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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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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.

After last week’s post on Bavette Meat & Provisions, it seems I’m on a butcher post spree 🙂 When I want to just pick something up to cook immediately or have someone cook for me, I go to Belcampo. I live closer to their Santa Monica location now, but it’s also easy to get to their Grand Central market location in DTLA is you ride the Metro. I carry my own cooler bag with ice packs (thank-you @jean_de_paradis) whenever I shop for provisions that are temperature sensitive like meat, poultry, and seafood, but if you live close enough to any of their locations to walk home, their grocery bags advertise all the attributes of their products.

Their ground beef was on sale, so I made two half pound patties of their marvelous grind.

 Of course, I topped it off with some bacon 🙂

 I used the spicy Italian Sausage in some pasta.

The Porterhouse pork chop was a hearty meal and well worth the $20 price tag.

If you don’t want to cook, they will do it for you; I highly recommend their lamb burger with sweet potato fries!

I may not have posted last week, but I have been eating! Hopefully this week’s post will make up for skipping one 🙂

I took a friend to Kagura in El Segundo for lunch and she loved the calm minimalist decor while enjoying her bountiful lunch gozen. She was amazed by the quality and quantity of her sushi lunch with tempura and mini side dishes that were all contrasting textures and flavors for under $25.

I ordered the miso black cod because it is one of the few items I had not yet tried on their menu, and it was one of the best I’ve ever eaten! The side of sashimi was an added bonus since I got to enjoy both cooked and raw fish for the same meal.

I finally went to happy hour at Kagura, that is every Monday-Thursday from 5-6:30 PM when they offer a menu of drinks, rolls, and appetizers, all for $4 or less! An amazing deal, especially considering the quality of the drinks and food they offer, like this 16 oz draft Sapporo for $3!

The seaweed salad for $4 was much larger than I expected but a bit overdone with the dressing; it was very tasty nonetheless.

They offer several hand rolls for $3.75, including this yellowtail version which was chock full of yellowtail.

This was the negitoro (tuna with green onion) also $3.75.

I love fried smelt; they are the french fries of seafood and I have been known to make and eat an entire plateful (see my Instagram for proof), but to minimize the temptation to overdo it, I ordered them here for $4, and although there were only three, they were big enough to satiate my craving.

I was too tempted by the fried calamari legs to stop eating, so I ordered them for $4, which would have been enough for any normal person (but not a foodie intent on trying everything)! Next time I will order either the smelt or the calamari legs, but not both 🙂

Continuing the Japanese theme, Sushi Roku in Santa Monica ended up being my dinner destination, so I continued the Japanese food theme and I indulged in my favorite Spanish Mackerel sushi while watching as my dining companion ate the standard tempura and tuna rolls, which he remarked were boring compared to what I ordered.

My last plate of the night was the yellowtail with jalapeno and ponzu, which was a very fitting way to end a full day of Japanese food, lightly, purely, and deliciously 🙂

I live near the coastline again, but much further south, so when I am in the vicinity of my old neighborhood, I stop by for some of the local places that are now a trek (24 miles=1+ hour in traffic) from Palos Verdes.

 

The Independence is just a short block away from the beach, and they have a great Happy Hour. This is where I had my first Paloma, and I must say none I’ve had since have even come close to the perfectly balanced tart tequila and grapefruit drink I had here. The Happy hour half off price of $6 made it even better 🙂

I had the oysters, but I would order something else, like the mussels or meatballs at this gastropub next time.

Every so often I crave a great donut….Sidecar is my favorite in Los Angeles, and their gingerbread during the holiday season with powdered sugar stars (which I messed up, sorry) is as beautiful as it is delicious. I’m glad it is seasonal or I might devour one a day (ginger is good for you after all)!

 

The most dangerous donut is their bacon donut, especially when it is warm….I am not responsible if you eat more than one 🙂

I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area on and off for several decades, so I remember when Chinois opened in 1983. It was nearly impossible to get a reservation, and everyone who was lucky enough to get a seat raved about the food. I have fond memories of the Shanghai lobster with curry sauce, and I know some people who worked with Wolfgang Puck and they were so grateful to be part of the food revolution he created in Los Angeles.

Sustaining quality for over 30 years is a Herculean task, but it should be noted that Hercules is a mythical man. As talented, smart, and good hearted as Wolfgang Puck is, he is human, and with such a global brand and so many operations, it is impossible to maintain excellence on all levels at all times.

On a recent visit to Chinois with two friends who also enjoyed the place in its heyday, we were sorely disappointed. With only two tables of three occupied during the entire lunch service, we thought that it was a bit odd, but we looked forward to having a semi private dining experience. We all had our favorites (still on the menu) so we split everything, starting with the famous Chinese chicken salad. A very generous portion, but it was surprisingly bland. There was no zing from rice wine vinegar nor any other flavor that stood out.

The catalyst for coming was one friend who craved the warm curried oysters with cucumber sauce and salmon pearls. Normally the portion is 4 but because there were 3 of us we opted for 2 more so we could each eat 2 apiece. The beautiful presentation was mouthwatering, but the oysters were lukewarm, barely crisp and as much as I like oysters, this was not tempting enough for me to eat more than one. Sadly the bed of plain watercress was my favorite part of this dish because at least it had a peppery flavor.

I chose the whole catfish with ginger and ponzu, looking forward to a skillful preparation. The large fish was deep fried for so long and on such a high heat that it was dry, and unfortunately the ponzu sauce could not save the flesh. At least it was crispy unlike the oysters.

As you can see from the picture, the head was so overdone, there was not any way to tell where the eyes had been.

I appreciated sharing nostalgic memories with friends, but sometimes it is better not to try to relive experiences. We will continue to eat at Puck’s other restaurants, but we won’t be returning to this one. Service was professional and my friends made sure they knew it was a birthday celebration, so the meal ended on a sweet note as I made a wish 🙂

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 🙂

I was invited to try 31 Ten Lounge, so this is one of those rare posts where everything I ate and drank was provided by the management and delivered to me by the chef. More than 95% of what I write here is based on experiences where the owners, managers, and chefs do not know that I write a blog. On the rare occasions when that is not the case I will always let you know, and I promise that regardless of whether or not I paid for my meal and drinks, my comments will always be honest.

31 Ten Lounge becomes a club later at night, but if you go earlier than 10 pm, you can enjoy a few drinks and bar bites in their beautiful patio.

The open kitchen and bar.

The creator of all the tasty bites, the chef, Michael Wilson.

I asked the chef what he recommended to drink with the assortment of bites I would be tasting and he suggested the Diablo Margarita made with jalapenos, cucumber, and a nice blanco tequila. It was supposed to be spicy, but since they use fresh jalapenos, the heat varies and mine was not hot at all and overly sweet. When I told Joseph, the manager, he promptly replaced it and the second version was much better. Since I don’t like sweet drinks, I’m looking forward to their new martini menu debuting Thursday, April 18 with drinks like the Poison Ivy, made with Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka, Grand Marnier, Pomegranate Juice and a Rosemary infused Simple Syrup, and the Remedy, made with Jameson Irish Whisky, Honey & Ginger Infused Simple Syrup & Lemon Juice ($14-$16).

One of my favorite items was the grilled and raw asparagus with fennel, button mushrooms, and grana padana cheese for $13. The contrasting textures and tastes of raw and grilled worked well with just enough cheese to add a slightly salty richness. I would gladly order this as an appetizer again.

One advantage to being invited is that I got to chat with the chef about his creations. An intriguing menu item is the tempura avocado taco which is a perfect choice for vegetarians and all the Californians who love this local fruit. They make their own tortillas and the usual serving is two for $8, but since I was tasting, I asked the chef to make mini portions so I could taste more dishes. I loved the crisp batter and the soft texture of the avocado with the cabbage, salsa and sour cream, but I found the tortilla underwhelming. It may have been made in house but the texture was heavy and it was oily.

They serve two kinds of ceviche ($13 each), so I got mini tastes of both the diver scallop and calamari (on the right) and the shrimp (on the left). I definitely preferred the diver scallop and calamari for its wonderfully light ocean flavor, but if you are not adventurous, you have a tamer choice available. If you go to sushi bars and order California Rolls, order the shrimp ceviche. If you order sashimi, get the diver scallop and calamari ceviche.

The grilled romaine with seared Hamachi in a yuzu Caesar dressing (regular portion size is $17) was another one of my favorite bites. The slightly tangy yuzu with the creamy Caesar married the grilled fish and warm romaine like a Unitarian preacher joining a Northern and Southern Irish couple together.

When I saw smelt fries on the menu, it was the first thing I wanted to try. Served with a sriracha mayo and lime, these tasty bites are great finger food for any fish lovers. If you want some creamy spice, dip them in the sriracha mayonnaise which adds just a bit of heat. A normal size portion is $13 and if it was available all year round I would always order it.

I thought I was done with the fish and vegetable tastes when chef Michael brought out this seared diver scallop in a taleggio cheese sauce. I would never have put a cheese sauce with a seared scallop, but that is why chefs are truly artists at heart (as you can see from the plating, food can be art). The scallop was perfectly seared and not overly cooked (think of seared ahi tuna), not cooked through, not raw. I was undecided about whether the taleggio sauce worked with the scallop because I thought the richness of the cheese and scallop combination was a bit too much together, but I loved the scallop by itself.

The chorizo Bilbao and fingerling potatoes was one of the chef’s recommendations and I LOVED the chorizo Bilbao! I gave the chef a card for Lindy & Grundy so he could taste their handmade chorizo; maybe the chef will create a chorizo flight!

Since I couldn’t decide between the wild boar meatball with creamy cheesy polenta or the wild boar slider, the chef made me a mini plate of both 🙂 My favorite was the wild boar meatball (normal portion is $15) because the tomato sauce perked up my palate, but since they grind all their own meat, the texture in both offerings was perfect.

If you have never tasted wild boar before I would recommend you try the slider, made with oven tomato, taleggio, and arugula for $7. You will never want a boring beef slider again.

Even though I am not a big dessert eater, I know many of you are, so I tried the molten chocolate cake with gold leaf and an orange blossom cream. As a non dessert eater, anytime I eat more than one bite of a dessert, it is a great sign. I ate nearly all of this (even after all the other bites I tasted)! The warm molten center of the cake was addictive, and because none of the components were overly sweet or rich, this was a satisfying way to end my meal and evening. The edible gold was a beautiful touch and fresh berries with the fresh cream gave the dessert a lighter mouth feel.

Thank-you Joseph and Michael for providing me with a varied tasting of your menu 🙂

31Ten Lounge on Urbanspoon

Trying new places is one of the most fun aspects of DineLA. Even though the location has housed other places, Brick + Mortar has moved in and completely renovated both the interior and the menu. The new tenant is a welcome addition to the neighborhood with fresh and creative brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner, and late night dishes.

If you can’t decided what to order, you can get the chicken and waffles, with a slightly spicy fried chicken breast and honey butter for $14. This was a substantial plate (about 12″ long), but so perfectly done that my friend finished every bite with a huge grin. The combination of crunchy, spicy, sweet and savory was a delight to the palate and the micro greens added a nice visual appeal to the plate. The next table saw the dish on our table and said, “We’re getting that next time”!

I was more in the mood for lunch so I tried the Caesar salad with poached egg and crispy prosciutto for $8. It was a decent version of the classic and the poached egg was perfectly medium. I would have preferred more garlic and more anchovy in the dressing, but I loved the crispy prosciutto bits. This is probably the closest thing to a “breakfast” salad I’ve ever had!

To go with my salad, I ordered the wild mushroom pizza with gruyere, shallots, truffle oil, and parsley for $15. The toppings were great, but I found the crust more of a flatbread crisp than a pizza dough. If you like flatbread pizzas, you would like the pizza here, if you’re looking for a pizza, I would go across the street to Bravo. Like the waffles and chicken, this was a large portion (about 15″ diameter), so after three slices I had the rest wrapped to go (yes, it was good enough to take the rest home).

After polishing off her chicken and waffles, my friend ordered the chocolate lava cake for $8 which she demolished with a smile.

With a Happy Hour from 4-7 week days and a late night menu (they stay open until 1 AM), you can come for a snack of cheese and charcuterie, or bigger bites like burgers or mussels any time. This place will surely be packed during the Super Bowl, so go early if you are planning to eat here this Sunday!

Brick+Mortar on Urbanspoon

I tasted Bar Pintxos‘ food at the LA Food and Wine event Summer at the Shore (see my previous post) and couldn’t wait to try more, so I took two guests from back East to get a late night snack at this wonderful Tapas bar in Santa Monica.

One of my guests loves potatoes and when she saw the Patatas Brava, crispy potatoes, spicy tomato sauce, aioli and chives for $5, she knew what she wanted. I’m not usually a potato lover, but these converted me! They were tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, and the spicy tomato sauce and aioli added such a perfect accent that would gladly order these every time I come here.

My other friend wanted something light, so she ordered the white asparagus with green herb puree, seasonal sprouts, and marcona almonds with paprika for $6. This was a tender dish of fresh ingredients which would be a perfect choice for any vegans, vegetarians, or simply vegetable lovers.

I had to order the grilled octopus with saffron aioli and smoked paprika infused olive oil for $10. I LOVED this dish. I could have easily eaten three for dinner. The potatoes on my plate were a nice accompaniment to dip into the saffron aioli and they added a nice textual contrast to the octopus.

The atmosphere is exactly like a tapas bar in Spain, the service is warm and knowledgeable, and the food is amazing, so come here for their happy hour when tapas are only $6, or you can get a sampler plate like this (actually 2 orders on this plate).

The calamari was some of the most tender and savory I’ve ever eaten, and a bargain at $6 during happy hour (I ordered TWO)!

Come on Thursday for their $34 menu of 3 courses. I plan to come next Tuesday when they do their fabulous paella for only $9 after 6pm.

Joe Miller, the owner, came over when he saw me taking pictures and asked if I was going to post them on Yelp, so I told him yes, and even better, on my blog, because after all, great food deserves great press!

Bar Pintxo on Urbanspoon

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