Thursday, March 27, 2008


I heard that a friend of mine had been getting sandwiches from a new cafe in downtown Culver City called Skratch. As a seasoned food blogger, I pride myself in knowing about all the new eateries around town, especially in my jurisdiction of Mar Vista/Culver City. I stopped by this morning and found out they have already been open for 5 months! How could I have missed a new restaurant in CC for 5 months! Apparently, they only just recently put up the sign. Hhmph.

Skratch is somewhat like a mini Tender Greens. They offer, fast, fresh food with a gourmet twist on the conventional. Their menu is small and to the point. Consisting primarily of salads and sandwiches ($6.95), and each menu item can be made into either one. We ate in, and I was initially disappointed our food was presented in take-out containers. I would have preferred a plate, but they are essentially a take-out business with some on-site tables.

I had the braised pulled-pork sandwich, with a very sweet fig and grape compote, green apples, goat cheese, truffle essence and lots of greens. I really liked the pork, and I think next time will order it as a salad in order to savor the flavor better. I enjoyed this combo, especially the hint of truffle. It is a bit light on the meat (as was my friend's salad), but it is inexpensive and worth what you pay for. My friend had a chicken salad with a nice sun-dried tomato pistou. They also offer a few soups, house-made cookies, and Kettle Chips. I am really loving the emergence of healthy, fast food outlets, and Skratch is no exception.

3867 Hughes Avenue
Culver City, CA 90232

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tiara Cafe

After spending the afternoon haggling with carpet salesmen downtown (funny how a $300 rug can drop to $100 by the time you get one foot out the door), we worked up an appetite and headed straight for Tiara Cafe. Owned by chef Fred Eric of Fred 62, Tiara Cafe is a contemporary, whimsical cafe filled with Project Runway wannabes from the fashion design school across the street. You realize the Fashion District influence is in full effect when you see on the menu the mention of the designer of the server's uniform for the season.

We were started off with cucumber water, then moved on to a most excellent strawberry lemonade. The menu offers many sandwiches, soups, pizzas, and some more interesting dishes like our starter of chickpea fries. Deep fried chickpea batter cut into the shape of fries, served with a harissa aioli. Imagine deep fried polenta, but creamier and with a nice nutty flavor. They were so good I ordered another. For my entree, I had a pizza from their seasonal menu. It was an interesting Mid-East/North African combo of labneh, roasted squash, eggplant and mirco greens. It was great. An interesting combo of flavors on a very thin crust.

My mom ordered on of their "fresh'wiches", which are not to be confused with a proper sandwich. Order these if you have a light appetite: they are essentially spring rolls. This one is grilled ahi tuna with cucumber, avacado, daikon and carrots. The tuna was almost non existent, as was the avocado. It was really just a disappointing roll of lettuce.

If you have a proper appetite, stick with one of their pizzas, panini, or salads. They also have a deli case of take out items, and a chocolate fountain with marshmallows to dip on your way out.

Tiara Cafe is a pleasant hide-out from the bustling downtown LA scene. Stick with the specials, avoid the "fresh'wiches" and you will enjoy it very much.

Tiara Cafe
127 E 9th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Waffle

After a nice little 5K race in Griffith Park this last Sunday, my friend and I thought we would round out the morning with a stroll through the Hollywood Farmer's Market and a Carbo-Re-Load breakfast at the newly opened Waffle on Sunset. It is situated in the bottom of an office building, and that is what is feels like inside. The large tinted windows cast a dimness to the interior, as opposed to a bright, sunny, cozy feel I prefer while eating breakfast. We sat at the counter. Filled with families, The Waffle seems to have caught on as the local nouveau diner. I saw nouveau because they offer all your standard breakfast fare, plus healthy allergen-friendly items like dairy-free shakes and espresso drinks, and whole grain waffles. My eye immediately went to the bacon waffle. A crisp waffle with bits of bacon baked into it, topped with bacon pieces ($8). The bits inside didn't offer much flavor, but the pieces on top made up for it. Nothing like the classic combination of sweet/salty/fatty. Salty, savory bacon with sweet maple syrup and butter. We also ordered the 3 egg breakfast with hash browns and sausage patties ($8). The patties were very dense and tough, but the potatoes were crisp on the outside while creamy and soft inside.

Decent cappucino and tea service ($3.25 each). One disappointment: Our egg breakfast was to come with toast, which was never served. By the end of the meal when we realized this (and altered our server), we were too full to eat it. The waitress did not offer to discount the bill for the absent toast, so I opted to take home the toast. The whole experience was pleasant enough, but nothing spectacular. If I lived in the area I would return, but I don't, so I probably won't.

The Waffle
6255 W Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sunday Supper at Lucques

Aahhh...Sunday supper at Lucques. No reservations were available, so we snagged some seats at the bar. They always start you off with almonds, Lucques olives, house-baked bread, Plugra butter and fleur de sel. This and a glass (or 2) of wine is really all I need. For a mere $40, on Sunday they serve a 3 course meal. Our dinner began with a salad of miner's lettuce, beets and labneh - absolutely heavenly, then a choice of braised lamb shank or blue nose sea bass - I selected the fish. Served with greens, salsisfy, black trumpet mushrooms and a wonderful slightly creamy sauce. Perfect. My friends and I always use up half the conversation trying to deconstruct the meals, so we may attempt to re-create them at home. For dessert we enjoyed a beautiful date bar with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. 

Lucques has been my favorite restaurant for a couple of years now. My friend DJ and I have instituted the Lucques Litmus Test. Whenever we dine elsewhere, we ask these questions: Is the meal as creative as Lucques? Is it something we can prepare just as well? Do we feel good about handing over our credit card because the money was well spent? If the answers are yes, no, yes, then they have passed the LLT. If we we ever think to ourselves (or out loud), "we should have gone to Lucques," then they fail. 

8474 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Big Sugar Bakeshop

What a promising name for a bakery! As of late, I have been making weekly visits to the valley to see my chiropractor in order to move my head to the side I decided to make the best of it and explore some places in that neck of the woods. Last week I tried Big Sugar Bakeshop in Studio City. After reading a nice article in the latest Food & Wine magazine, I had high hopes. the pastries were beautiful, but, unfortunately, low on flavor. The red velvet is topped with a plain vanilla buttercream, rather the traditional cream cheese frosting, which made a big difference.

Red Velvet cake doesn't have much flavor anyway, so it really needs the bite from the cream cheese to perk it up. I also tried a cream filled chocolate cupcake, much like a Hostess cupcake. It was good, but they store it in a refrigerated case, so be sure to let it come up to room temperature first (if you can wait that long) since the chill dulls the flavor and ruins the texture. The bars were gorgeous, I just wasn't that thrilled with them. Oh well, I should be thankful that I have not added even more baked goods to fantasize about.

Big Sugar Bakeshop
12182 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sunday Nights at Silver Lake Wine

Apparently, someone did not explain to this "gentleman" that the grapes had already been crushed.

Last night I attended a tasting at Silver Lake Wine. Every Sunday they offer a tasting of four wines (plus a welcome aperitif of sparkling wine to stir up the appetite while waiting for the tasting to commence) skillfully paired with complementing hors d'oeuvres for a mere $20. Here is the format: they pass out glasses (half full) of the first wine, then shop owner and wine expert George Cossette gives a brief description and tutorial, then you rush the table for the accompanying hors d' oeuvres, sip and chit chat for several minutes, then repeat 3 more times. It is the perfect combination of education and socializing. We tasted 2 whites and 2 reds from the Loire Valley, including one bio-dynamic wine. My good friend and chef DJ Olsen of Lou prepared the food out of the store's "kitchen." Certainly the best food ever to come out of toaster ovens and hot plates. Here are some highlights: smoked trout salad, duck ham crostini, and polenta cakes topped with braised beef shortribs, gremolata and creme fraiche.

I would have taken seconds of everything, but we had a Sunday night supper waiting for us at Lucques.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bloom Cafe

Last week I had the pleasure of dining at Bloom Cafe not once, but twice. Bloom Cafe is a charming cafe on a funky stretch of Pico Blvd near Hauser. One side of the cafe has a take-out counter, where you may get coffee, juices and pastries for breakfast, and the other side is their main dining room. They have a patio seating out back, and sidewalk seating out front as well. We had our lunch inside, which is bright and airy and a little loud with the music and chatter.

Their menu is an interesting blend of traditional dishes with a contemporary spin, including plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, as well as some raw dishes as well. I was ravenous, so I skipped the salads chock full of organic produce, whole grains and sprouted sunflower seeds, and went straight for the hamburger and fries! Made with all natural beef on a whole grain bun, it came with green aioli, which made a great dipping sauce for the fries.

My mom kept it light with a cup of vegan spinach soup and mixed green salad. Both were tasty and satisfying, but both were also undersalted. We washed it down with their tap water, which is infused with cucumber - which must be the new lemon, because they very next restaurant I dined in served cucumber-infused water as well.

Because it sounded exotic, for dessert we tried a raw vegan "cheesecake" made with almond milk. It was pretty, and certainly interesting, but not very sweet and nothing like a proper cheesecake. It was really a frozen almond milk pie, with a layer flavored with blueberries. Luckily, I am not a vegan, so I got to enjoy the chocolate coconut cupcake we ordered as well.

After chatting up our server, we learned that they do not have a beer and wine license, so you may bring in your own wine with no corkage! I quickly made plans to return! The evening was more pleasant than I anticipated. During the day it is loyd, bright and bustling, but at night it is dim, cozy and serene. As well as the salads, sandwiches and regular entrees, after 5:00 PM they serve pizzas. We went for the most unusual: fresh mozzarella, butternut squash, sage and blue cheese. Baked on a nice, thin crust, it didn't last long once it hit the table. For my main course, I had the chicken mac n cheese. It came absolutely piping hot (a clear sign of microwave heating), made with whole wheat pasta and thin strips of chicken, it was rich and comforting, although a bit undersalted like everything else.

The lemon tart we shared for dessert was quite nice. The trick to making a good lemon tart, is making sure it is not too sweet. This one was sweet enough, and tart enough - just right. What a deal: 2 pizzas, 4 entrees, 1 dessert and no corkage, with tip came to an even $100. I will happily go back for any meal of the day to this quaint neighborhood spot.

Bloom Cafe
5544 W Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019