Thursday, August 28, 2008

Black Dog Coffee - A Miraculous Miracle Mile Staple That's Puppy-Friendly Too!

Oh Black Dog Coffee – how I love thee. Ever since I found myself working in the Miracle Mile District of Los Angeles, I have been thrilled by the wonderful little coffee/lunch spot that is Black Dog, which is why I am compelled to write this post.

Their coffee is perfect, (doesn’t taste like an ashtray like Starbucks’ coffee does) and I have become such a fan, that I will suffer my hour-long commute sans coffee just to put my money where my mouth is and purchase theirs. (It’s well-worth the wait).

Like the coffee, the food is also quite good. Their Greek Salad is among my favorite lunch menu items, with a dressing better than any Greek dressing I’ve had elsewhere, including high-end dining establishments, which Black Dog is not. It's a casual spot, with limited seating where they serve relatively fast food that is not only unbeatable price-wise, but sure to please too, particularly for the on-the-go professional in any one number of the nearby office buildings, including myself.

Brad’s scramble is one of their breakfast options – which I order often - lean turkey, eggs, spinach and onions scrambled and made-to-order. For a while there, they were offering something called the Ryan Seacrest Special (I have NO idea why), which was also a perfect workday breakfast option consisting of egg whites, tomatoes, goat cheese – and basil if I recall correctly. Fairly basic – but tasty as well and again, you don't have to make it yourself. Not that I mind cooking, but morning are always harried. All of their sandwiches are great across the board , which they will toast upon request, furthering their selections’ inherent yumminess. I have nothing but kind words for Black Dog – and Brad, (pictured) the owner, has to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, as are his staff members. It is the kind-of place where they get to know you by name and are always asking how you’re doing.

The fact that they have treats for your pups, as well as a water bowl for thirsty overheated canines out front, is also a perk. We all know dog lovers are the best people.

Definitely worth a trip if you’re in the area.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Best Lobster Bisque Ever - at Larsen's Steakhouse

Lame picture, I know, but I wanted to post this ASAP. I recently posted a rather glowing review of Larsen's Steakhouse - and I can't help but continue to praise them. We were there last night (3rd trip) and had the best f-ing lobster bisque we've ever encountered. It was a special however, our waiter informed us that it is often included among the specials and that chances are, it will be available virtually all the time.

No joke folks... this lobster bisque is by far, the best, most exquisite, amazing lobster bisque we've ever had the pleasure of tasting.

If there were ever a reason to get yourself over the hill and into the Valley, (outside of our parties of course), this is it.

As for the other food, it was, as always, exceptional. The halibut is divine.

Larsen's Steakhouse
16101 Ventura Blvd
Suite 270
Encino, CA 91436
(818) 386-9500

Monday, August 18, 2008

Good Old-Fashioned Yum - On Tap at Brass Cap

Brass Cap, short for Brasserie Capo is a cozy, cool, off-the-beaten path restaurant on West Channel Road at PCH in Santa Monica, that is well-worth a visit for a variety of reasons:

1. The food. It does not disappoint. Everything is prepared to perfection. I highly recommend the Duck Confit Risotto or the Lamb Osso Bucco and the Chocolate Bread Pudding for dessert.

2. Danno. He's one of their bartenders and is not only a great mixologist, (try his eponymous Dannorita), but is also highly amusing. If you're game - and he's there, he's fun to wax political with. He also plans on opening a true East-Coast style sports bar in Culver City within the next year where he plans to donate 15% of the proceeds to HIV research.

3. The decor. In addition to just being stunning in a very unassuming, not-trying-too-hard, slightly East-Coast manner with just enough Francophilia,they have these ceiling fans that look like vintage propellers that I am just in love with. If anyone knows where they can be had, please contact me.

4. The service. No complaints here. Our waiter could not have been any more accommodating, nice or informative.

5. The location. It's right on PCH at West Channel Road - which is just lovely and fortunately, not a nightmarish scenestery hellhole.

Many moons ago I worked for the owners, Bruce and Rebecca Marder, at another of their restaurants, Rebecca's, which no longer exists, and while the food there was okay - it pales in comparison to what they're doing at Brass Cap. Night and day, truly.

Brass Cap
100 W. Channel Road
Santa Monica, CA 90402
(310) 454-4544

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Larsen's Steakhouse - A New Gem in the Valley (John's Birthday Part Deux)

As a Valley dweller, I get VERY excited when a new restaurant opens, particularly when one opens in Encino or Tarzana; where most restaurateurs just don't want to seem to want to venture.

Accordingly, I was thrilled when we inadvertently discovered Larsen's Steakhouse, located in that dated and borderline defunct atrocity that is Encino Place. (You know, the one with the merry-go-round that saw its heyday in the early 90's? Well, even if you don't know what I'm talking about - you might be better off.)

Anyway - the place used to be kind-of semi-interesting, but now the turnover rate is astonishingly high. I am hoping that Larsen's can turn that around.

That said, we went to Larsen's for the second time for John's birthday - and we were just as pleased as we were with our first visit. The service is fantastic, the decor is right up our alley - dark and cozy - the way an upscale steakhouse should be - and the food does not disappoint.

John was pleased as punch with his crab legs and shrimp cocktail.

I feel their petite filet mignon is worthy of particular note. It is served with what may well be the best bearnaise sauce I have ever had. (A nice contrast to the barely edible and nearly solidified hollandaise sauce from the same morning). Upon ordering my filet rare, the waitress was kind enough to inform me that their medium-rare is actually prepared the way it is intended to be - warm on the inside, but still rare. Good thing too, as I would've been disappointed with a truly rare, (in other words cold steak) - but typically you have to order it that way to get a true medium rare! Nice that these folks know the difference and are quick to point it out.

I was unable to stop either my wedge salad. Ordinarily a wedge salad isn't anything spectacular - it's a wedge of plain old iceberg lettuce with bacon crumbles, some tomato and blue cheese dressing. Well, I don't quite know what they do differently at Larsen's (outside of the addition of pecans) - but it works. The dressing is perfect.

I hardly paid attention to the alcohol on the table - which is a pretty good indicator that the food is the main attraction, as it should be!

On a fun note - you can see from the photo above that the restaurant is, as I mentioned, dark - and likewise, you might be thinking... 'How the hell am I supposed to read the menu?'

Well, they covered that. The menus are illuminated - and in a pretty, non-aggressive manner too. Quite cool - as are the salt and pepper shakers.

Of additional note is their outdoor seating. Despite overlooking construction across the street - the patio is lovely.

We hope they stick around.

Larsen's Steakhouse
16101 Ventura Blvd.
Encino, CA 91436
(818) 386-9500

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

International House of Pancakes (Tarzana location) John's Birthday Part I

John loves pancakes, and frankly, who can blame him? We have however, been dieting, in a concerted effort to be "healthy" and thus items like pancakes are contraband. Nevertheless, I decided he had to have pancakes on his birthday and he didn't put up much of a fuss. We went to the IHOP in Tarzana - and I was excited for two reasons:

1. We have an IHOP near my office in L.A. on Wilshire that has the best cottage cheese ever. I am not kidding. My colleague Jacqui clued me in to this.

2. I would get a few bites of John's pancakes.

So, John ordered the pancake platter with sausage and I ordered their spinach and mushroom omeltte with hollandaise sauce, diced tomatoes and swiss cheese. Sort-of kind-of healthy, but not really. The omelette was another dish I was quite pleased with at the L.A. location. Sadly not the case here. They decided to serve the hollandaise on the side - problem numero uno - Not a good move when you're working with a sauce that has a tendency to coagulate, particularly when served at diner-like locations like this.

Unfortunately, their cottage cheese was sub-par too. It was served nearly frozen and just didn't have that wonderful tangy goodness of the IHOP in Los Angeles.

Disappointing, to say the least.

Another disappointing factor of this outing... the crayons.

You have no idea how crappy they were. Coloring is always fun however, so I managed to make do. You can marvel at my artistry below.

Fortunately, John's pancakes were just fine - and that was the primary goal anyhow.

The moral of the story? If you're going to go to IHOP for cottage cheese or hollandaise, definitely opt for the IHOP on Wilshire Blvd.

19100 Ventura Blvd.
Tarzana, CA 91356
(818) 609-1548

Monday, August 11, 2008

Phenomenal Fixings at Fraiche

I hate to be redundant, but fair is fair. Fraiche deserves all of the glowing reviews it continues to receive.

My friend Teni suggested the place - and she, my colleague Allyson and I had lunch there late last week.

Everything we ate was seriously heavenly. I wish I had three stomachs. We shared their Caprese with burrata cheese, aged balsamic and fresh basil. Teni ordered the Flatiron Steak with wild arugula, blue cheese dressing, croutons and red onions. Allyson ordered the Lebanese Chicken Sandwich with tomato, zahtar, cucumber and pita and I ordered a special - Soft Shell Crab salad with wild arugula, white organic corn, heirloom cheery tomatoes and bermuda onions with a Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette.

I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Fraiche. The service was impeccable, (our waiter even offered to take the attached photo), the decor is just lovely, (little white lights on the patio -which I am a total SUCKER for), and the food is just phenomenal, which is why this review is going to be short and sweet.

9411 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

Friday, August 1, 2008

David Burke & Donatella

I've wanted to try this place for a while now and what better time to do it than New York Restaurant Week. It's offered a few times a year and this summer it ran July 21-25 and July 28- August 1. It’s a prix-fixe 3 course meal, usually a choice of 2 appetizers, 2 entrees and 2 desserts at $24.07 (why the .07?) for lunch and $35 for dinner.

David Burke & Donatella is one of those much talked about restaurants with not 1 but 2 heavy weights in the culinary world stamped right there into the name of the restaurant. Of course I had high expectations. Now being a downtown girl these days, I much poo poo the uptown restaurants. The crowd’s not what I would like, the atmosphere is usually stuffy etc. But I’ll say it again, if the food’s good the food’s good. The food at David Burke and Donatella is not only good but I much enjoyed the atmosphere. I like the whimsy of the restaurant’s ostridge egg theme down to the signature dessert the Cheesecake Lollipop Tree. The attention to detail is reflected in even the presentation of the bread and butter.The décor and service was quite pleasing as well, classic but not stodgy. Here’s another thing that’s cool, they offer the $24.07 lunch menu year round on Monday through Fridays plus brunch on weekends! I love options so when they offered up a $24.07 menu and a $34 menu for lunch we had to try a little of both. One thing I found interesting about the menu, it’s heavily influence by curry. There’s a curried something in many of the dishes even in the dessert I ordered.

$27.07 Menu

Lobster-Lemongrass Bisque with Thai Style Lobster Stick and Curried Apple Essence

Let me tell you about this lobster stick! I’m all about it. Give me more sticks if they’re all like this one. It’s lobster filling rolled in a spring roll wrap and fried to a crispy goodness. The presentation was great. The stick and garnish was in the bowl and the soup was poured tableside. I wasn’t too crazy about the curried apple essence but the stick made up for that and then some.

Pan Seared Wild Salmon with Horseradish Fingerlings and Watercress

The salmon was cooked just right with the skin crispy and the salmon still moist. The horseradish fingerlings were mashed and super good. The sauce that came with this dish was creamy punched with the right brightness of herbs. The portion was just the right fill for lunch.

Butterscotch Panna Cotta with Curried Cocoa Gelee

If you like butterscotch this is your dessert. The butterscotch flavor was very nice and the panna cotta was smooth with just the right texture not too gritty and not too jello-like. I didn’t taste the curry in the gelee but maybe my curry sensors were overtaken by the previous dishes I had.

$34 Menu

Salt and Pepper Calamari

Someday I’m going to have to do a whole section just on calamari. It’s become the French fries of bar food almost. But this calamari here is no bar food. If I did a top ten all time list of calamari I’ve eaten, this calamari is on that list. If calamari is your thing, you must go to it, seek out this calamari on 61st Street between Lexington and Park Avenue.

Black Angus Burger

Good bun, good meat, good burger, good lobster mayonnaise but I did detect a strong hint of tumeric. I could be wrong but it did taste like curry to me. The “downtown” pickle was good too. And if you know me, you know I likes the “downtown” pickles.

Caramelized Apple Tart

Presentation was very nice and the tart was good. I felt it didn’t have enough ice cream to go with all that tart and caramel.

David Burke & Donatella
133 East 61st Street
(Park and Lexington Avenues)
New York, NY 10065
(212) 813-2121

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Mixed Bag of Tricks at Ciudad

We’d dined here before - many moons ago and decided it was time to return.

I was hoping for a similar dining experience to the last time and sadly, it was not recaptured.

Let’s start with the service: Virtually nonexistent. We waited what seemed like indefinitely for our first round of drinks – and had to track down the manager to request another. Even after doing so, our waiter was still painfully slow – and to boot, didn’t seem to know too much about the menu. Adding insult to injury, the busboys seemed to just loiter, literally – completely unaware of the that plates we had finished which were sitting at the edge of our table for the taking. We had a second course arrive with plates littering our table. Nice!

On to the food – which was truly a mixed bag.

I ordered three appetizers as my meal, since I wasn’t in the mood for heavier fare.

The first course – a Wild Arugula and Hearts of Palm salad with Spiced Pepita Seeds, White Peaches, Shaved Manchego and a Lemon Vinaigrette. Sounded exotic – so I ordered it. Well, here was the first disappointment. The pepitas stole the show – they were packed with flavor, overpowering all of the other flavors on the plate. They were great, but again – the rest of the salad paled in comparison – particularly the dressing – which was anything but flavorful.

John started out with the Shrimp Tamale Negro, which he loved. I liked it – better than what I ordered. In fact, the flavors of that dish were very well-coordinated. Nothing out-and-out extraordinary, but very nice.

Next, I had the Peruvian Ceviche, with Mahi Mahi, Lime, Ginger and Aji Amarillo Chile. They decorated the plate with what I can only describe as plantain chips. They were a nice touch – and the dish was fortunately fantastic. I did bite into a whole peppercorn though, which sucked.

Following that, I can only say that I am thrilled I was already full. I had ordered the Carpaccio of Beef, featuring grass-fed natural beef from Uruguay, Charred Salsa Verde, Argentine Parmesan, Spanish Olive Oil and Grilled Lemon. Here is what I tasted – Olive oil and salt. I am not exaggerating when I say that the beef was swimming in olive oil and salt. It was revolting. I used the grilled lemon to cut the olive oil on about half of the plate, and even that barely made a dent. Needless to say, it was a huge disappointment.

John ordered a main course, which was again, far better than anything I ordered. They arrived fairly late into the meal, after my second course, and along with my third, which was inedible. He had the Barbequed Boneless Beef Short Ribs with Creamy Polenta, Bloomsdale Spinach, Corn Salsa and Truffle Essence. These truly were remarkable. The flavors were perfect and the dish was just exotic enough to make it interesting. I helped him clean his plate.

The highlight of the evening however was the live music on the patio. John was kind enough to render an illustration of the three men who graced us with Beatles and Springsteen hits and the like, reinterpreted in what I suppose I can describe as a mellow Mariachi style. I’m sure there’s a better description, but that is going to have to work for now.

Drinks were nice - nothing to write home about.

To sum it up, this was a lengthy lesson in what to and what not to order at Ciudad. I may return one day, but it won’t be soon.

Fortunately, we were off to see comedian Doug Stanhope after dinner. If only we’d have known that the show was to take place in what is supposed to be a great sushi restaurant…

445 S. Figueroa
Los Angeles
(213) 486-5171

(Napkin art courtesy of John Fountain)

Bonding with Bond St.

So when I got word that the Thompson Hotel Group was going to open a West Coast counterpart to its East Coast-based 60 Thompson Hotel, I was thrilled. When I discovered that they were going to open a restaurant similar to Kittichai within the hotel called Bond St., I was elated. When I was last in NYC, my husband John and I stayed at the 60 Thompson, (where I drooled over the stunning dark brown marble bathrooms and edgy, dark décor), and we repeatedly ate at Kittichai. During one sitting, we managed to consume about 4 orders of Foie Gras – and I am still amazed that we did not self-combust from clogged arteries.

Needless to say, we loved it.

And so we finally made our way to its fairly new West Coast sister, “Bond St.” within the new Thompson Beverly Hills. I was skeptical, knowing that ownership doesn’t always play a role in terms of how great or not a restaurant will or won’t be. (We’ve all seen what has happened with the likes of Wolfgang Puck’s lower-end ventures), but I was also hopeful. Hope is, after all, my middle name.

Fortunately for us, my hope beat out my skepticism this time… for the most part anyway.

Going in, you should know that not every item on the menu is necessarily going to be downright astounding. In fact, one was disappointingly bland and out-of-place – the Sun-Dried Tomato/Avocado Roll, which I would not recommend ordering for that very reason. My other gripe pertains to the Lobster Tempura with Creamy Japanese Mustard Dressing. The lobster is perfect, but the aioli-esque sauce needed way more flavor. It was bland as bland can be and did nothing to complement the lobster whatsoever. Less flavor than plain mayo. Didn’t get it. Don’t order it, unless you like your lobster tempura sans sauce.

The Sesame Crusted Shrimp Roll with Orange Curry Dressing and Balsamic Glaze on the other hand, was beyond delightful. The interesting combination of flavors literally made it fun to eat. I will be having this repeatedly upon return.

We also had the Toro Tartare, which our wonderful waitress, Lindsey Strywoll (I think I may have butchered the spelling here), forewarned us upon ordering, was a very small portion – “A delicate dish.” Of course, we appreciated the heads up but we couldn’t help laugh at the fact that she felt she needed to forewarn us based solely on the way Americans overeat! An appetizer isn’t supposed to be huge or overly-filling - it’s intended to whet your appetite! Sadly however, I am sure they receive countless complaints. The toro by the way was just so-so. Not the best toro I’ve ever had, but still nice. There really is no such thing as bad toro in my book, however this too would not be ordered on a subsequent trip.

We tried to order the Goat Cheese Crab Cakes with Carrot and Lemon Coulis and a Pounded Rice Crust, but alas, they were not to be had that evening, for reasons unbeknownst to us, but I sincerely hope they are available upon return since they sounded delicious.

Here was the clincher for me though in regards to deeming this restaurant a place worthy of return; their scallops. I don’t even generally like scallops, but we ordered their Diver Sea Scallops with Foie Gras and Asian Pear Salad – and to my disbelief, I ADORED them. I think the salad may also have contained beets, which only added to the culinary perfection that this dish was.

And of course, we indulged in both drink and dessert – and those were impressive to boot.

They have a lovely signature cocktail menu from which I selected the Lychee Martini, which is exactly what you hope it will be; nice, clean, light, refreshing and perfect for summer.

Dessert was just plain cool and right up my alley – Banana Milk Chocolate Dim Sum with Hazelnuts and a Sweet Sour Cream Dipping Sauce.

The décor, not surprisingly is quite modern, with a bit of an Asian flair. The lobby/entry connecting the restaurant and hotel concierge is relatively cool whereas the restaurant itself is a bit more sterile but not necessarily in a bad way. The food takes center stage, which is nice, though I am a sucker for great interiors and am getting a wee bit bored of the neutral-modern-subtlety-Asian thing. Kittichai’s décor was by far significantly more interesting that Bond St. The slightly mid-century-modernish huge chandeliers in the valet parking area were rad.

Definitely well-worth a trip or many, to really get to know the entire menu and uncover which of their signature dishes are worthy of repeat trips… or not.

Another perk – the service is impeccable however we were there at an off early-evening hour, so don’t hold me responsible if you don’t have a stellar experience in terms of service – though if Lindsey is waiting on you, I imagine you will be quite content.

9360 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Reservations: (310) 273-1400

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gordon Ramsay at The London Hollywood

Let's just start out by saying I left there puking in my nice new YSL bag. It is a total shame, I know, the bag I mean, the food poisoning was secondary on my list of miseries from that night. The rotten scallop sashimi is where it all went wrong, or maybe it was my decision to order sashimi at a non traditional Japanese restaurant is where the wrongs all started. We were seated in the middle of the restaurant on these inter-connected round tables - 3 tables with serpentine bench sofa that curved around the center of the room. This is important because our "good and visible" table was the reason I didn't spit out the scallop in a Gordon Ramsay fashion, gagging and making pukey sounds. I didn't want to cause a scene. Big mistake.

I went with my family, a huge risk because they are the pickiest eaters I know. Aside from rotten scallops, the rest of the menu was atrocious. Everything is appetizer size, I love that concept, but in this case, it only meant that we got a hefty bill at the end of a really bad meal. And another thing about ordering 18 different dishes, going back to the serpentine table, it was set up so that the wait staff could not get to both sides of the table so they had to literally run to the other side of the restaurant to get plates and utensils on and off the table, which was done constantly because of the many dishes. We were so distracted by the waitors not to mention, the super duper slow service between dishes. The PR arm in NY and the Hollywood manager did contact me to apologize, etc. and invite me back, but why the heck would I subject myself to that AGAIN??