Thursday, June 29, 2006

Tender Greens in Culver City, Part 2

I have visited Tender Greens in Culver City a couple of times since my, first review and I have noticed two changes. The first is the addition of two "order here" signs, and this last visit I was immediately greeted and asked for my order! I couldn't believe how quickly we were noticed. Every other time I spent minutes before someone would take my order. As I walked up to the register, I noticed a photographer taking photos of the food prep. David, one of the 3 owners, told me he was from the LA Times, and S. Irene Virbila (the LA Times food critic) was just in last night. Keep an eye out for her review in either the Wednesday Food Section of the Thursday Calendar. I can't wait to read her opinion of the ordering and service! (Above is the Ahi Tuna Salad, and the Chinese Chicken salad below)

Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Soft Shell Crab

Here is one of the first summer recipes I have cooked from the best cookbook ever, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin. It is soft shell crab with fava beans, bacon and grilled cornbread, topped with a dollop of mustard cream. The recipe called for pan frying the crab, coated with some Wondra flour, but I deciced breaded is better, so I coated the crab in a beer batter from Border Grill. The recipe also called for lima beans, but I used favas instead. The bacon and mustard made the dish. They both enhanced the crab and favas, pulling all the flavors together. Nice, salty, smoked bacon can't hurt anything. I was dissapointed in the cornbread recipe. It was a little different than most, calling for brown butter, which as a rule of thumb, makes anything better, but it didn't seem to make a difference with this bread. It needed to cook longer than the recipe indicated, and the end result was pretty flovorless, and certianly not sweet enough. Next time I will skip the bread, and add another slice of bacon.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Metro Cafe Anniversary Party

One of my favorite cafes, Metro Cafe in Culver City on Washington Place near Sepulveda, hosted a party last Sunday night celebrating 2 years in business. I knew there would be food and music, and some familiar faces, but I had no idea how rockin' it would get! Ron, their regular Sunday night DJ was spinning all kinds of music, Bernadino their fabulous former chef was in town from Seattle for the celebration, Eastern Europe was well represented (and I thought Italian men were hot...), and Aleks and Sasa were their regular gracious selves, making everyone feel welcome. Here are some photo highlights.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hotcakes Bakery in Mar Vista

I tried a brand spanking new bakery in Mar Vista the other day called Hotcakes, located at 4119 Centinela Blvd, just south of Culver Blvd. They have a combination of French and American pastries, and sandwiches as well. The most beautiful items being their macaroons, in various flavors including pistachio, lemon and raspberry. I was delighted to see they make canelle, little chewy French cakes baked in a special fluted mold. A rare find in Los Angeles. Their pain au chocolate was very nice as well, not too big like most American croissants.

Some of their American pastries included a nice chewy chocolate chip cookie, coffee cake and cupcakes. I was slightly disappointed with the chocolate cupcake I tried. The frosting was a wonderful buttery, not-too-sweet buttercream, but the cake was too dry. It would be fabulous if they perfected their cupcake so we can have a cupcake spot on the westside (I mean west-westside - Sprinkles in Beverly Hills is too far east for this Mar Vista-ite!).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tender Greens in Culver City

I went to yet another fabulous (except for one kink, see below) brand new restaurant in downtown Culver City called Tender Greens. Just across the walkway from Ford's Filling Station on Culver Blvd in between Cardiff and Watseka, tender Greens is bringing (mostly) organic fast food to Culver City. They took over half of the space formerly housing the behemoth of a restaurant called Sagebrush Cantina, turning it into a spacious and airy room, with large shuttered windows opening to the patio. They have created a slightly down home farm/country feel with pots of herbs growing outside such as parsley, chives and rosemary. The employees even wear aprons, with a strap buttoned in place across their backs resembling the suspenders on Bavarian Lederhosen.

Their menu consists of choices of "big salads", "simple salads", "hot stuff" and combinations thereof. Very reasonably priced, with meals coming in just under $10, and a wine list with glasses from $5-8, bottles from $18-30, 3 beers at $4 a glass, and $20 a pitcher. All 11 wines are available by the glass (served in thicker versions of Reidel O stemless glasses), mostly from Italy, France and California. We ordered a bottle of Vinae Italiae Pinot Grigio from Veneto for $19 - a perfectly light, crisp white for our salads.

Angus flatiron steak sandwich with baby spinach , goat cheese, hazelnuts, and cabernet vinaigrette salad

Chipotle barbecue Chicken salad

The portions were generous and quite satisfying, without stuffing us silly. The "hot stuff" menu items consist of flatiron steak, free range chicken, line-caught ahi tuna, and grilled veggies that can be ordered hot on a plate with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and a small salad, or as a sandwich with grilled red peppers on a grilled ciabatta-like roll, with a small salad. The salads were fresh and dressed just perfectly - no greens swimming in dressing here. Although my aunt's grilled chicken cobb came without chicken...which brings us to the kinks.

Only five days old, they are still finding their groove. The first kink to be addressed should the incredibly awkward ordering system. You are supposed to place your order with the cook at the counter near the entrance, then stroll up to the register where you place your drink order (and repeat your food order to the cashier), and pick up your food to take to the table (which you carry to your table on an aluminum half sheet pans). That would work if the employees behind the counter paid any attention to the customers who walk in, standing around bewildered and confused (like us). The menu is printed on the wall next to the door, which can create a bit of a traffic jam, mixing up the order of the line. There are no "order here" signs, and the employees who are supposed to take your order are too busy feverishly preparing the food to be bothered. As soon as they can come up with a better system, the whole experience would be just about perfect. That said, we actually enjoyed our food so much we forgot about being ignored for the first couple of minutes in the restaurant.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cacio e Pepe & Carbonara

In Rome I had both pasta dishes, both absolutely incredible. I thought I would create a post titled, "Cacio e Pepe vs. Carbonara," interview my friends discussing their preference, comparing and contrasting the flavors, textures, etc., and come up with a winner. Then I thought it over and realized that anything with pancetta will have an unfair advantage, so I dropped the competition, and decided just to celebrate both sauces!

My friend Beth Schumann (who has lived in Italy) told me that Carbonara was the dish Italians would make after arriving home late after a night of theater and drinks. It was the easy go-to dish, since all the ingredients would likely be in the Italian home pantry: pasta, egg, Parmesan, black pepper and pancetta. Just boil the pasta, saute the pancetta, toss the pasta with the egg, pepper and Parmesan, then add the pancetta. Done. It was a simple, casual, crowd pleaser. Not fine dining. I had several Carbonara dishes in Rome - all were excellent. They were not saucy, like the pastas we make in the US. The pasta was just barely coated with the egg and cheese, creating a kind of sticky glue for the pancetta to hold onto.

In Italian cookbooks there seem to be endless versions beyond the classic egg, cheese, and pancetta combination. Some added sauteed onions, peas, herbs, yolks rather than whole eggs, cream, to name a few. My friend DJ Olsen said about his experience in cooking school, "we were taught to make an emulsification of egg yolk and cream, that the dish should be wet, if not runny, and loaded down with black pepper, smoky bacon and peas." The worst of them all has to be Giada de Laurentiis' version with cream, chicken and walnuts. Or maybe the worst was the one I had at Vitello's (the studio city Eye-talian restaurant Robert Blake's wife had her last meal), pasta and bacon in a curdled puddle of cream and sliced onion.

My friends and I (fans of the classic recipe) decided to make one of the more complex versions, to see how it would compare. We started with sauteing the pancetta, then adding onion, deglazing with white wine, tossing the pasta with whole eggs, Parmesan, and parsley and adding the pancetta mixture. It was one of the best Carbonara I have had!

The wine and onion added a little more depth of flavor, while maintaining the integrity of the dish. We were supposed to follow with a roasted chicken, but finished all the pasta instead.

Then there is the even simpler pasta of Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper). My aunt Adri said, "I prefer the peasant wonder that is Cacio e Pepe. It is so simple and quick to make, hot and with the cheese melting and peppery bite, what could be better, except to have the whole pound of spaghetti to one's self? While Carbonara is often described as a 'simple dish,' I guess compared to Cacio e Pepe it is almost complicated."

Cacio e Pepe does not sound very exciting, but after one bite in Rome I was a convert. The first time I made it at home, while I was tossing the pasta with the Pecorino and pepper, I loosened it up with splashes of pasta water, as I have read to do. All of the cheese and pepper stuck to the bowl in a goupy mess, and I had to dress the pasta once it was in the serving bowls. Last week we made it and substituted olive oil for the water, and it was perfect. All of the cheese and pepper stuck to the pasta like it should. And one serving was certainly not enough.

Carbonara recipe:
1 sm white onion, chopped
4 T butter
1/2c white wine
3 slices pancetta, slices approx 1/3 " thick, then diced
3 whole eggs, lightly beaten
2 T parsley, chopped
1/2 c. (or more if you prefer), finely grated Parmesan cheese
Black pepper to taste
1 lb spaghetti

-saute pancetta in butter over med-high heat until cooked but not yet crispy, then add onion and saute a couple mins., deglaze with wine, reduce, (meanwhile cook spaghetti in salted water 1 minute less than box indicates), strain sapghetti, very quickly toss in bowl with pancetta onion mixture, egg, parmesan, pepper and parsley.

For Cacio e Pepe, just toss finished hot pasta with a good drizzle of olive oil (approx 4 T. for one pound pasta), a large handful of grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and a generous amount of black pepper.

Wilson Restaurant

I had a wonderful lunch today at the newly opened Wilson in downtown Culver City. It is located on Washington Blvd., just past the Helms Bakery complex, in the oh-so-cool MODAA building. Chef Michael Wilson is formally of (the now defunct) 5 Dudley of Venice. Wilson is only open for lunch now, and will very shortly open for breakfast and dinner, and will serve beer and wine. The hostess told us a neighbor protested their beer and wine license, causing a delay.

The decor is very sleek and modern, with Eames style chairs, two high-top tables, a bar, a rear patio and seating outside in the front. We sat inside next to the screened-in open sliding glass doors, very much like at The Counter on Ocean Park Blvd., without the garage door openers.

The menu was divided onto four sections, "from the garden," "open-face," "lunch plates," and "piccolo pasta." They offered several specials not listed on the menu, such as roasted Jidori chicken with pancetta polenta, and a soup of melon and prociutto. For an appetizer I had (a rather large serving of) the asparagus and vanilla bean soup ($10, "from the garden") - a combination that piqued my curiosity. Surprisingly, the flecks of vanilla bean floating in the soup livened up the asparagus very nicely. Unfortunately, is was oversalted.

My dining companion, Beth, had the potato and fig tortelli in a bed of Parmesan fondue ($13) that was out of this world. The fig filling was wrapped in a delicate fresh pasta, sitting on a bed of creamy Parmesan sauce, drizzled with brown butter. Heavenly.

For the main course I had one of the specials, which the server described as a lamb sausage sandwich. Beth asked if it was Merguez sausage, which the waitress had never heard of. It turned out not to be sausage after all, it was really ground lamb kababs, with eggplant on house-made flatbread. It was accompanied by a chive sauce and cucumber yogurt sauce. It was very good, just too much food, especially for lunch. All of their sandwiches are "open faced", which means they are two pieces of bread with filling piled high on them, like the rabbit Sloppy Joe ($18) Beth ordered. It was better than any Sloppy Joe I have had - I only tried it because it did not resemble a cute little rabbit! It had a rich, smoky flavor -I think there were porcini mushrooms in it. Beth thought the serving was too large, and it needed a "reprieve" of salad.

We were full, but wanted to try dessert anyway. They offered three desserts (and not very interesting ones) of chocolate cake, a parfait of ice creams, and a Bananas Foster creme brulee, which we ordered. It passed the test: it had a nice, hard, glassy layer of sugar that cracked when hit with a spoon. Underneath the custard was a layer of banana, and the sugar was dusted with some graham cracker crumbs. It was good, but not as nearly inventive as the rest of the menu.

Service was attentive, but not overly so. Everything ran very smoothly, especially for a brand new restaurant. We must of had our ice teas refilled about four times, whenever it would dip just below the halfway mark.

The bill for 2 iced teas, 2 apps., 2 main, 1 dessert and 1 esspresso totaled $78.46. A little steep, especially when we were given take out containers to fill ourselves. That said, I actually really enjoyed the whole experience. I look forward to returning once they start serving dinner. The menu is familiar, with touches of exotic, and the presentation piled high and beautiful.

The Foundry On Melrose in Los Angeles