Monday, October 30, 2006

My 2nd Favorite Burger

My 2nd favorite burger is the California Burger at Houston's in Santa Monica. It is made with moist, tender beef (ground in-house) avocado, jack cheese, arugula, and mustard. I love the combo of fat on fat. Served with skinny, crispy fries, it is a most satisfying meal. Rarely can I stray from the burger and order something else on the menu. If you want to check out this burger, remember: only the Houston's on 2nd Street in Santa Monica has it. I have been greatly disappointed when I expected to order it in other locations.

My favorite burger is The Office Burger at Father's Office, but I have become so fed up with the crowds and noise at FO, I turn to Houston's for the glory of a salty, fatty, burger fix.

202 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, Ca 90401

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Cheese Store

I love the classes offered at The Cheese Store in Beverly Hills. I have been to 3 or 4 of them now, and I am always amazed (and stuffed) by the portions given. The second you sit down, they pour a generous taste of wine. You have a map of the profiled region, a bowl of olives, bread, water, and a cute little Cheese Store pen.

Once the class starts, they give you a little wooden board with five cheeses, and a flight of two wines. Then another flight, then another board, then another flight. 10 cheeses, 7 wines, and usually some interesting cured meat.

This last class I went to profiled the wines and cheeses of Sardinia. After a their attempt of sobering us up with a little bowl of Fregola de Sardi, we all trekked to the store for 10% off everything we could get our hands on. This was the best part! The staff was handing out even more samples of cheese and wine. All it took was, "what is that cheese like? What is that wine like...?" and The Cheese Store was my oyster.

The Cheese Store
419 N Beverly Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

The Colony Cafe

I had lunch at the new Colony Cafe on Pico Blvd. in West LA the other day. Decent hamburger, bizarre fries, and an odd layout. The outside is cute, with a blue and white beachy New England style exterior, with a nice, large front patio dining area. When you walk up to the building there are two doors: pick one. I picked the one on the left. Wrong! The door on the left leads you to the bakery/ breakfast/ coffee/ frozen yogurt part of The Colony Cafe. It is very spacious, clean and cute (continuing with the New England theme), with a small selection of pastries, and several kinds of frozen yogurt (I did not see "the New Berry!") and ice cream taking up most of the counter area, and a comfortable seating area. I looked around for the lunch menu - not here, it is next door. So I stepped back outside and opened door #2 and stepped into the lunch counter. A small, stark white room with a small counter, and a soda fountain, I was the 3rd person in line and had to stand in the doorway holding the door open. Why aren't these spaces combined? The frozen yogurt side was virtually empty, and we are crammed in this little room? Is there some building code that is preventing that? This cafe should be laid out just like Clementine, with an area for pastries, and an area for hot food and two lines. Oh well.

I wanted to try one of their hormone and antibiotic-free hamburgers I had heard about. I chose the BTLA Burger, "topped with hickory smoked bacon, lettuce wedge (really just a leaf), tomato and avocado" and aioli and Papa's Special Sauce ( a very sweet cross between Mexican salsa and BBQ sauce). I call it the curse of The Houston's Office Burger. I love the Father's Office combo of blue cheese, onions, and bacon, and Houston's California burger with avocado, I can't help myself altering any burger I order into something that resembles one, or both of those burgers. So I added blue cheese and avocado, and the sauces on the side ($8.25 + $2.50 for avo and blue).

Their burgers come with a handful of thin potato chips (not mentioned on the menu), and I added their garlic fries. I couldn't quite figure out what was on these fries. First of all, they were very crisp, bordering on stale in taste and texture, and doused with some sort of oil with minced garlic. Of course, after a few minutes they get soggy, perhaps explaining the initial too-crispness of the fry? Underwhelming. I should have ordered the regular fires and dipped them in the aioli (lemony, thin and good) I ordered on the side. The burger was good. Big, but not too big. The patty was not as tender or as fatty as FO or Houston's, but still good. It satisfied my craving.

They also offer hot dogs, "Porch Puppies", made with Nathan's all beef dogs, tricked out the Hog Dog: bacon wrapped roasted dog topped with swiss cheese and horseradish cream, diced onions and scallions. They also serve sandwiches such as tuna melt and grilled chicken, and salads.

The Colony Cafe is a nice little neighborhood spot, it is just akward to have separate rooms for the businesses. For example, I ordered an iced tea, which I had to go next door to retrieve. (?) Don't let that stop you from checking them out.

The Colony Cafe
10937 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The New Berry & The Old Berry

On my way to the new Westwood Pinkberry, I came to a screeching halt when I saw this painted on the window of The Big Chill Frozen Yogurt on Westwood and Olympic: "We got the new berry," and "plain tart."

I went in and sampled it. It was not half bad. It was opague and very creamy, even creamier than Pinkberry. It tasted like yogurt. But the aftertaste was a little funny, it was sort of an artificial taste. Not as fresh tasting as Pinkberry, and not as sweet. But I did prefer it over watery, icy, Kiwiberry.

The new Pinkberry is on Lindbrook, just west of Westwood Blvd, next to Subway. When I took this exterior shot, the window cleaner announced to the staff I was taking pictures. When I walked in, the yogurt jerk asked if I was taking pictures of the store, or himself. (Of course) I responded, "you!"

I thought I was in his good graces, so I asked for a plain and green tea swirl, but he said no. Colleen, any tips? I thought I had him in my pocket! It is BS that they will not swirl the two flavors. Why not? It requires no effort on the staff, he machine does it for them. Oh well. I sat down on the cheap plastic furniture out front, and ate my two-headed, all green tea flavored yogurt.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Minotaure in Playa Del Rey

I checked out a new tapas restaurant in Playa Del Rey tonight called Mintotaure. It is on Culver Blvd., in the space Chloe used to occupy. It is a cute, comfortable space, with a small red bar, but, like at Chloe, there is an ambiance-crushing bright light blasting from the open kitchen door, into the dining room. The food is mostly tapas ($6-$18), separated into cold and hot, with a couple choices of entree-sized paella. The short and sweet wine list consisted of mostly Spanish, Argentine and Chilean wines, ranging from $8-15 a glass. And, of course, they were playing The Gypsy Kings.

When we sat down they started us of with a trifecta of large marinated green olives, roasted almonds, and soft butter with cilantro and garlic, and a basket of sliced baguette. One $8 glass of Rei Brigo 2005 Albarino from Spain, and I was ready to order. My friend and I shared the shrimp and swordfish ceviche ($13). It had all the requirements of good ceviche: sharp, tangy, bright and crisply cold. But one hitch: the seafood was minced. I prefer chunks, so I can see what I am eating. The minced style made it look more like catfood. ( I apologize for the lack of photos, the first couple did not turn out well - I prefer not to use the flash, but it was just too dark to take a photo without one. They were not very busy, so I used the flash on the last three dishes)

For the next course, Cat had the fried calamari served with a spicy alioli and an even spicier pepper sauce ($9). I had the chicken empanada, served with the same spicy pepper sauce, which was a special that day. The calamari was fried very nicely - no grease puddles, just a nice crisply, crunchy batter on the delicate calimari. I could not find any tentacles, though (my favorite). My empanadas were very good. Fried nice and dark (they way I like my fried foods as some of you may know), not at all greasy, with tender chicken inside. I could have ordered another round, but I managed to control myself.

We finished the meal with a disappointing cheese plate. Look at all that stuff on it! The cheese was still chilly from the refrigerator, and covered in micro greens, raspberries and peanuts. Peanuts?! No, no, no. Just give me the cheese with a slice of membrillo (this is a Spanish restaurant, after all).

Service was friendly, but not terribly efficient. Our server would bring out the next course before clearing the last plate (the tables were small and crowded with a large candle, large wine and water glasses, and a plant). After our ceviche, we should have received new plates, since the ceviche left a runny mess, but that was overlooked as well.

The menu was filled with all kinds of seafood and meat dishes, and (like the unhappy vegetarian at the table next to us pointed out before promptly leaving the restaurant to dine elsewhere), not many vegetarian options. For the fried calamari dish, served with sauce on the side, the menu stated: "FRITOS CALAMARES - roasted garlic calamari in piquant lemon chili sauce" If one did not know that fritos means fried, this dish sounds like it should be roasted calamari with sauce poured over it, right? And the Jamon Serrano tapa is listed as, "JAMON SERRANO - antipasto ham, prociutto, cantaloupe and green olives." Prociutto?! In a Spanish joint?

We thoroughly enjoyed the wine, and most of the food was good, but Minotaure is probably not worth a drive across town, like Cobras and Matadors is. It is a cute place for drinks and a snack for the locals of Playa del Rey. It is the Truxton's of Playa del Rey.

333 Culver Blvd.
Playa Del Rey, CA 90293

The Happiest Corn Dog on Earth

I was at Disneyland the other day checking out their Halloween festivites and tried their corn dog for the first time. They are sold from only one location (a fire-engine-red portable stand) in the park, tucked off Main Street across from the Baby Care Center, and photo shop. I never liked corn dogs when I was growing up, but I have heard only good things about this one, so I tried it. It was really good! Dipped in thick cornmeal batter, fried nice and dark, with a juicy dog inside. $5 for one and a bag of chips. It was so good, For the first time, I did not feel ripped off buying food inside Disneyland!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Truxton's American Bistro

Truxton's American Bistro in Westchester is what family restaurants like Coco's, Marie Callenders, etc. should be like. They have an interesting, contemporary menu ("classic and ethnic American dishes with a twist"), yet still kid-friendly. They offer some gourmet burgers (even a Chinese Five Spice marinated tofu burger), salads, sandwiches, and a couple traditional "slow roasted plates" such as brisket and turkey dinner, as well as appetizers like fritto misto, ahi tuna and avocado "tower", and chicken lettuce cups. The portions are generous, and affordable. The food is decent, but not great. Think of it as a cross between Gordon Biersch, Houston's, and Chili's. Truxton's does have the advantage of being probably the best restaurant in Westchester. If I lived in the neighborhood, I could see dining there again.

We started with the bistro salad - a sweet combination of dried cranberries, roasted butternut squash, pickled Persian cucumbers, sliced almonds and feta, tossed in a pomegranate vinaigrette. Interesting combo, probably great in couscous, but just too sweet in a salad.

My friend and I shared a couple of dishes, the most intriguing being the mac n' cheese. Gruyere, bleu, fontina, roasted garlic, oven roasted tomatoes, topped with a quarter inch of panko crumbs. It was very saucy - too saucy. One bite I had was just a big glob of gluey cheese with no pasta. The panko was too thick, the sauce too loose and the blue undetectable. The tomatoes did offer a nice refreshing balance to the dish, but it was just too cheesy. A big, goupy, fat-bomb-carbo-nightmare (or dream, for some.).

The Fritto Misto was respectable - a combo of artichoke hearts and calimari, served with cocktail and tartar sauces. I would have preferred they fried them about one minute longer, and some pieces on the bottom were slightly greasy, but a overall a good fried plate.

We shared "The Portland" burger: mushroom, caramelized and crispy onion, fontina cheese and aioli. It was OK. I thought the onion rings added a bitter taste to the burger, and the meat was only about one half inch thick, and not fatty enough. The lettuce was shredded, and the aioli more like plain mayo than aioli. The fries (a choice between garlic Parmesan, sweet potato and plain) were slightly under cooked and soft.

Good, friendly service, good iced tea, watery lemonade. They are good at what they are trying to be: an interesting, affordable neighborhood restaurant, good for a casual date or a family dinner, but not fine dining. If you live in Westchester I think you will find Truxton's to be a welcome addition to the Westchester food "scene."

Truxton's American Bistro
8611 Truxton Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90045

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Upstairs 2

A couple weeks ago I tried Upstairs 2 for the first time. I have been putting off writing this review because I just cannot get excited about the experience. We left the restaurant fairly satisfied, but the more I think about it, the more I did not like it. It was not horrible, just very unmemorable. And service that night was just below par.

Upstairs 2 is situated in the old tasting room, upstairs, above The Wine House. It is a very small and charming space, you easily forget you are right next to the freeway, down the road from warehouses and strip clubs. The chef is Todd Barrie formerly of Joe's. The food is reminiscent of Joe's contemporary cuisine, but next time, I will go to Joe's instead. There are no normal sized entrees, everything is a "small plate", appetizer size, meant to be shared. They are divided into "hot," "cold," and "flatbread," as well as a few cheeses and charcuterie selections.

For an aperitif, Susan and I started off with a Moscato d' Asti, the least expensive glass from the list of sparking wines. We just wanted a nice, light, refreshing sparking wine to stimulate our palates. But instead it was just like apple juice with 2 bubbles. We expected something less sweet and more effervescent, and when expressed this to our server, she did not jump at the chance to replace them. The sommelier did replace them, but after a lecture on the sweet and barely sparking qualities of Moscato d'Asti. Apparently, we should have known better. But we didn't. And DJ's martini had an olive stuffed with jalapeno, flavoring the gin, ruining an otherwise satisfyingly simple cocktail.

After telling our very persistent server too slow down the pace (every 3 minutes she wanted to take our order, while we just wanted to finish our cocktails before we started to think about food), the chef sent out an amuse bouche - some thick, pasty, puree with a sliver of salami. Too thick to eat from a spoon gracefully.

The dishes were good, but not great. DJ asked me what we ate that stands out in my mind, and I quickly replied, "the black rice." A wonderfully nuttty, buttery rice served with shrimp. He replied the same.

Nothing else was super-memorable. I am struggling a little right now to remember the details of the dishes. The scallops were cooked perfectly, set atop a lemon risotto cake (which had the disadvantage of giving me 'Nam-like flashbacks of frying an endless amount little risotto cakes for a caterer I used to work for).

I had venison for the first time, which was surprisingly pleasant, but a tad dry - too lean for me. What else...oh yeah, we had lamb rib chops - one cooked medium, the other med-rare, just OK. What else...a very unattractive dish of zucchini chunks and sausage...

Asiago stuffed dates, good, but not great...

and boring (sorry, DJ) profiteroles for dessert...

With tip, the 3 of us paid $75 each. We enjoyed two Spanish wines, including a lovely Ribera Del Duero for $29, available downstairs in the store for $16.99. Did it pass the LLT? No. I will explain The LLT later...

Upstairs 2
2311 Cotner Ave.
Los Angele, CA 90064

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Father's Office in Culver City - Coming Soon

I stopped the space of the eagerly awaited second location of Father's Office in Culver City. It is on Helms, next to the Jazz Bakery and HD Buttercup, across form Beacon. They have a nice long outside patio that is almost the size of the Santa Monica location! There did not seem to be much activity inside, my guess is we have at least a few months before we get to fight for a table.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Jonathan Club

The other day my friend was generous enough to take me along in as a guest of hers at The Jonathan Club on PCH after work for drinks and snacks. The food was just plain o' bar food. Perfectly enjoyable crowd-pleasing snacks, but nothing special. We ordered some wine, shrimp scampi, onion rings, sat back and enjoyed the sunset. There is something extremely carefree about signing for the bill. I could easily rack up a large tab that way.