Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Curious Palate

The Curious Palate opened a few days ago in Mar Vista - a welcome reprieve from all the taquerias in the area. It is a cozy little cafe/gourmet shop/take-out deli with a small seasonal menu including sandwiches (I had a prosciutto panini),

salads, soups, sides and daily hot plate specials like these braised short ribs with Isreali couscous.

They also have a deli case of meats olives cheese, etc., making it a convienient stop for Mar Visians for some gourmet snacks (and they serve my fave coffee, Intelligentsia).

The Curious Palate
12034 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Mosto Enoteca

I had my second wonderful meal at Mosto Enoteca the other night. Located upstairs in a strip mall on Washington Blvd in Maria del Rey (next to the late Killer Shrimp), there is finally a good, non-chain restaurant worth going to in the Marina. 

They start you off with a selection of breads and homemade grissini (breadsticks) to nibble on, served with a vegetable puree that changes daily. The first night we had zucchini, potato and truffle, the second night pumpkin and bacon. Much more interesting then your typical olive oil or butter. 

On my first visit, I was with a group of ten and we shared everything family style. A selection of salumi, cheese and some crostini to start, then a few pastas (many of which are house-made), some fish, then a nice big veal chop, some side vegetables, followed by a couple desserts. On the second visit, we were more conservative - just a spinach pancetta and pine nut salad followed by strozzopretti and clams for me. Every single dish I have eaten here has been executed perfectly, with strong, clear flavors, appropriate servings, plated beautifully. Elegant yet simple. 

Just one complaint: the wine list prices are out of proportion to the food prices. You are hard pressed to find a bottle under $50. The food is very reasonably priced, and is actually quite a deal for the quality. It would be more appropriate (and we would certainly have ordered more wine) if they offered more bottles under $35.  Otherwise, Mosto is a cozy, comfortable yet sophisticated restaurant with excellent food I will happily return to. 

Here are some shots a friend took. Unfortunately, he didn't get a shot of the Fred Flintsone sized veal chop or the eequally beautiful double cut pork chop.

Mosto Enoteca
517 Washington Blvd.
Marina del Rey, CA 90292

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Wood

I had a very disappointing breakfast this morning at The Wood, a brand new little cafe in Mar Vista where El Castillo used to be. They transformed the little castle into a cute cafe, with outdoor seating. It is a new venture between the owners of The Grind and Cafe Laurent. I was really hoping The Wood would be a fantastic little neighborhood gem, with decent breakfast and coffee, but unfortunately the best thing in the place is the cool Dave Lefner print on the wall. 

You order at the counter and they bring your order to you. The service is quasi-self-serve. Want syrup for your pancakes, or sugar for your coffee, get up and get it. When the server brought me my meal, the flatware was rolled up in a paper napkin, on the plate with my food, sopping up the grease. Good thing I had already gotten a napkin myself when I got my coffee.

They offer many espresso drinks, but their drip coffee is served in ultra-tacky pump thermoses you serve yourself. My capuccino was brought out in a paper cup for my "for-here" order, and they quickly put it in a ceramic cup at my request. I ordered the 2x breakfast of two eggs, two sausages, two pieces of bacon and two pancakes, with potatoes. The potatoes were greasy and tasted like the oil they were fried in, the scrambled eggs were prepared the way I hate:  not stirred before they hit the grill. So you end up with white bits and yellow bits. The pancakes had the fainted hint of rose water - a very perfumey, soapy taste. Intentional or not, I did not like them. 

The space is loud - it was only me, a table of two and a couple of employees (and lots of traffic at the intersection). I really, really, wanted to like The Wood - it would be so great to have a great breakfast and lunch place within walking distance from my apartment, but the meal was so mediocre, and the coffee so unmemorable, I am afraid to go back and give it another try. 

The Wood
12000 Washington Blvd.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Riva - I Forgot My Camera

I hate it when that happens. I met some friends for a fantastic meal at Riva the other night. Owned by the team that brought you Fraiche, Riva is another awesome creation. In the old Scarboni and Pentola spot in Santa Monica, I think this restaurant will be the first to last in that spot.

They have a nice, all Italian wine list organized by style and price, rather than region, making it easy to navigate for those unfamiliar with Italian regions and varietals (the informed sommelier can help you out too). We ordered from each section of the menu: crudo, appetizer, pizza, main courses, cheese and dessert.

Of the crudos we had seabass, tuna and cuttlefish, each one better than the last. Refreshing, light, and just enough for one bite per person, they were the perfect starter. Then we shared some house-made headcheese, which our sommelier paired brilliantly with a sparking rosado wine. We shared two pizzas (one, curtesy of chef Jason Travi), a bianca with spinach and ricotta, and one with potato, creme fraiche and rosemary. Cooked in a wood burning oven we each enjoyed these pizzas thoroughly. On my next visit, I would like to take a seat at the bar, and enjoy some crudo, pizza and wine and call it a night. But last night we couldn't stop there.

We shared the steak for two (yet big enough to split among the for of us) presented table side, served with lentils, cavalo nero, and bagna cauda, cooked a perfect medium rare. To kick off the end of the meal, we had a cheese plate with three (very small slices) cheeses, then three desserts: torta della nonna, chocolate cake and budino. All beautiful. We were stuffed. I loved the whole experience and cannot wait to return. I am sorry I forgot my camera, I hate blogging without photos. Thanks for reading all the way to the end! By the way, we had a celebrity sighting. At the table next to us was Tom Hanks and Martin Short.

312 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Enoteca San Marco

On this last trip to Vega$, we stayed at the Venetian Hotel and Casino - which has become one of my favorite hotels in Vegas for food. We dined at Mario Batali's B&B, and his more casual Enoteca San Marco. It really offers the some of the best dishes of Italy, including two of my Roman faves: Cacio e Pepe, and fried zucchini blossoms. Nestled in "St. Mark's Square" (a cleaner, smaller, pigeon-free version), Enoteca San Marco is kind of like a bigger, casual version of both LA Mozzas (and without the ridiculous wait for a reservation).

We had pizza and pasta, but I insisted we have at least one non-fried vegetable: these asparagus with pecorino were wonderful. 
One of the categories on the menu is devoted to fried food. On our second visit we choose this trio of cauliflower, zucchini blossoms and pizza dough. 
Wine by the quartino, a view of Disneyland-esque Venezia, and these dishes. What better way to enjoy lunch in Vega$. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bar Pinxto

My favorite Spaniard was in town and, among many others, Pintxo was on my list of places to take him. I wanted him to try Spanish food in LA and give me his take on it. We started off with some canapes: Luis ordered his favorite Russian salad (served unlike any Russian salad he has had in Spain, with cheese on it), and I choose the jamon sofrito and fried leeks. These tapas were nice little starters, just enough to fire up the appetite. He liked his, but insisted it was not traditional Russian salad.

We had to try our two faves. Mine are the croquetas, and his the tortilla. We would order these two at every opportunity we had while in Spain. I really liked the croquetas and alioli. Fried a deep brown, they were creamy and crispy. These were ham and chicken, while in Spain the ones I had were either ham or chicken, not both together. I really liked the combo, although I prefer the traditional oblong shape over the round shape at Pintxo.

Luis was enjoyed his tortilla, and thought it was as good as any in Spain. It had cubes of potato which he likes, while I prefer slices instead.

The space is small, the stools uncomfortable, service is fast and friendly. Don't plan on lingering over a long, leisurely meal here. Is really a place for a quick drink and tapa. I really love the all Spanish wine list, with several offerings by the glass, casually served in little glass rather than stemware. Luis enjoyed his Alhambra beer - making his Granadino parents proud.

Bar Pintxo
109 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Monday, September 29, 2008

Whole Foods Wine Bar

I checkout out the new Whole Foods on Lincoln Blvd in Venice. I love these newer Whole Foods markets. There is a lot of emphasis on prepared, ready to eat foods. Every time I have been to this one, it is a bit of a scene outside with diners enjoying a meal, or just some coffee. On this visit, my friend and I paid a visit to the tapas bar. Nestled in the wine section, they have a vinoteque loaded with wine to taste by the 2 oz. pour (they have a tasting license, so they may only serve 2oz pours rather than full glasses or whole bottles). We shared a red flight ($12.990 and a white flight ($11.99), along with the usual wine accompaniments of cheese meats and nuts ($6.99-9.99), all of which are available for purchase in their respective departments.

Not necessarily the cheapest wine deal in town, but it is fun to take a break during your shopping on a (somewhat) lazy Sunday afternoon, as we did, to sample and enjoy some interesting wines and meats.

Whole Foods
225 Lincoln Blvd.
Venice, CA

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rosenthal Estate Wine Tour

I recently went on a special tour of the Rosenthal Estate winery in Malibu. The estate is not open to the public, but once a year Ian Blackburn of Learn About Wine puts together this special tour. Situated on 250 acres in Malibu off Kanan Dume Road, they have vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, to name a few.

We started the tour with a tasting of a couple of their (surprisingly good) wines, while eating a light lunch from Bay Cities Deli served outside on the patio of the horse stable-turned-tasting room.

We then set off on foot and trekked around some of the beautiful vineyards, as our tour guide told us about the growing and harvesting process, while sampling more wines grown on the premises.

Scattered nearby the house were a few pieces of art. Check out these 2 pieces of the Berlin Wall.

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. I just wanted to move into the house (13 lucky workers live on the premesis), go for a swim, and take a nap on the lawn. But I had to settle for a few more relaxing minutes on the patio, instead.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Los Angeles Barbeque Festival, Part 1

I just received my VIP passes for the upcoming Los Angeles Barbeque Festival on September 13 and 14th on the Santa Monica Pier. The event promises plenty of BBQ from the likes of Mr. Cecils (my fave rib joint), and Baby Blues BBQ, among others. Also a beer garden and live music. I know I am not going to to miss Beatles cover band Ticket to Ride on Sunday afternoon, hopefully they are at least half as good as the king of all Beatles tribute bands, The Fab Four. The VIP pass will get you access to the express food lines, an event T shirt, and a Cosmo Deck. Check back after that weekend, and I will have a post festival round up with photos.

Los Angeles Barbeque Fastival
September 13 & 14
Santa Monica Pier

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tapas in Granada

While in Granada, we were able to make a meal out of tapas. It was so nice to forget about making reservations, and eating at just about anytime we wished. One afternoon for lunch (around 2:00), we ventured to a bar called La Ballena Allegre near the bullring and ordered two glasses of tinto de verana, which would would come with a choice of sandwiches (we choose blood sausage and jamon serrano) for about 5 Euro a round. After two rounds, we were satiated and ready to tour the bullring.

I know these pictures are not food-related, but I have to share them. We took a private tour of the bullring (the first time my Gaditano had been in one - I had seen a bullfight 5 years ago in Madrid, once was enough) and here are some highlights. If the bullfighter gets hurts, they whisk him off to the examination room. I don't think any bullfighter wants to have reason to step into those stirrups.

If surgery is necessary, they have an ER set up (note the state-of-the-art-hand-cranked operating table). They do not waste anytime shuttling the bullfighter to a nearby hospital.

He may then rest and recover in the adjacent recovery room.

They family waits for him here,

and prays for him here.

OK, back to tapas. One warm summer night, we had drinks and tapas at Oliver, in Plaza Pescadeia. We sat outside, enjoyed some wine with tuna empanadas, and another round with fried stuffed mussels and croquetas. It was 10:30 or so, and everyone was out enjoying the beautiful, warm night.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Junk Food Hangover

I think I have a junk food hangover. Beignets and coffee for breakfast, churro for mid-morning snack, corn dog and soda for lunch…yes, I was at Disneyland. Had it been the old Pre-Downtown Disney days, the rest of the day (meal-wise) would have continued to go downhill.

Perhaps fried chicken tenders or pizza in Tomorrowland, or a Monte Cristo sandwich at Blue Bayou. But ever since they added California Adventure and Downtown Disney, you are just a hand stamp away from a decent meal.

First, lets start off with California Adventure. They serve alcohol! We enjoyed a nice wine tasting in their wine bar/ restaurant (next to their own little vineyard), followed by a beer. That park needs the diversion of alcoholic beverage service, because there are really only two rides worth going on (Soaring Above California and Tower of Terror).

For a “real” meal, head straight to Downtown Disney. Several times on previous trips, I have enjoyed sandwiches as La Brea Bakery, and pizza at Naples, but this time we shared several appetizers at Uva Bar, a circular bar/resaurant in the middle of Downtown Disney. The only downside of dining in Downtown Disney, is the have new-age/Yanni/John Tesh-like musicians who set-up stands hawking CD’s and playing their music too loud. Aside from that, a good time and a nice rest is to be had. The menu at Uva is set up of small dishes, perfect to share. We started off with some fries, perfectly good and satisfying, served with ketchup and aioli. The highlight was the spicy tuna tartate, with avocado and friend wonton skins. The tuna was a nice, light, reprieve from the day’s fried carb extravaganza. The grilled steak with chimichurri sauce was tender and cooked just right.

The three sliders were straight out of a Popeye cartoon, and the calamari was great (when dipped into the aioli).

If we had this meal outside of Disneyland, this food would have been just OK, but after a morning of junk food, the protein and mental stimulation caused from using a knife and fork to eat (along with our cocktails) brought us all a well needed second wind.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

LA Vegan

In Mar Vista, right across the street from Casa Sanchez, in a neighborhood of taquerias, lawn mower shops, and bail bondsman, is this little gem called LA Vegan. It is in a small space, not particularly cute or comfortable to dine-in (read: takeout), but clean and staffed with capable and friendly servers. Similar to the other vegan cafes I have tried, California Vegan and The Vegan Joint, the menu is mostly Asian fare, with lots of ways to eat your tofu or fake meat. And they deliver!

On my first visit I ordered an appetizer of corn fritters ($6.95), which were five small corn pancakes, served with a sweet and sour syrup with cucumber. I nice sweet and savory combo. I like to call food like pancakes, french fries and sugar "vegan junk food." When I venture to the vegan cafes, I go because I want lots of vegetables, but I usually end up with at least one (or two) high-carb-fried-vegan-junk-food items, like these tasty spring rolls...

Cute little deep fried spring rolls ($4.95) with a (very sweet) sweet and sour sauce.

My next meal from LA Vegan was delivered to my home for free ( with a $12 minimum order) and this meal was healthy! I ordered one of their dinner specials: Lentil loaf with steamed vegetables and brown rice ($8.95). The lentil loaf tastes much better than it looks - it is savory and a bit sweet from the onions and bell peppers mixed in. It came with a vegan aioli which I dipped the vegetables in.

I couldn't resist ordering something fried (and I had to reach that $12 minimum), so I ordered some vegetable dumplings ($4.95). They were enjoyable and satisfied my ever-present meat/fat/salt cravings...along with a glass of Galician Albarino and the meal was perfect.

LA Vegan
4507 S Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I wish this restaurant were in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it is in Cadiz instead. Balandro sits right across the street from the ocean in the old town section of Cadiz. They have a dining room, but most everyone (including us) sits around the large bar for drinks and small plates. Balandro offers mostly contemporary food with Spanish influence. We enjoyed dishes like veal with caramelized onions and Pedro Ximenez sauce, mille-feuille stuffed with chicken, porcini-filled raviloi in a seafood sauce (and they were really cheap! All of the dishes pictured here were around 5-8 Euro!). We dined here three times on this trip.

Along with a small selection of Spanish wines, we also enjoyed the Spanish summer drink, tinto de verana, red wine with Sprite, which is the perfect warm afternoon beverage. A little sweet, a little alcohol, and very refreshing.

If you ever visit Cadiz, please make a visit to Balandro. It is very popular among the locals, so you may find yourself scoping out the diners, trying to figure out who will leave fist, and stake out a position next to them so the seat will be yours, but it is well worth the wait.

Alameda Apodaca, 22
Cadiz 11004
956 220 992