Sunday, December 17, 2006
My favorite empanada is from (aptly titled), Empanada's Place. They are big, flaky, and deep fried. Purists would prefer the more authentic baked empanadas, but clearly, I am no empanada purist! They offer several meat, cheese, and vegetable empanadas, but I always get the spinach.
The big ones are $2.75 each, and small ones can be ordered for $16.99 a dozen.
3811 Sawtelle Blvd. @ Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, Ca 90066
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I have always loved having lunch at Hurry Curry on Venice Blvd. at Beethoven (right across the street from Roman Holiday). Their lunch specials are a deal, and they have the best Saag Paneer in town. Today I had one vegetable curry (garbanzos), one meat curry (chicken with spinach), rice, naan and a drink for $5.59. A couple of other lunch specials are even under $5. Indian food is so filling, and their portions are generous, you should easily have enough left over for lunch the next day. Be careful when taking it to go, they fill they container to the brim, and place it in a paper bag, it will certainly overflow on the ride home.
12825 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066
Friday, December 01, 2006
Vinum Populi is the brand new wine bar/lounge adjacent to Ugo in Culver City (no sign yet, just look for Ugo on Cardiff). It is a cozy, dark space, with exposed brick walls, the total opposite of Ugo's bright, clean, blue and white Mediterranean look. All the servers and bartenders wear those pinch caps that Michael Corlene wore when he was laying low in Sicily, which go nicely with all the old framed photos of Italy, which complement the Italian salltellite TV playing behind the bar. They have happy hour from 5:30-7:30, where they offer $4 a glass house wine, and complementary prociutto, cheese, goat cheese stuffed peppers, and some cheese accompaniments, like truffle honey, and red wine gelee. Definitely go during happy hour, the regular menu items are good, but the portions are a little skimpy. Their regular menu offers a selection of salumi, cheese and panini. After missing out on lardo at Mozza, I was able to satisfy my craving here! They serve it sliced ultra thin on warm toasted bread. It is light, delicate and pleasantly salty.
We also tried their olive bread, which is a thin flatbread with tapenade spread on it.
Watch out for their stuffed peppers at happy hour! I naively took a big bite not realizing how hot they were going to be!
Almost all of their wines are Italian and every single wine in the house is available to taste. All of the bottles are hooked up to a machine called an Enomatic. You buy a card, load it up with however much you want to spend, put it in the machine, press the button corresponding to the wine you want, and out it comes. They are priced by the one once pour, if you want a whole glass, just keep pressing the button until you have a full glass. If you would like to purchase a bottle to take home, they take 30% off the price. Info and tasting notes are displayed in front of each bottle, it is a great way to learn about varietals you may never have heard of before, and sample before committing to a whole glass or bottle. They also have a few bottles selling for more than $100, so this is a good opportuntiy to taste high end wines you would may not normally buy. My favorite advantage of the Enomatic is that it creates an evironment conducive to mingling and meeting other patrons, as if I were at a cocktail party. The downside is the bartender only pours the house selection; all other wine by the glass are only available self-serve at the machine. And if the bottle is empty at the Enomatic, you may find yourself flagging down a server to replace it. I have friends who really enjoy the interaction with the bartender, discussing the selections, etc., who think they may not dig this set up so much. But, I assured them that on both my visits the friendly owners were circulating, and more than happy to discuss the wines and guide my choices. Vinum Populi is a great place to enjoy many wines, relax, snack, and mingle.
3865 Cardiff Ave
Culver City CA 90232
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
After months of anticipation, Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali's Pizzeria Mozza has finally opened! I had lunch there today, with a 2:30 reservation being the earliest slot I could get. It was bustling when we arrived, but we were seated right away (one half hour early). It is a small, cozy space, painted in a warm bright orange, with two bars (one being at the pizza kitchen), and, like all popular restaurants, it was loud. I will say only one bad thing about Mozza: they were all out of lardo! I had read that they put the cured pork fat over pizza, where it just melts into the crust, and I was just fantasizing about it all day! Oh well, maybe next time (I got my lardo fix the very next day at Vinum in Culver City. Check back soon for the review). Our waiter promptly gave us three skinny breadsticks to nibble on (we were starving - none of us had eaten since early that morning.)
The choices of antipasti included oven roasted olives ($6), Eggplant caponata ($6), Arancine alla Bolognese ($8), and Shell beans al forno ($8), we opted for the delicate, little fried zucchini blossoms, stuffed with ricotta ($7). They were fried nicely, with a thin light crust, and a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt.
We immediately craved another plate of them before we finished this one! Instead, we tried two of their bruschette: chicken livers with guanciale ($8), and baccala with garbanzo beans and tomato ($9). Anyone afraid of liver and salt cod, need not be. The liver was smooth and mild, topped with a crispy slice of guanciale (cured pork jowl).
The baccala was not prepared like brandade, as I expected. It was was just rehydrated, coated in a tomato sauce with the beans. Nice and refreshing, not fishy tasting at all.
They also offered 3 salads ($12-14), and salumi ($10-24). For our main dishes, all 3 of us ordered pizza. All of the pizzas were cooked just like the one I had in Rome: with plenty of black spots. The dough was incredible. Charred, chewy, thin in the middle, thicker on the edges, hand stretched/tossed, slightly yeasty tasting, and (Nancy herself) just scored the pizza into four pieces, not cutting all the way through. I noticed she was using a bright orange pizza cutter, not a regular metal blade. In Rome, our piazzas were served uncut. Is this some kind of compromise? I think it would be really cool for Mozza to serve them unsliced. I had the mushroom pizza, with fontina and taleggio. It was fantastic - I think the mushrooms were roasted or sauteed ahead of time with thyme. It was very scant on the cheeses, though - unfortunately I hardly tasted them at all. But it was still fabulous, even the small slice I took home and ate cold at 10:00 PM that night after 3 hours of Italian class.
Vera ordered the Coach Farmhouse goat cheese, bacon and caramelized garlic pizza ($13). A winner. The garlic was a beautiful golden clove, with no trace of bitterness.
Beth ordered the Egg, guanciale, radicchio and bagna cauda pizza ($12). The egg was fried and placed in the center, in the middle of a bagna cauda pool. I actually tasted the anchovy on my tongue from the fume, just before I bit into it.
Each day they offer a rotating hot plate of the day. For example, Tuesday is duck confit with lentils ($17), and Saturday is lamb stracotto ($20). The wine list is short and sweet. All Italian, and the wine by the glass is actually offered at a quarrtino (250ml), a perfect amount. You get a carafe, with enough wine for one glass plus a little extra to top off with. Priced between $8-14, they are a deal. Since this a Nancy Silverton establishment, one cannot pass up dessert. Among the offerings were Affogato (drowned), two scoops vanilla ice cream with two shots of espresso poured over.
I had the Giandui Filone ($8), a velvety chocolate terrine with candied hazelnuts.
And for my egg-allergic friend, they accommodated her with a very lovely lemon/lime panna cotta, which was a component of another dessert, topped off with Amerena cherries.
Everything was spectacular, and I cannot wait to return. Earlier today, I checked out Mario Batali's website, and he has a very similar restaurant in New York called Otto. Similar menu, and even the same orange paint on the walls. I suppose Mozza is the west coast version. And, according to general manager David Rosoff (formally the sommelier of Opaline), Otto is managed by another Crocetti, Chris Crocetti. He asked if we were related, and I said no. I should have said, "yes, and cousin Chris said lunch was on him."
641 North Highland
Monday, November 27, 2006
The morning after Thanksgiving my friend and I decided to take a break from all the heavy Thanksgiving fare with a round of quiche and biscuits! These are my favorite items at Clementine in Century City (aside from their homemade hot chocolate, blueberry muffins, cream-filled chocolate cupcakes...), their mushroom and scallion quiche, made with a flaky,cream cheese crust, and their little biscuits filled with thin ham and butter. I restrained myself and only ate two, but one could easily devour many more!
Los Angles, Ca
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Aroma Cafe is this great little family- (the husband smokes and hangs out with customers on the front patio while the wife is in the kitchen cooking and doing the dishes) run Bosnian cafe. The food is quite good, and very inexpensive. The service is very warm and friendly, but also very casual and a bit slow. My friend likes to compare it to being in someone's house, not like being in a restaurant, which means you need to remain patient and forgiving while waiting for service. They do not have a beer and wine license, and no corkage either! For the five of us, plenty of food costs us $20 each, and that was with an over 20% tip. We do not order entrees here, we order appetizers and meze and share. We started with the Meza platter ($12.50), of cheese, onion dip called Lukmira, and some dry cured beef.
We moved on to my favorite dish, Burek ($4.50), which they place under the "pita" category. I call it a Pita Snake. It is a thin pastry filled with either spinach, cheese, meat or cabbage. Tonight we had one spinach and on cabbage.
The Sarma wrapped in cabbage is my other favorite. Sweet and sour cabbage stuffed with a mixture of rice and ground meat, with a dollop of sour cream.
Their cevapi ($5.50)is the best. Moist, loosely packed ground meat links, served in a bread pocket with onion. We also ordered a hamburger version of this dish, a thin beef patty with onions in the bread pocket.
They also sell cheese, meat, and other Eastern Euro foods and candies (and DVD's too). When you visit the Aroma Cafe, be prepared for slow, friendly service, good food and a low bill!
2530 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90064
After sprouting up all over Los Angeles, last Thursday Japanese "Super Convenience" chain Famima!! opened in Culver City. I dropped in today for some lunch. Clean, bright, airy and super organized, they offer many ready to eat food items, candy, snacks, lots of Japanese junk food, and some basic necessities like toiletries. But not your regular convenience store brands. They have higher end chocolates and candies, 7th generation recycled paper products, many interesting teas and sodas, and many kinds of chips, including my favorite: Kettle Chips with black pepper. From the reasonably priced ready to eat food sections, everything is tidy, organized and individually wrapped. They have pastries, like this great little chocolate bundt cake ($1.25), tasting just like a Ding-Dong, but better.
I also picked out this dim sum combo ($5.98). Good, especially the pork bun.
Near the register, they have a hot case with some funny little snacks, like these fried sausage ravioli called "crustini" ($2.75). Crispy, cheesy little delights.
For my main course, I choose this Chicken Korma ($5.70). Just a little spicy, it was pretty good. Even better than Whole Foods brand frozen Indian meals I have been eating lately.
they have a bunch of Japanese plates, like sushi, tempura, noodles, and hand rolls. A few Indian dishes, lots of sandwiches and wraps, and some continental favorites like Paella and Jambalaya. This is a really neat little store, great for lunch and snacks. I am glad there is one so close to me now.
10704 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
I went to Sakura Japaese Restauant on Centinela in Mar Vista (not to be confused with Sakura House on Washington Blvd) with some friends the other night. We arrived around 6:30, thinking we would be early enough to avoid a wait, but we were wrong. We waited for about 40 minutes for our table. I have been there a couple of time before, and also waited. Ever since I started going to nicer restaurants, where we make reservations, I have become spoiled and have forgotten what it is like to wait for a table. I don't like it. The one upshot of waiting is, it builds up your appetite, so the food tastes better.
Sakura is located on Centinela, near Culver Blvd. We thought we could have a drink at a nearby bar while we waited, but no such luck. Perhaps the lack of bars is due to the close proximity of the police station? Sakura is a great little neighborhood Japanese restaurant.
They have a sushi bar, and also serve cooked Japanese cuisine. They also have a cool, personalized Shag print of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. As a Shag collector myself, I wonder how they got a hold of that rare print. Once seated, we ordered our sake and big Asahi beers. My friend Frank ordered the sweet raw shrimp for the table, but somehow got lost in translation, because the server brought out whole, fried shrimp instead.
Then we ordered some Gyoza, little fried pork dumplings. They were so good (and we so hungry from the wait), we ordered a second round.
For out main course, Heather, homesick for her college days in Honolulu, ordered noodles, which she loved. Not as good as the little Ramen place around the corner from the UH campus, but Sakura's noodles satisfied her craving.
Frank got sushi (see top photo), not the best ever, but sufficient. I ordered the salmon and tempura combo. A generous, slightly dry portion of grilled salmon, served with salad, miso soup, shrimp and vegetable tempura. Once again, good, not great, but certainly filling and satisfying. I loved the tempura (or course, it is deep fried!), but something about tempura does not quite agree with me. I got to relive the flavor about every 30 minutes after eating it...
Friendly, swift servers, working as fast as they can to move the crowd through. The bill came to just over $100 (all this food plus one sake and 4 large beers). Slightly steep, we all thought. There are certain restaurants (like Lucques), which are expensive, but worth every penny. Sakura was pleasant, but worth just a little less than $100. I would return, but a little earlier in the evening to avoid the wait.
Sakura Japanese Restaurant
4545 Centinela Blvd.
Los Angeles, Ca 90066
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I had another great hamburger this afternoon at the San Francisco Saloon on Pico Blvd. I have been here before, but only to the bar for Irish Coffee (the best Irish Coffee west of Fairfax). My friend insists they have the best burger. We both had his favorite, the Cable Car. A char-grilled patty with mushrooms, jack cheese and avocado. I ordered it "as is", fighting my usual temptation to customize it into something that resembles the Office Burger. I am glad I did. You can't beat the fat on fat on fat combo of cheese, beef and avocado. You can really taste the char too. My friend even said that he once took a girlfriend here to break up with her. She had the Cable Car, then he told her it was over, and she took it well. It wasn't until a few hours later it hit her what had happened. True story (good fries, too).
San Francisco Saloon
11501 Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Thursday, November 09, 2006
I was driving down Lincoln Blvd. near Navy, figuring out where to have lunch today, and I saw a red awning that said "PANINI BEER TAPAS WINE." I pulled over immediately! It is a little Spanish/Argentinean/Italian restaurant, with wine corks lining the walls and MTV en Espanol on the TV. Order at the counter, grab a bowl of peanuts and have a seat. They offer several panini stuffed with items such as steak, Italian cold cuts, Milanesa style chicken, meatballs and sausage ($4.95-$8.00), including an approx. 10" x 10" "Bikini Panini" with ham and Provolone, grilled on the press and cut into several pieces, ideal for a group. From their tapas menu I had a baked spinach empanada ($1.95), chicken tamale ($1.95), and a wonderful, garlicky garbanzo salad.
They offer over 60 different beers ($2.50-$6.00) sangria and wine, including an Argentine Malbec as their house wine ($5.00)
This is a great little neighborhood hangout. Friendly service, and a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. I would love to come back with a group and share several dishes and linger over some wine and conversation. They waiter told me Santino's has been under new ownership for the last two years, but has been there for 30 years. Did this used to be the submarine sandwich restaurant?
3021 Lincoln Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA
Saturday, November 04, 2006
I stopped by the new Breadbar in the Century City mall today. Same setup as the original on 3rd. Pastry case, and table service. I stood in line for a few minutes, it did not move, so I went upstairs to Coral Tree Express, and had a mediocre Caprese panini instead.
I should have waited in line at Breadbar. Oh well. I went to the original Breadbar a couple of weeks ago. A few times I had been in the neighborhood, and tried to go, but I could never find a parking spot! This last time, I found one down on on Robertson, and only had to walk one block. It was worth the walk. They have lots of pastries, all cooked nice and dark.
They offer croissants in two sizes: American and Euro ( They don't really call them that). Most pastries here are just way too big, it is nice to be able to buy a petite pastry. My absolute favorite item was the Alpine loaf. A Soft, chewy, slightly sour loaf of bread with a bubbly, crisp layer of Swiss cheese on top, and a layer inside as well. I could not keep my hands off it during the ride home. The paper bag got nice and greasy from it too. I would love to make a panini with it!
Their skinny baguettes are fabulous too. A beautiful hard crust, but not too hard like La Brea Bakery bread can be. The best part about the Breadbar in the Century City mall is, it is not in the new foodcourt area. I feel so discombobulated up there. I just cannot get used to the new design.
8718 West 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048