Friday, November 26, 2010

L'Epicerie in Culver City

L'Epicerie literally translates to mean a spice market, but in France it is usually a delicatessen which serves up prepared foods as well as raw ingredients that you can put together to make up a casual meal. In Culver City L'Epicerie will mean a market/cafe/tapas bar. For those who are early risers, there will be freshly brewed coffee or organic juices with pastries and tartines (open faced sandwiches). For those who want an afternoon bite there will be crepes and smoothies, and for those looking for a bite after work, they have a menu of Tapas during happy hour for only $4 that includes items like:

Terrine de campagne, Cumberland sauce
Tortilla de papas
Marinated anchovies
Marinated octopus, sundried tomatoes
Ceviche de corvina, cilantro, jalapenos, lemon juice
Farmer market vegetable pickles in champagne vinegar
Pig trotter, red wine vinaigrette
Field mushroom, garlic and parsley, country bread

Of course they will have wines by the glass and bottle as well as prepared meals ready to take home, so this may be a great stopover when you are too tired to cook but want to enjoy a meal that has not been mass produced by a chain market. A little bit of spice can liven up a dish, and a small Epicerie in Culver City can be just the thing to liven up your holiday season.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Vegas Addiction

The same Las Vegas local, Eric, who introduced me to Rumor, also told me that one of his favorite restaurants was Addiction in the hotel. One reason I stayed at Rumor was to have the simple pleasure of having a good restaurant on the property, after all who wants to drive when on vacation?

Vic Vegas (yes, his real name) is the talented chef behind the menu that spans breakfast, lunch, and dinner for this boutique hotel. Vic is known to locals and tourists alike from his Food Network appearances, but those who are lucky enough to taste his meals will remember him with their taste buds.

He does Country Fried Tenderloin Breakfast Sliders ($9), which are 2 Sliders With Fried Egg, Melted American Cheese and Potato Pancake on a Mini Toasted Roll with Country Gravy. Anyone who wants a hearty comforting breakfast with a nod towards Southern sensibilities MUST order this for breakfast; I think the guy who ordered this wanted to drink the gravy! The chef gave me a preview of his new menu which will feature several sliders as bar bites and lunch choices, so if you are a slider fan, this is the place to feed your addiction.

I ordered the "Do the Right Thing" egg white scramble ($9) with Spinach, Roasted Red Peppers, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Green Onion, and Havarti Cheese. It was amazing to taste an egg white scramble that I actually wanted to finish because it had so much flavor. I even loved the potatoes with a perfectly crusted exterior and tender center.

The Meaty Scramble ($10) of Sausage, Bacon, Diced Pork Loin Chop, Cheddar Cheese, Green Onion and Country Gravy is for anyone who loves meat and potatoes. This was so good by itself that the guy who ordered this didn't even touch the country gravy.

For those who want something lighter for breakfast, there are things like steel cut oatmeal (bruleed with vanilla cream) or seasonal berries with rum yogurt (there is decadence everywhere in Las Vegas, so why not rum in your breakfast yogurt?). Choose your sin. Speaking of sins, this is the bar with Brian, the best bartender in this boutique hotel. I say he is the best because not only did he remember me from my first visit three months ago, but he remembered my drink!

It was Brian who introduced me to Vic Vegas, and giving a foodie a meeting with the chef who made this inspired five spiced tuna with crunchy sirancha is like giving a kid a bike for Christmas. Vic even told me the secret method he used to make the crunchy sirancha and all I will say is that if I told you he might kill me :)

My favorite appetizer was the Coconut Shrimp, made with Jumbo Coconut and Cashew Encrusted Prawns Served with Green Onion Potato Puree and a Sweet Thai Chili Sauce. One bite and I had to close my eyes in ecstasy; the jumbo shrimp were delicately cooked and the sauces were a revelation.

I loved the coconut shrimp so much that I ordered them a second time, but got a different (not as good) version with smaller shrimp and a sweeter sauce on a night when Vic was not in the kitchen. I know that having the chef in house everyday is impossible, but the dishes should not be so different (or subpar) that a diner who loves Vic Vegas' cooking would not want to return without confirming his presence in the kitchen.

Because there were so few guests in the hotel, Vic served up some of his signature dishes to the three guys who had been at the hotel all week, like this Karmal Pork ($32) with a Center Cut Kurobuta Japanese Pork Chop, Caramel Whisky Butter Glaze, Roasted Shallots and Garlic Potato Puree. The potato puree was carb heaven and he added two sticks of his Four Cheese Mac ($6) made with Smoked Gouda, Cheddar, American and Parmesan and deep fried into sticks as a very decadent side.

The Filet_e-Oh ($36) Petite Fillet Mignon Served on a House Garlic Potato Topped with Crispy Potatoes and Port Syrup Drizzle, also served with the decadent Four Cheese Mac. The meat was cooked exactly as ordered and nothing was left on this plate after everyone tried a bite.

Needless to say, no one had room for dessert, and everyone was glad to be staying in the hotel so we could walk to our rooms and start dreaming of our next addictive meal with Chef Vic.

Some addictions are good.

Addiction Food & Drink on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Good Rumor Hotel

Many things that are cool and fun are secrets to tourists and well guarded by those in the know. When a Las Vegas local introduced me to Rumor at the end of July, I felt as if I was meeting a gorgeous man; I was speechless when I saw this beautiful purple, chrome, and cream property.

This is a small (for Las Vegas) boutique hotel with 150 suites across the street from the Hard Rock Hotel which offers a chic, personalized experience for those who want their vacations void of screaming kids and clanging slot machines. For those with small dogs, they even allow pets to stay with you on the property, with some restrictions and fees.

Since this property is mainly being used right now for special events until they are completely up and running, they ran an internet special to fill the hotel. I signed up as a fan on their facebook page to keep informed about special offers and I got two nights for the price of one during an internet promotion. I paid $120 for two nights in a jacuzzi tub suite, and yes that price was for BOTH nights.

Both the valet parking and front desk check-in was easy and fast because during my stay I was one of only 15 occupied suites. I loved the purple M&M's on the registration counter (they were strange looking but tasted great), making every detail purple was a nice touch. This is definitely the place for people who love purple and not for anyone who hates that color. They have an unusual policy at check in; guests must sign an agreement not to bring in outside food or drinks and when I said I had bottled water with me, they said, that was fine as long as it wasn't a case of drinks. It made me wonder if this policy was to prevent Spring breakers from making the suites into quasi dorm rooms.

Since there are only two stories I was given a choice of lower or upper, I chose lower, which included a small patio sitting area as opposed to a balcony for upper units. The soundproofing is not the best, so I heard techno music most of the night (from the pool area) and my neighbor coming and going; if you are a light sleeper, you should bring ear plugs.

Rooms with the jacuzzi bathtubs all have King sized beds.

Rooms with two double beds have a larger living room area.

It is nice to having a sitting area in a hotel room (making all the rooms here suites).

The larger rooms also have a small table and two chairs in addition to the couch.

The jacuzzi tub suite includes a rubber duck! When I tried the jets, they didn't work and when I told them during room check, they told me the parts had not arrived yet. That should have been communicated to me when I booked or at the very least when I checked in, but since the hotel is still new, hopefully the parts will be installed by the time you book your stay.

All rooms also have a large shower and a VERY high sink. Whoever designed this bathroom must have been very tall; I literally had to tip toe to wash my face since the basin was not set on a lower counter to accommodate the bowl.

The outdoor areas have beautiful spaces around the pool like these showers.

The daybeds which surround the pools are FREE, and they also have private cabanas. The lounge chairs all have convenient side tables for drinks and or food (the bartender will serve you lunch and drinks out by the pool).

There is a nice outdoor seating area with tables around the pool, but there is also this lounge which looks like the perfect place to share with someone special.

The small size and the easy going friendly attitude of everyone from the valet to the security guard makes this a very personal experience, a far cry from the strip hotels with thousands of rooms and hundreds of personnel.

When I checked out my bill was nearly double what my confirmation email stated, and after some calculating and sleuthing, the front desk person figured out that my internet promotion had not been applied and that the resort fee had risen since my reservation. All was rectified with a smile and an apology in about 5 minutes, and that is one of the reasons I will definitely be back. A good hotel is not one which does not make a mistake, a good hotel is one where mistakes are rectified quickly and with a pleasant attitude.

Good rumors are the best kind and this is a good Rumor.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Meals for Thursday, Deals for Friday

Planning ahead makes everything simpler, and what could be simpler than making a phone call to have your Thanksgiving meal ready? If you don't want to cook on Thanksgiving (or don't know how to cook), there are plenty of places that are open or offer take out, just check out this list courtesy of the Los Angeles Times. Diners out begin at about $23 per person at McCormick & Schmicks to $80 per person at The Restaurant at L'Ermitage. Take out offerings include traditional and nontraditional turkey, from Huckleberry, to Lucca, offering a free range Diestel turkey. For those who want their turkey deep-fried, Little Dom's and Mr. Cecil's can save you from burning yourself (and your loved ones), by doing the work for you. For those who are vegan, M Cafe is doing a Macro meal. Make sure you call today or tomorrow to place your orders so you can pick up your meal by Wednesday or Thursday.

After everyone gives thanks for having eaten too much Thursday, many will go to sleep early so they can get up to shop Friday. Wouldn't it be nice to see what stores are selling and at what discounts BEFORE Friday?

Well now you have that information thanks to the Bargain Babe who has links to all the major retailers with their sales information here. There are stores for everyone from the ever popular Costco, with 68 items on sale, Best Buy for anything electronic, Calvin Klein for clothes, Pep Boys for automotive, Sears, Staples, and Home Depot is having an appliance sale. If you want to shop from home, Amazon has just about everything and some great deals online.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Views from Coronado

Today's post is the last one (for now) from San Diego; some views of the city from Coronado Island. Next week's posts will be about Las Vegas :-)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Balboa Park

Today's post is an entirely photographic tour of San Diego's Balboa Park guided by my personal docent Richard.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Taste of Thai

Taste of Thai has two locations and after eating at the Del Mar address, I can say that there should be many more branches of this restaurant. It was of course, a local who introduced me to this place because locals come here regularly, but if you are visiting, you would not necessarily try this place, tucked next to a shopping center close to the freeway.

As in most Thai restaurants, the service is impeccably polite and efficient, and the decor ornate. The thing that counts the most is the food, and it is food excellent. You may adjust the spiciness on a scale from 1 to 10 so depending on your preference (and your dining companions) you can burn your taste buds or soothe them. I chose a level 7 for my spicy noodles with duck ($11.95) and it was just the right amount of heat to awaken my mouth without setting it on fire.

My companion chose the red curry made with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, green pepper, onion, peas & carrot at a level 3 with chicken ($10.95). I tasted this rich dish and loved it even though I would have liked it hotter, the flavors were complex and complimented the vegetables well.

Since no one has the same taste, it is nice that a restaurant will adjust spiciness and ingredients to your preferences; most items allow you to choose whether you want shrimp, squid, fish, beef, duck, chicken, scallops, or a mixture in your dish. They even have a nice wine selection by the glass or bottle, so you can cool your dishes with some liquid refreshment.

Taste of Thai is as its' name implies, a Thai restaurant which emphasizes taste and caters to yours, no matter what that is, for that reason alone, it is worth a trip.

Taste of Thai on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Coronado Island is one of my favorite places to take a walk; there beautiful homes, tree lined streets, and a view of downtown San Diego from the Ferry Landing. Although most people love the landmark Hotel Del Coronado, I prefer the Loew's or the Marriott properties; this may be because the old landmark is said to be haunted and being on the grounds and in the hotel feels creepy to me.

The one place that I always go to eat when I am on Coronado is Tartine. The location has had several incarnations, but every one has been a place to find good coffee and good food. Tartine is no exception. Even sitting at an inside table, you get a voyeuristic view of the street and life in a small wealthy enclave (the median price of a home here is $1 million).

Tartine serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but most people come for breakfast, lunch, or a coffee break since they offer an impressive selection of baked goods. I chose the Quiche one day, made with spinach, tomato and gruyere, served with a green salad. It was a nice rendition, but not noteworthy. I found the crust and filling too dense with not enough spinach or tomato to satisfy my taste buds.

My second lunch of tuna salad was much better. Made without mayonnaise (as I like it), the tuna was mixed with nicoise olives, giving it a nice salty bite, the tomatoes were ripe and fresh, and the quality olive oil used added just enough moisture without overpowering the tuna. The baguette was nicely soft, yet firm enough to hold, and the mixed green salad was not overly dressed.

My favorite of everything I ate here was the pumpkin scone; it was moist, fully of pumpkin flavor, and so good that I had to stop myself from ordering another one to go (I should have). Their scone selection changes daily, so if you see this, grab one!

Some things change for the better and others for the worse, Tartine has wonderful servers, a great location, and some dishes that are outstanding, so in this case I would say change here has been for the better.

Tartine on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cafe Chloe

Cafe Chloe is probably my favorite breakfast place; and as someone who rarely eats breakfast, this is quite a feat. I was unable to sleep one morning in San Diego and went for a walk in the early morning hours (to me this means 10 am), and a few blocks from the Gaslamp district, Cafe Chloe sits on a quiet street with a small outdoor terrace. I loved the European ambiance, and when I ordered water, they served filtered water (one way of eliminating the proliferation of plastic bottles). Since I can no longer handle caffeine, I ordered tea and when it took a good 10 minutes for it to arrive, I wondered how much time it took to bring me hot water and a tea bag. But that is not what they do here. They STEEPED the tea for me and strained it BEFORE serving me what is probably the most flavorful Jasmine Tea I have ever tasted. Everything here is done with thought and sensibility; you will notice in the photo, they also serve pepper and salt in small dishes so you can control the amount with your fingers.

My three morning friends had the crêpe lorraine, made with eggs, bacon, gruyère in a crêpe ($9.50) and everyone finished their crepe remarking how delicious it was without needing any seasoning of any kind (and they would normally add something like KETCHUP).

I chose the poached eggs w/wild mushrooms & sage-truffle beurre blanc ($11) which was absolute perfection; I would wake up for breakfast to eat this! Even the side salad made with a nice citrus vinaigrette was wonderful. If they serve breakfast in heaven, this is what I want. Even the toasted slice of sourdough underneath was delicious, having soaked up the mushroom juices and the remnants of the poached egg yolk.

Cafe Chloe also serves tea (of course!), lunch and dinner, so no matter time you get here, just get here when you can; your taste buds will thank you.

Cafe Chloe on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 12, 2010


Although it is a landmark in the Gaslamp district, I have never been to Croce's, maybe because it seemed very touristy and because it had a famous name associated with it. But a friend who worked literally down the block, said, "Go, it has great food" so I did and I am happy to have had all my preconceived ideas proven false.

The outdoor terrace is wonderful on a warm night, and on cooler evenings, there are heat lamps and an awning so I chose to eat outside. All the dishes come with suggested wine pairings, so it is easy for novices and indecisive people to choose a fine drink to accompany your meal.

Since I had recently come back from Greece, I started with the Greek Spinach Salad ($10) with honey balsamic crumbled feta cheese, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and toasted pine nuts. Yes the plate is as big as it looks and it is easily a full meal by itself. The toasted pine nuts and use of spinach were an inspired addition to this classic medley and worked well. It was like a hybrid of a spinach salad and a Greek salad, and since I like both, this worked well for me.

The Golden Ahi Poke ($14) with mango, green onions and ginger, tossed with sesame and soy, served with home made taro chips. Sambal vinaigrette and sliced avocado is listed as an appetizer, but once again, this is easily a full meal by itself. I loved the use of taro chips as scoopers for the poke, but I found the marinade for the fish a bit sweet for my taste. The slices of pepper and onion could have been smaller also just for ease of eating, but the flavors did work well together, and the fresh fish combined with mango did remind me of Hawaii.

After my meal, my server Bob gave me a card that enticed me to come back in December for a three course meal for $30 if I merely made a reservation and used his name (and brought the card). Talk about a diner reward program, this is a great way to not only promote diners who become regulars, but also to reward the waitstaff with loyal clientele.

Croce's also have live music every night and as a diner, you can get preferred seats, so come for dinner, enjoy the show, and and shop for some memorabilia like a DVD or CD of Jim Croce's music. This restaurant was created and is run by his widow Ingrid, and I applaud her for sharing her love of her husband and good food with the rest of us.

Croce's Restaurant and Jazz Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans for Peace

Those who know war seek peace.

Arlington West in Santa Monica is a project supported by the Veterans for Peace organization offers visitors a graceful, visually and emotionally powerful, place for reflection every Sunday.

And for any active or retired veterans, click here for some freebies today, ranging from admissions to meals from companies who appreciate your service to our country.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

San Diego Searsucker

I try to make the most out of every journey, even when it is to get a root canal. I have been going to Washington Dental in Tijuana for all my dental work since my BFF told me about the place three years ago. It still amazes me that such modern, clean, and professional dental work costs only about one third of the US price. I have never had a crown fit perfectly on the first try until I came here, and I have never seen a dental office as sterile in the US. For those of you who missed my earlier post on this place read it here.

I would not go anywhere else especially after this last trip since I thought I needed a root canal (and was prepared to pay for one), but after an xray and exam, they found my tooth was healthy and suggested that I try Colgate Sensitivity toothpaste for a few days (no, I am not being paid by Colgate!). They only charged me for a cleaning ($20) with the toothpaste and when I left the office I was already 70% painfree! After three days of brushing with the toothpaste I had no pain in my tooth or my wallet. It was so gratifying to see that Washington Dental truly is looking out for their patients instead of making money; I have a hard time imagining a dental office in the US that would have so genuinely looked after a patient's best interest when a major procedure could have made them $$$.

To celebrate my new ability to eat pain free, I went to Searsucker for dinner. Located in the heart of the Gaslamp district, this 7,000 square foot restaurant emphasizes using local ingredients to put a fresh spin on American favorites. I opted for the kitchen counter which allows diners to watch the chefs perform their magic. The only bad thing about sitting here was that my server did not come around for a good 15-20 minutes and there was no way to know who to flag down to place my order since the cooks were all working on getting food to tables and not able to jump over the counter to get a waitperson. When my waitress did arrive, she was a attentive, but not enough to time my orders; both my dishes arrived at the same time and not only was there no room at the counter for both plates, but I was only half way done with my salad when my entree appeared.

The complimentary cheddar cheese rolls are addictive and if you don't watch it, you can easily fill up on these before tasting any of your dishes. The pastry/bread maker behind the counter was very adept at making sure the bread trays were refilled with warm rolls, all the while decorating birthday desserts.

I started with the "small" plate of sweetbreads on spinach greens, served with applewood smoked bacon and a poached egg in a delightful sherry vinaigrette ($9). The serving was huge and I could have easily made this my entire meal. The sweetbreads were perfectly done, tender, and gently cooked.

For my entree I chose the small plate of Lost Abby Short Ribs and fried onions ($9). Again there was nothing small about this plate, but with tender ribs like this, it was easy to want to eat more than your stomach can handle. The meat was marvelously done with a simple sauce that was individually packaged sous vide and then warmed before presentation (I saw them cooking it over the counter). It is a hearty dish, with the crispy fried onions adding some texture to the soft comforting meat.

I had a wonderful glass of Pinot Noir with my meal ($12), and regrettably did not save enough room to try a dessert, but that just means that next time I will know that small plates here are bigger than my belly and make allowances for that fact. I would definitely come back with friends so we could sample more plates, and sit at a table with designated waitstaff.

Searsucker on Urbanspoon