Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I went back to Bottle Rock the other day for lunch. Same great wine, cheese, and salami, this time they had 3 new salads and pastries. I was dying for the truffle cheese panini which I heard about on my first visit, and had been fantasizing about ever since. It was pressed on the flat side of the panini press ( I prefer the crimps, but as long as it is toasted nice and dark, which this one was, I forgot all about the crimps). Unfortunately it was a little disappointing. The walnut bread overpowered the truffle cheese - I could not detect the truffle flavor. Cafe Surfas made this same mistake with their "ultimate grilled cheese," using raisin bread. A nice simple country white would be much better to showcase the wonderful cheese flecked with truffle.
On the other hand, the salads were spectacular. A delicate tuna and white bean salad, an heirloom tomato, cucumber and feta salad, and a riff on a Caprese salad with bell peppers and a perfectly tangy, almost fluffy balsamic mustard vinaigrette emulsified to perfection.
The pan au tomate reminded me of my time in Spain eating tomato rubbed bread for breakfast. This one has a nice thin layer of minced tomato, a delicious warm up to the cheese plate and salads.
They now have some pastries, including this chocolate pecan tart. The tart was fabulous, a nice buttery crust, and a soft, rich chocolate filling. I just felt it was a bit out of place in a wine bar. I would much prefer a nice little dark chocolate truffle, or pot de creme to nibble on along with my dessert wine. The tart was just too big and fancy after plates of rich cheese and salami. A smaller, more delicate dessert would help complement and showcase the true star - the wine.
3847 Main Street
Culver City, CA
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I checked out City Bakery (the second location, the first one in New York), located in the Brentwood Country Mart on San Vicente and 26th Street. They have a self service prepared food bar, weighing in at $12 a pound. In the other corner is the pastry counter, with obscenely gigantic pastries. 5-6" scones and cookies, they make Rockenwagner look petite.
I went straight for their signature "pretzel croissant." Looks just like a croissant, with the exception of sesame seeds, and a beautiful, dark crust. I have always loved dark croissants, and this one takes the cake. Super crispy, flaky crust, you can actually taste the butter. The center was darker than a usual croissant, looking like they use whole wheat flour. The crust had the slightest tang of a pretzel, otherwise it just tasted like a croissant.
The 5 1/2" diameter chocolate chip cookie was nice and soft, but not memorable, neither was the berry scone.
Next time I will try the food bar, and pick up another croissant, but I am not rushing to go back. By the way, Helen Hunt was there, enjoying her breakfast.
225 26th Street
Los Angeles, Ca
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Bottle Rock Wine Bar in downtown Culver City just opened this week. Part wine bar, part retail shop, they offer many wines by the glass ($5-14), any of which may be selected as part of a flight (3 for $12). I can tell you right now, Bottle Rock has replaced Ford's as my Culver City choice of cocktail hour/ bar scene. Better wines for less, and more generous portions of cheese and meat (including an excellent handmade salami by Paul Berlotti). 14 cheeses to choose from (3 for $12, 5 for $15, 7 for $20 or 10 for $25), we choose a triplecreme (of course), from Cowgirl Creamery, a smooth and soft sheep's milk cheese from Holland, and a nice runny Epoisses, a cows milk cheese from Burgundy. Paired with 2 kinds of toast points, quince paste and Mostarda, almost a meal within itself.
After our complementary glass of La Tordrea Prosecco (my first brush of blogging celebrity: free stuff and great treatment - although I wasn't the only one treated well), we ordered a flight of 6 wines, and let the owner, Adam, choose for us. A nice Viognier, a wonderfully minerally French Rose and a pleasantly surprising, un-California tasting, California Chardonnay. The reds were easy going, from a barnyardy Pinot Noir from Sonoma to a deep dark Australian Shiraz. I like his taste. They offered 7 wines for a mere $5 a glass, 8 for $10, and 4 for $12, and one for $14 (The Prisoner, 2004, Napa). Their wine and food menu changes frequently, it already changed twice in their first two days. Aside from the cheese and salami, they offered Marcona almonds ( a small remekin for $5), marinated anchovies, and pan au tomate. They will make a panini sandwich with any of the cheese, including a black truffle cheese (which I will be ordering next time). Chef Jason Travi, formerly of La Terza, is guiding the kitchen during these early days in business.
Hurry up and make it over there before all the blurbs and profiles start appearing in the newspapers and magazines. I have said it before (re: Wilson, Ford's and Tender Greens), and I will say it again. Bottle Rock is another well needed addition to the Culver City food scene and nightlife.
3847 Main Street
Culver City, CA 90232
Thursday, August 24, 2006
I was in Monterey last weekend for the annual car festivites; Concours d'Elegance, car auctions, and Montery Historic Auto Races at Laguna Seca. One of the meals we had was at an old adobe in downtown Monterey called Stokes. We had to go; Stokes is a family name. Only a couple of complaints: I made the reservation through Open Table, and the restaurnat had marked us in the computer as a No Show, so I did not recieve the points, and we were virtually ignored for a few minutes when we arrived, among the servers and even the manger. Once the hostess was ready to seat us, then our luck changed.
The restaurant is in an adobe, built in 1883, with many rooms, on two levels. Each room had a slightly different mood and atmosphere. The first room had a bar and some wooden tables, great for having a casual, light meal with some drinks. There were tables upstairs in the large hallway overlooking the bar area. The rest of the downstairs dining room was slightly more formal, and completly packed by the time we left. We sat in a small room upstairs next to the window so where could see all the Enzos drive by. Very comfortable seats, very warm atmosphere. The menu consisted of a small appetizers section - much like the size of a tapa. We ordered the fried potatoes with aioli, and crostini with fig and duck prociutto. The potatoes were incredible. Perfectly crispy, and piping hot. The crostini sounded promising, was but was jsut ok, the prociutto was cut too thickly, and the figs overpowered the dish.
For my main course I had duck breast, wtih a lovely fennel seed and lavender crust, with a spinach crepe. The lavender was very nice with the duck, the crepe was ok, a little heavy on the nutmeg.
The food was good, but not great. I really liked the idea of offering small plates enjoy before the appetizer, an excellent way to try as many things as possible. Stokes is relatively good; it is one of the best restaurants in Monterey, and I will happily return next year. But if Stokes were in Los Angeles, I would opt for something else.
Stokes Restaurant and Bar
500 Hartnell St.
Monterey, Ca 93940
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Having been to Emeril's, and Emeril's Delmonico in New Orleans, and both of them being far superior to the classic institutions like Commander's Palace and Galatoire's, I knew we were in for a treat when we arrived at Emeril's Delminico in Las Vegas, inside the Venetian Hotel and Casino. The Delmonico's in New Orleans was really the highlight of that trip. The building was very old and charming, with beautiful brown/taupe fabric on the lower half of the walls, with crown molding everywhere. Very cozy, yet modern. And the food, of course was spetacular. In contrast, the Vegas outpost was surprisingly plain in design, with absolutely nothing adorning the walls, only the dim lighting. Absolutely packed (on a Monday night), and quite loud. Aside from the decor (or lack thereof), the only other missing ingredient were the black napkins. At both restaurants in NO, I was offered a black napkin to place on my black dress, which avoided leaving lots of unsightly white lint my dress. The food, luckily, was just as wonderful.
Our wait captain /host was a very charming, handsome young man named Robert. He guided us through the menu and wine list, and regularly checked in throughout the night, making sure everything was taken care of. We were also served by a waiter, and three runners. Just like Emeril's in NO (and all the restaurants we visited down there), the service was very attentive and accommodating.
The wine list was a notebook about one inch thick. I was very hard pressed to find a wine under $80. Scanning the pages, a good 80% of the wines were priced over $100, with many, many priced in the $200's, $300's and up. We found a nice Spanish Ribera del Duero for $40. It was the first properly chilled red wine I have had in a long time.
The kitchen sent out an amuse bouche of chicken on a fried wonton skin. Don't ask me what else was on it, it was too loud to hear the server and too dark too see it. But it was quite good, and a great little teaser.
The highlight of our meal was our shared appetizer, truffle potato chips. Very thinly sliced chips, doused with truffle oil, topped with Parmesan cheese. The best I have ever had, and probably the first time I have had a kitchen be more than generous with the truffle oil. The fumes rising up from the plate were heavenly.
I could have ordered another round just for myself, but I opted for the foie gras instead. The seared foie gras sat on a blue cheese turnover. Luscious meat-flavored butter (as I affectionately call foie gras), with blue cheese and puff pastry. Decadence, on top of decadence.
For my main I ordered another appetizer (although easily large enough to be a main course) of Oysters Bienville (actually a variation of the classic dish). Breaded and friend oysters with mushrooms, bacon, spinach parpardelle, and Herbsiant. The Herbsaint added just the slightest anise flavor, that complemented the oysters more than it drew attention to itself.
The only disappointment was the dessert. We ordered a bananas Foster ice cream pie, and it was just a bug hunk of banana ice cream. I should have just stuck to the complimentary birthday sorbet. But the Irish Coffees made up for it.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
No, that is not Bobby Flay (or as our waitress said, "Iron Chef, Bobby Flay"), but just one of the two David reproductions in Palazzo di Cesare.
Luckily for us, Mesa Grill was just down the elevator, in the lobby of our hotel, so we conveniently went there a couple of times on this trip. We started at the bar (where else?), for a Margarita while waiting for our friends. You can create your own Margarita, by choosing a Tequila, opting to replace the Triple Sec with a better liquor, such as Cointreau, for $2 extra, and another $4 extra gets you a "smoky floater" of Mezcal. We opted for the smoky floater, which, luckily for us, they left off the bill. The Mezcal really made the drink, it gave it more bite and cut the usual Margarita sweetness. At the table we started with queso fundido, with goat cheese and blue corn tortilla chips. It disappeared quickly, I even used my fork to chisel away the wonderful golden brown crispy bits on the cast iron skillet.
For my appetizer, I had zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese, with a yellow bell pepper sauce. All of the flavors were great, but the blossoms were only about 1.5 inches long. Two small bites a piece.
I had an other appetizer for my main course, a tamale topped with shrimp, and a couple of sauces - something creamy (Margarita #2), maybe some chive oil and red pepper oil. Very good, and very filling. Unfortunately I couldn't finish it.
I helped Heather eat her chicken and black bean quesedilla, toasted with some cheese in the salamander just before serving, unfortunately I think it may have sat out a minute too long before it reached our table. The cheese had firmed up a bit.
Everyone loved their food, Jose had the roasted chicken, Jasmine the pea soup.
Mesa Grill in Las Vegas is much more lively than its New York original. Same creative food, same great service, same colorful presentation. It almost makes one forget how irritating and obnoxious (Iron Chef) Bobby Flay is.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
The Commander's Palace Restaurant at the Aladdin hotel offers beignets and chicory coffee for breakfast, but only until 11 in the morning. There have been a few times we have tried to make this deadline, but needless to say, we didn't always get up in time. Well, this last trip we were able to go not once, but twice! A new record! These beignets are very much like the classic ones served at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans (and at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney), but a little smaller with slightly more chewy, delicate texture. Topped with powdered sugar, they are also served with a coffee sauce, sort of a coffee dulce de leche. A first class Sugar-Bomb meal - I would take it over cupcakes anyday. Served with deep, dark, chicory coffee, helping to slow down the inevitable sugar crash from the beignets. The perfect beginning to a morning at the Roulette wheel. Check out the photos below: on the left, Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, and Commander's in Las Vegas on the right.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I just returned from my annual birthday trip to Vegas, and had a fabulous time, as always. The first meal we had was lunch at Spago Cafe in the Forum mall inside our hotel, Caesars Palace. This Spago Cafe is a slightly less expensive version of Spago, and in my opinion, much better, especially since you do not have to mingle with all those too-cool-for-school Beverly Hills types. We sat "outside," under the trompe l'oeil sky, watching all the tourists traipse through the mall. They started us of with a bread basket combo: flatbread with Parmesan and chili peppers, little brioche style dinner rolls, and a country French bread, served with a soft, tangy cream cheese topped with stewed bell peppers.
I had a very interesting Alsacian pizza that I cannot wait to try at home: a thin layer of whole grain mustard, gruyere, caramelized onions, and pancetta. It was so good, we went back the next day and ordered it again.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Finally made it out to Pinkberry in West Hollywoodtoday, to see what the big deal is. After reading the article in the LA Times about Pinkberry and their disgruntled neighbors, I thought it would be a mob scene with no place to park, but instead I found a spot directly across the street! I couldn't believe it! I wanted to leave my car there all day and bask in the glory of having the prime spot. There were about 8 people ahead of me, and they did make us form the line outside, rather than snake in the air-conditioned, too-loud-bad-Euro-techno-pop-blaring store. It moved pretty quickly. They offer 2 kinds of frozen yogurt: plain and green tea. I tried a sample of the green tea and ordered a small (5oz.) plain yogurt with blueberries.
This was the first frozen yogurt I have had that actually tasted like yogurt. It was ice cold, and stayed cold. No melting here. I do not like green tea, but the yogurt had just a nice delicate taste of green tea, which complemented the yogurt's tangyness nicely. After I sat down the line quickly grew out the door and down the street. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, but I do not know how soon I will be wiling to make the trip out to WeHo just for yogurt. Maybe the next time I am at Lucques I will swing by...
868 Huntley Dr.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
After driving by this restaurant for years, I finally checked it out. We had planned on dining in the back patio, but it was closed! So we settled for a table inside. I started off with an ice cold Polish potato vodka, my friend had an apple martini - but fortunately it was nothing like those awful Apple Pucker college girl drinks. It was made with Buffalo grass infused vodka, which had a very nice lemongrassy flavor. After some bread and tapenade we went straight for the pierogi. Sort of the Polish pupusa. They were great - how can you go wrong with a fried cheese-filled carb packets? We wanted the duck pate but it is only available on weekends.
We moved onto the dried plums wrapped in bacon. Usually anything wrapped in bacon is fabulous, these were just ok. The plums were just too sweet, sticky and dense, and they tasted like they were prepared hours ago, just waiting to be thrown under the salamander.
The chicken Schnitzel was pretty good, just a little dull for my tastes. Just a simple breaded and fried chicken breast with mashed potatoes (plated up by an ice cream scooper) and broccoli topped with sand-like brown butter breadcrumbs. This is comfort food. Heavy, old-fashioned comfort food. I would go back, but just for peirogi and vodka out on the patio.
1414 Lincoln Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA
Monday, August 07, 2006
I went to the first day of the new Mar Vista Farmer's market last Sunday. It is located on Grand View, in between Venice Blvd and Pacific, and runs from 9:00 - 1:00. I was suprised how many people came out to support it. It is a modest market, with just a few farmer's stalls, including two organic booths. There was also the ususal flower stands and hot food, such as crepes and tacos. Some local bakeries were present too, such as Hotcakes and Cafe Laurent. Off to a good start, hopefully more farmer's will be added to the lineup.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Yes, another cupcake bakery. Of course I couldn't resist. My Little Cupcake's cupcakes are far more ambitious then others I have tried lateley. They have the usual chocolate, vanilla, red velvet (all with artfully piped frosting), plus some interesting tricked out ones, such as the High Hat.
A Mallowmar of sorts, the High Hat is chocolate cake with marshmallow icing dipped in chocolate. So sweet and decadant, I am afraid it might be too much of a good thing. Same with the peanut butter cupcake. Chocolate cake with a layer of peanut butter under the cut top, then frosted with peanut butter icing, then finally topped with a piece of Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.
These are for the hard-core sweet tooth. After one bite of each, my stomach begged me to stop, a sugar headache kicked in and I crashed before I even got the sugar rush.
I did enjoy the lemon merengue cupcake. A dense, lemon cake with a dollop of lemon curd underneath a beehive of merengue, toasted by the plummer's torch. Much better than the pie, and not too sweet. Overall, I was dissapointed in the cakes. I prefer a nice soft, fluffy cake, and these were very dense, and just the tinest bit dry. The red velvet's cream cheese frosting was lovely, as was the vanilla, but the chocolate was unremarkable.
I think the joy of a cupcake is it's simplicity, a sweet little cake, just enough to satisfy. My Little Cupcake's are certainly beautiful, but just a little over the top. Maybe with all the cupcake competion around, they may feel the need to stand out and do something different. I think they are trying too hard; a cupcake should not be so complicated. Maybe I have had too many cupcakes lately, if possible.
My Little Cupcake
11925 Ventura Blvd.
Cupcakes $2.75 each, $30.00 a dozen