll was a perfect foil to the pastrami, with enough texture to hold up to the gigantic portion of meat, yet soft enough to yield to the compression you must use to get a bite. The pastrami was some of the best I have tasted in California, lean, perfectly seasoned, and thinly sliced. The only thing I would change would be slightly thicker slices, but that is just a personal preference and I think most people prefer the thinner slices since they add to the ease of eating this sandwich.

The coleslaw was a fresh vinegary coarsely chopped version with enough bite to refresh between bites of the hearty meat sandwich.

I had to try the corned beef sandwich for $10.50, but having been forewarned of the portion sizes, I opted for just the sandwich. Juicy, lean, and thinly sliced, this was a great classic sandwich. The brown mustard on the table added just enough oomph to make this the perfect comfort food for meat lovers. It was so good it was hard to stop, so somehow I finished half of the sandwich, but I can see how a very hungry man or woman (with a huge appetite) would be able to polish off the entire thing.

For vegetarians, they have a veggie burger, for kids they have hot dogs, and for burger fiends they have burgers, but if you come here, try the pastrami and corned beef. I can give you all the reasons in the world why Johnnie’s has been around since 1952, but once you try their food, your reason will simply be “I want Johnnie’s pastrami”.

Johnnie's Pastrami on Urbanspoon

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