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.

Let’s Do Lunch

During one of my regular Museum Thursdays that I do with a girlfriend once a month, we recently had lunch at a farm to fork restaurant called Moreton Fig which is located on the campus of USC. It has a lovely patio that is canopied by USC’s historic Moreton Bay Fig Trees and their menu is fresh and creative. They are open for lunch and dinner and serve small plates in their bar from 3:30 – 8:00 pm. If you go, I encourage you to sit outside where you can reminisce about your college days while watching the students going to and from their classes.  The only difference is now you can actually afford the gourmet food you are eating.

Here are a couple of dishes that are served at Moreton Fig that will hopefully inspire you to visit.

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Another lunch spot that my girlfriend and I discovered during one of our museum outings is the Rose Garden Tea Room at the Huntington Library. It overlooks three acres of roses and provides an elegant and delicious tea experience. A pot of brewed tea and a basket of freshly baked scones are served at each table. From a central buffet, guests may choose from an array of savory finger sandwiches, imported and domestic cheeses, fresh fruit, chilled seasonal salads, and specialty petite desserts. Best of all, you can return to the buffet as often as you like. There is no dress code in the Tea Room: shorts and t-shirts or dresses and suits are equally acceptable, and children are welcome!

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Chicken Poop Bingo

While we were traveling in Austin during our BBQ crawl, which I will be writing about in my next Travelogue post, we discovered a quirky bar game called Chicken Shit Bingo, in polite company it is called Chicken Poop Bingo. Its origin is thought have started in New Orleans in the 1980s and has become very popular in small town venues across America.

DiscoveriesWe witnessed this famous Austin event at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon which is only played on Sundays. Starting at 4:00 pm, players buy a $2.00 ticket and they get a random number to place a bet on a 54-number grid. One number per player. Once all tickets are bought, Ginny fetches a chicken from an outside pen and places it in a cage sitting on top of a plywood-covered table with 54 numbers on it. The grid is covered with a light scattering of chicken feed and Ginny and others throw pieces of bread into the cage. Everyone gathers around the cage and yells out their number to the chicken and waits for nature to happen which could be up to an hour.

chicken3Whoever’s number the chicken poops on gets a portion of the total kitty. It was a total blast. This goes on every hour for 4 hours and in between games, everyone drinks beer, dances and listens to live music.

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Of course this game of chance has come under scrutiny by PETA and some state’s Gambling Control Boards although the Texas Lottery Commission doesn’t bother to supervise it because it doesn’t meet their definition of bingo. PETA believes it is an exploitative form of entertainment and a crowded bar filled with a screaming audience is not a proper place for a chicken. Give me a break! The chicken is not being harmed in anyway and is only doing what comes naturally. We had so much fun at this bingo spectacle, we thought it might be a hoot to reproduce in Lone Pine someday.

Little Saigon

Little Saigon in Orange County, California is the oldest and largest Vietnamese community in the United States. There are 189,000 Vietnamese inhabitants in Little Saigon and 368,000 in the greater Southern California area.

Little Saigon includes the towns of Westminster and Garden Grove. The main street of activity in Little Saigon is Bolsa Avenue. For a first time visitor, a good place to start is the Asian Garden Mall (Phuoc Loc Tho).

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Inside the mall there are a variety of clothing and jewelry boutiques, gift shops, small eateries and even a place to worship.

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After visiting Vietnam this summer, I was interested in exploring Little Saigon and especially trying to recapture some of the wonderful food flavors I experienced in Hanoi and Hoi An. Based on some limited research and location, I had lunch at Pho 79 in the Asian Garden Mall.

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I tried the very popular dish of fresh spring rolls with pork and shrimp. They were beautiful but less flavorful than I was hoping for. The peanut based sauce that accompanied the spring rolls was very different from the vinegar, sugar and fish based sauces that were consistently served in northern and central Vietnam.

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I had high hopes for the chicken pho, hoping for memories of the chicken pho we had in Hanoi! Not close. Same experience when I tried to make it at home several weeks ago. What is the secret? The fried spring rolls were pretty but also just okay. I’m wondering if you can ever recapture flavors from another country in this country without the particular ingredients, climate, sounds, smells and textures?

A critical stop for me in Little Saigon was the ethnic supermarket. On this trip, I visited  A Dong Supermarket. I was overwhelmed by the fresh rice noodle aisle. I have never seen so many varieties of fresh rice noodles, sold in such large (5 and 10 pound) quantities.

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They also had some more unusual ingredients, including blue crab as well as snails that are used in the Vietnamese snail soup.

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There are more than 4,000 businesses in just 3 square miles of this Vietnamese-dominated community. In half a day I was able to explore only a few but got a good feel for the area and what it has to offer. I also bought a beautiful Vietnamese ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese national costume consisting of a colorful silk tunic worn over pants. I have no idea where or when I will wear it, but I couldn’t resist!

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Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung is a global restaurant empire specializing in authentic Chinese steamed soup dumplings. Open in Glendale, CA in the Fall of 2013, Din Tai Fung has had anxious diners lining up daily before opening time to relish the delectable packages of goodness.

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And it’s no wonder. The dumplings are perfectly balanced in pork to broth ratio with thin yet supple skins to hold both in. The meat is soft and tender and the broth distinctively flavorful, warm and comforting. Adding the condiments in traditional fashion adds much complexity: 80% dark vinegar + 20% soy sauce +/- chili oil (suited to one’s individual tastes) + ginger. A match made in heaven.

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There are other worthy dishes here that shouldn’t be overlooked. Shrimp and pork Shao Mai, Won Ton Soup, Spicy Braised Beef Soup, Noodles with Sesame Sauce and Sauteed String Beans with Garlic  – each dish has a twist and unusually bold flavors that you don’t get from the more pedestrian versions of these dishes that are commonplace. The exquisitely aromatic Jasmine tea makes the perfect accompaniment to these dishes.

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Along with the outstanding food, the atmosphere at Din Tai Fung is modern, airy and comfortably casual-chic. The service is superb and the overall experience is light and playful. Finally, an authentic, high-quality dumpling house close to the center of Los Angeles makes this cuisine accessible to many.

Mission Chinese Restaurant: San Francisco

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I have been wanting to try this restaurant for as long as I can remember! Finally a visit to SF and I’m not missing it ….

Got there around 5:30 pm because I have heard about lines but absolutely no problem getting a table in this fairly small, quaintly tacky venue. As you probably know, there is no sign out front with their name. They originally took over the Lung Shan Restaurant a few nights a week as a pop-up before they went crazy. Never changed the sign.

We can only try a few dishes as we have been eating non-stop. The menu is so curious. Beer brined Szechuan pickles. Tea smoked eel. Tiki pork belly. Thrice cooked bacon and rice cakes. Broccoli beef brisket. Schmaltz rice. Not like any chinese food menu I’ve ever seen before.

First we order Grandma’s Pork Dumplings in a ham broth: just okay. Dough was a little thick and meat was nothing special. Broth was a little interesting but I wouldn’t have guessed ham hock.

Next, Kung Pao Pastrami: hmmm … rich, very rich. And very different. With peanuts, celery and chili. Gotta give them points for creativity. Enjoyed it but not sure if I would order it again.

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Salt Cod Fried Rice: THE BOMB. Mackerel confit (what???), chinese sausage, lettuce and egg. Flavor, flavor, flavor.

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In our party of 3, I’m the biggest fan. One didn’t love it, the other neutral. I have to give them credit for creativity in their ingredients and style. It’s genius. And I only tried a few dishes. I love the feel. Nerd-out, cheesy but clean, glam chinese hole-in-the-wall. I can’t wait to go back and try the rest of the dishes. Guess I need to find new friends to go with!

Bestia

I have been trying to get a reservation at Bestia since the beginning of the year. Finally they must have had a cancellation and I was able to reserve a table for 4 at a reasonable time on a recent Friday evening when my Husband’s Brother and wife were visiting. I was so excited to see what all the hubbub was about for this restaurant. Located in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, Bestia is billed as a multi-regional Italian restaurant.

On the outside the restaurant looks like it is in an old downtown warehouse with loft living on top of it.

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The music is blasting as you enter and like many restaurants in Los Angeles you cannot hear anything above the music and din of diners. We immediately asked to be seated outside since my Husband’s brother is a little hard of hearing and the noise level outside was much better.

We began the meal with drinks of which Bestia has a very creative drink menu and a good wine and beer list.  Then we ordered a couple of appetizers which included a Heirloom Tomato salad and a Grilled Octopus and Calamari dish. The Tomato salad had a very creamy Burrata cheese and was delicious and the Grilled Octopus and Calamari dish was tasty but I would have liked the chunks of Octopus and Calamari to be larger.

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Then we ordered four Entrees which included a Margherita Pizza, Spaghetti Rustichella, Slow Roasted Lamb Neck & a Grilled Whole Orata (White Fish).

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Everything was fabulous. We would have ordered deserts but we were trying to catch a play and had to run but Bestia has such an extensive and interesting menu, it is a restaurant that I could eat at every night just so I could try everything. Definitely worth multiple visits, that is if you can get a reservation.

Pie In The Sky

While we were visiting Lone Pine this past week with my husband’s brother and his wife and eating dinner at one of the 3 best restaurants in town which just happens to be primarily Chinese food, the owner was sitting with us and telling us about this place called Pie in the Sky that he visited with his wife on the weekend. He said if you are going to visit Bishop, take a detour and go to this little place on the way to Tom’s Place that serves the most fantastic pies. He told us to get there early because at 11:30 they start selling whole pies and serving pieces of pie and there is a long line waiting to get their pie fix.  They sell pies until they are all sold out.

So we got Google directions and when we were driving to Bishop the next day, we turned off Highway 395 on Rock Creek Road and headed up the road. From Bishop you are going up to 9,700 feet for Pie in the Sky. We drove for about 4 miles and signaled to a passing car and asked where Pie in the Sky is and he told us just keep driving and its straight ahead. After 7 miles, the paved road ends and we were driving on a dirt road for another 3 miles. Finally we came to the Rock Creek Resorts and saw the hand written sign for the Pie in the Sky Cafe.

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It was 2:30 when we arrived, a half hour before they close for lunch and not much of a line but the hand written sign for the pies they had for the day had 7 pies lined out and only one pie left. It was Cranberry Walnut.  So we ordered hamburgers for lunch and our pieces of pie and went outside on the deck and sat at one of the 4 picnic tables and waited for our name to be called on their intercom.  After a mediocre hamburger (the meat patty was frozen), we dove into our pie which was truly delicious.

I am not sure I would travel that distance again for pie but it was a good experience and an interesting discovery definitely off the beaten path.

Coley’s

 

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For my husband’s Birthday dinner, my daughter made reservations at a Jamaican restaurant in North Hollywood.  Coley’s has been around for 25 years.  It is family owned and the owners are the cooks and hosts.  The dinner menu is big with many chicken and fish entrees.  Our first course was a Red Bean soup that was incredible so good in fact that my husband wanted another little bowl and the waitress brought him  one for his birthday.  I ordered the Jerk Chicken entree and my husband ordered the Curried Chicken.  Others in our party ordered some of the fish entrees.  The portions are substantial and each entree is served with rice, steamed vegetables, plantains and a corn muffin.

coleys2I brought my husband’s birthday cake to the restaurant for our dessert and the restaurant was very gracious and brought out dessert plates and offered to bring us some Birthday candles.  After dinner, our waitress asked if she could bring my husband a piece of Jamaican Rum cake for his birthday but I explained that he was a Diabetic and couldn’t have sugar which is why I made him a sugar-free cake.  She wrapped a piece of it up in a to go box and brought it to me anyway and said I would love it for breakfast the next day with my morning coffee and she was right.

Coley’s also has authentic Jamaican sodas and soft drinks such as Tinga in citrus, sorrel, sour soup, or cola champagne flavors