So Many Restaurants, So Little Time

Over the holidays and into the new year, I have been partaking in many of the wonderful eateries that Los Angeles has to offer. Cases in point:

Pedaler’s Fork

This somewhat unconventional restaurant lies on the outskirts of the city. The cuisine is definitely farm to table and the decor is creek-side, serene, country, rural and warm. It actually incorporates a bike shop, artisanal coffee shop, hopping bar and restaurant with beautiful indoor and outdoor seating.

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The Forbidden Rice Salad with black rice, marinated tofu, cucumber kimchi and miso-ginger vinaigrette. The 5 Grain Salad with quinoa, cous cous, rice, millet, farro, dates, avocado, carrot, beet, and baby kale in a balsamic vinaigrette.

Father’s Office

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This has been on my restaurant list for some time. The Father’s Office burger is legendary in Los Angeles. I finally had the opportunity to try it. And I was not disappointed. Juicy with scant gourmet touches of blue cheese and arugula, there was nothing generic nor wimpy (in character) about this burger. The chef is known for not allowing ketchup or refinements to his masterpiece and I finally understand why. It is right unto itself. The accompanying fries are magnificent and the garlic aioli is perfect.

Plan Check

Another gastropub-style eatery that has been on my list. While in the area, I made the effort to try it. First impressions: great outdoor seating with clips to attach your dog leash – love that! Service friendly. Menu full of amazing alcohol choices if you’re into that – beers, whiskeys, gins and the like. They are also known for their burger so that was a must.

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When it arrives, there’s a pinkish, reddish looking piece of paper in the middle of my burger. Did the chef forget to take the paper off the raw burger before serving? What is that? Not willing to chance it, I call the server over to ask. Aha! Of course. It’s ketchup leather. Like fruit leather but with ketchup. Turns out, the chef doesn’t want ketchup to soggy your bun so instead he made ketchup fruit leather that melts as you eat the burger. Genius.

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The fries are delicious, as is the kale caesar salad with miso-glazed salmon.

Stir Market

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A new outpost open merely weeks into the new year, Stir Market is part gourmet market, part restaurant/bakery and part beer/wine bar. Backed by the well-known local chef Jet Tila (amongst others), this European market features farm-to-table style food with worldly influences.

The Tangiers Quinoa Bowl: chickpea, shredded carrot, zucchini, pepitas, dried apricots in a tahini yogurt dressing. As gorgeous as it was flavorful.

So Many More To Try

In a bustling city like Los Angeles, restaurants are opening (and closing) every week. I try to keep track of the ones I want to try but it is a challenge. Here are some of the ones I’m looking forward to trying soon:

Pok Pok Phat Thai: Chinatown

Starry Kitchen

Chego: Chinatown, by Roy Choi

The Gadarene Swine: Studio City

Petit Trois: Ludo Lefebvre

Commissary: DTLA by Roy Choi

Barrel and Ashes: Studio City

Squirl, Republique, Eggslut, Bill & Hiroko’s, The Anchor, Gus’ BBQ, Superba Food & Bread, Little Fork, Szechuan Impression, Wildcraft Pizza, Hollywood Pies, Silver Lake Ramen, Alma, Chi Spacca, A Frame ….

Mistral

There is a restaurant that I am very fond of. It has been around for quite a few years. That in itself, is an accomplishment.

Mistral. A upscale french bistro in the heart of Sherman Oaks, CA.

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Disclaimer: this meal was expensive. Very expensive. That being said, the meal was excellent. Service, food quality and atmosphere: all 5* (in Yelp lingo).

This restaurant has stood the test of time. And for a reason. They do what they do VERY WELL. For starters, they treat all diners with french gougeres. They are light, airy and have a hint of blue cheese.

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We recently visited for a birthday dinner so we were willing to splurge. Filet mignon and other steak choices range from $40 to 50. Chicken around $30. Add escargot, wine and easily we’re into $300 for 3 people.

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But here’s why it’s worth it. These people care. They float around the room, making conversation with each table. Making the experience very personal. That’s not easy to find anymore.

And the food, wine and service are consistently good. The ambience is authentic cozy french bistro. There are no airs or pretentiousness. The service is friendly. Neighborly. As if you visit every week.

Bravo, Mistral. I’m not sure how you get away with charging what you charge. But it works. The place is always packed. And the diners seem genuinely happy. Qualities not to be taken for granted in this very dynamic and often changing restaurant culture in the city of Los Angeles.

Donabe Cookware

donabe1 I first learned about Donabe cookware about three years ago from a local blog I followed. The article talked about the cookware but it was essentially focused on Naoko Moore, the owner of The Toiro Kitchen who gives cooking demonstrations with Donabe cookware at her home in Echo Park. I registered for one of her cooking classes and spent a Saturday in her cozy kitchen learning all about how to cook rice in the rice cooker and how to cook a whole meal in the stovetop smoker.

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Afterwards all the class participants sat around Naoko’s dining table and ate a delicious Japanese meal. I was so impressed with Naoko’s enthusiasm for this cookware that is not only beautiful but incredibly versatile, I bought the Komado San rice cooker and the Donabe stovetop smoker.

The donabe cookware is made in Iga, Japan. Iga is an ancient province located about 250 miles south-west of Tokyo. Iga style pottery is considered to be one of the most highly regarded regional potteries of Japan. It is made with clay that is porous and has a high absorbency and heat retention properties. Each Donabe is made by hand and takes about 2 weeks to make.

The rice cooker makes the most delicious rice. It comes out shiny and fluffy, and it’s so easy to prepare. It tastes better than rice cooked any other way.

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One of my favorite rice dishes is one I learned at Naoko’s cooking class that I eat anytime I am in the mood for Japanese comfort food.  It is white or brown short grain rice cooked in the Kamado-san rice cooker and when it is done, leave the rice in the cooker and mix in 2 tablespoons of good butter and let it melt into the rice, 1/4 cup soy sauce and the zest of a medium orange. Stir into the rice and serve it right from the Donabe rice cooker.

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If you are looking for an interesting and unique cooking experience, check out Naoko’s website for class schedules. However I believe classes for 2015 have been put on hold because she is working on a Donabe cookbook. Her website also includes the Donabe pottery and other items like a Tofu making kit that she sells online and a fantastic library of Asian recipes.

Nudo

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I discovered Nudo when my oldest daughter gave me an olive tree adoption certificate for Christmas one year. It said that I would be receiving 3 bottles of olive oil from my adopted tree after the Spring harvest and it included a picture and story about my tree. I waited for months for my olive oil to come in the mail and right at the point when I was thinking my daughter had been duped, I received my 3 beautiful tins of fantastic Olive oil. I have since given Nudo as a gift to many of my foodie friends and I always get an enthusiastic response about what a great and unique gift it is.

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The Founders

Jason Gibb and Cathy Rogers set up Nudo in 2005 after buying and restoring an abandoned 21 acre olive grove in Italy’s Le Marche. Their love of the Italian countryside inspired their now famous adopt an olive tree program which allows people all over the world to adopt an Italian olive tree and receive its oil. The program involves a collaboration between a group of small scale, artisanal olive producers in Le Marche, Abruzzo and Sicily. Each olive farmer keeps responsibility for the care of their grove, and all the olive oil goes into the Nudo adoption program. In giving financial security to the olive farmers, the program makes viable the traditional farming methods which, quite simply,produce the world’s best olive oil.

A love of simple natural food is the starting point for all Nudo products. They are all made from 100% natural, high quality, locally sourced ingredients. Why use artificial preservatives when olive oil is one of the best preservatives there is – and the most delicious?. They also have a newsletter and blog that is interesting to read because it includes recipes and tips about uses for your olive oil. Your olive oil farmer will keep you informed about your adopted tree if you choose to renew your adoption beyond the initial harvest.

Recently I noticed that the company has branched out and is offering tea garden adoptions from India and coming soon honey beehive adoptions which is so cool. I am always looking for unique gifts for people and this one really delivers.

Vallarta Market

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Vallarta Supermarkets is a chain of 44 stores in southern and central California, specializing in Mexican and Latin American food products.

Since I was planning on making tamales, I decided to do all of my shopping at my local Vallarta market. Key ingredients that I needed were Maseca (corn flour), dried corn husks and pork lard. These were easy and plentiful to find at this ethnic market though not what you might readily see at your average grocery store.

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I also needed to purchase poblano chiles, jalapenos, white onions and tomatillos. These items were also plentiful and beautiful in the produce section. Other interesting items of note in produce were cactus, chayote squash, a variety of chile peppers both fresh and dried, tropical fruit including mangos and papaya, and banana leaves, fresh chesnuts and taro root.

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Vallarta has a butcher section that includes some of your standard fare but also includes a beef heart, liver and kidney mix, a mutton mix, smoked pork chops, fresh chicken gizzards and beef lips! There is a seafood section and many canned and packaged goods that are equally interesting and not what you find at your local supermarket. Hence the reason to seek out ethnic markets, both big and small in your local area. They are fascinating worlds of not only foodie wonder, but of another culture. I cannot get enough!

Galleria Market

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Los Angeles has the second largest Korean population outside of Korea. It makes sense that it also has some amazing Korean supermarkets. Galleria Market, located in Northridge, is one of the best I’ve come across.

Food Court

The first thing you notice when you enter Galleria Market is the Food Court. Different stalls entice you with their fare: sushi, tonkatsu, Korean barbecue, bulgogi, kalbi and other Korean specialties. Everything looks and smells delicious.

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The Bakery 

French-inspired bakery, Tous Les Jours entices shoppers with beautifully baked and packaged patisseries and breads. They also have a selection of stunning cakes.

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Korean Grocery Items

This large market is full of typical Korean grocery items including many versions of Kim Chee and pastes (Gochujang), sliced meats and fresh, mostly whole fish. There are many choices within the aisles of rice, noodles, snacks and produce.

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Prepared Foods

A specialty in Korean cuisine are the prepared foods. Most Korean markets have a section dedicated to vegetables and salads that are prepared fresh and purchased self-serve and by the pound. From Jap Chae (Korean Glass Noodle Salad) to many pickled vegetables to small fermented fish, this Korean salad bar is as colorful as it is interesting.

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Korean Culture and Food

Korean food is not as universally known as are many other cuisines in the United States, but the flavor profiles are bold and unique within the Asian culture. With a plethora of Korean restaurants in Los Angeles as well as a thriving population here, the opportunities to learn more about and experience Korean culture and cuisine abound.

Celebrity Sighting

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It was on a 7:40 am Southwest Airlines flight to Austin a couple of weeks ago that my Husband had a celebrity sighting. In the seat in front of us was a gentleman who was the spitting image of Bono from U2. He got out of his seat and walked to the back of the plane and that is when my Husband decided to follow him and get a picture taken with him. The guy was very friendly and graciously took two selfies with my Husband, in one of them they exchanged sunglasses.

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The celebrity sighting was a lot of fun but it wasn’t very realistic that Bono was on a commercial flight at 7:40 am. So that prompted me to do some research about celebrity lookalikes.

That’s when I learned about Pavel Sfera who is an actor that makes a living impersonating Bono.
Born in Yugoslavia to Romanian parents, Sfera, 45, grew up in Hawthorne. He was 14 when U2 made its 1980 debut with the album “Boy,” and from then on, Sfera says fans of the Irish band did double takes at his uncanny resemblance to the band’s lead singer.

By 1987, when the album “Joshua Tree” made U2 worldwide superstars, he was hearing it more and more. Still, he had his own musical interests to pursue then. He played classical piano and studied opera. He worked as a singing gondolier, and he sang in a restaurant, taking requests from the dinner crowd.

Still, by 2001, he wasn’t singing much. He was working in property management and was a little bored. And when his beloved father died that year he examined his own life. Sfera wondered if perhaps the face his father and mother’s DNA had provided might, in turn, provide him with some excitement.

So he signed on with an agency that books celebrity impersonators. Pavel Sfera is probably the best Bono impersonator working in the industry today. He is available solo or with a U2 Tribute band, for all private and corporate events.

So the next time you think you are getting an autograph or picture taken with a celebrity, it may very well be an impersonator.

 

Epicure Imports

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If you are a Francophile foodie like Lauren and I, you should know about Epicure Imports in North Hollywood. They are a wholesale distributor of high-end specialty food items to restaurants, hotels, retail stores, caterers and chefs in Southern California. But 6 times a year they have an open warehouse sale that is open to the public.

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In addition to French gourmet food they also carry items from Italy, Asia and other parts of the world. They are the place to go for fine French cheeses and pates and hard to find olive oils, vinegars and condiments. The sale hours are from 11:30 – 5:00 and throughout the years, Lauren and I have tried different strategies to avoid the crowds.

This last weekend we lined up outside waiting for them to open and we shared a basket so that one of us could stand in the long checkout line while the other perused the warehouse shelves and collected the yummy samples. While we were standing in line this time, we remarked how improved their checkout system has become.

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When we first started going to this sale, none of the items had prices marked on them so you didn’t know if you were selecting a $3 item or a $40 item which resulted in some sticker shock once you got to the cashier and they started adding up your basket. Now they have everything priced and they have many more cashiers and computers to tally up your order.

Not everything at Epicure is a great discount. But I would say the cheeses, pates, sausages, sparkling French juices, Valrhona chocolates, olive oils, flavored vinegars,  specialty sea salts and wonderful Panetonne from Italy are particularly a good buy compared to getting these items at high end grocery stores.

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If you’re a cook, a baker, or anyone who loves to eat fabulous food, this is the sale for you!

Preserved Lemons

If you have a lemon tree, like me you may wonder – what do I do with all of these lemons? Try making delicious Preserved Lemons!

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Preserved lemons are the culinary gift to the world from Morocco. Useful in so many ways, they do not seem that familiar to many home cooks. YET. Here’s how I made them and some of the many ways to use them.

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freshly squeezed lemon juice

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wide-mouthed glass jars, run through the dishwasher and dried

Stand a lemon stem side down on a cutting board and cut down through it to almost the bottom, leaving it intact about 1/2” above the stem. Turn the lemon and make another cut down, again leaving 1/2” above the stem but essentially quartering the lemon. Hold the lemon over a bowl of salt and pack in as much salt as you can. Put the lemon in the jar and continue filling the jar with the lemons, pushing them in as much as you can. Fill the jar with lemon juice until full and cover with the lid. Put the jars in a dark place (pantry or cupboard) and turn the jar daily to redistribute the salt for one week. The lemons can be stored this way for about 4 months or up to about one year in the refrigerator.

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Using Preserved Lemons:

Rinse the lemons under cool water before using. Many recipes call for using only the chopped rind, but I often like to use the pulp as well. Taste them before using and let your imagination go!

Grain Salads: add anywhere you would add lemon zest or juice

Salad Dressings or Sauces: use in dressings (rind and liquid) or sauces, including pesto

Grilled Fish or Meats: a perfect pairing – think salsa verde

Salsas and Dips: hummus, guacamole, salsas, tapanade

Vegetable Dishes: brightens almost every vegetable

Pasta Dishes: pasta and cous cous

Tagines and Stews: traditional

Drinks: bloody marys

Desserts: creatively in places that call for lemon

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India Sweets & Spices

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I love going to ethnic markets and wandering the aisles, discovering things I have never seen and trying to figure out what many of the products are. That’s entertainment for me. And, after traveling to India a few years ago with Raelene, I fell even more in love with Indian food. A fairly large selection of Indian products can be found at India Sweets and Spices in Glendale, California.

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There are aisles of spices in all quantities available at this market. From the typical cumin, coriander and turmeric to asafetida and names I couldn’t pronounce. Dal (lentils) come in many colors and shapes. Interesting pickles and condiments line the shelves. There is a produce section and ample frozen items including pre-made Indian specialties like samosas and naan, as well as paneer and frozen Indian meals. There are cooking equipment items, personal products and even Bollywood movies.

Another feature of India Sweets and Spices is the sizable restaurant attached to the market. They feature both northern and southern Indian specialties but their curry combos are the most popular. While I was there they were serving 4 or 5 fresh curries, served with basmati rice, chapati and puri, a vegetable samosa and pickles.

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My favorite find on my last visit to India Sweets & Spices was their snack counter. Delicious savory snacks were sold by the pound and the choices were inviting and varied. Because it was hard to choose, I ordered a little bit of 6 different snacks – from spicy cashews and peanuts to puffed cereals and fried dal and chickpeas, in various combinations and all with different spices. They were amazing and very different from any American-style snack.

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If you like Indian food and have any interest in cooking it, this is a great market to get your supplies. And while there, check out the restaurant and especially the snacks. They are a great way to sample a variety of Indian treat combinations.