Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Toyaroo Toy Rentals

Many children got wonderful toys this holiday season (including me), but before long the allure of a new toy wears off and the lust for a new one begins. Toyaroo is to toys what Netflix is to movies; you may want to see a movie, but not own it, and now you can rent a toy your children can play with and not own it.

For everyone who is wary of renting a "used" toy, Toyaroo inspects and sanitizes all their toys before shipping them out and they allow you a free 14 day trial before you sign up for their program. You can choose from popular name brands like Baby Einstein, Fisher Price, and Discovery, or select based on age group, or type of toy, e.g. electronic, musical, or award winners.

Different plans and pricing are available depending on how long you want to keep your toy (30 or 60 days) and how many toys you want delivered on your rotation; plans start at $24.99 for four toys every 60 days and for $52.99 you can get eight toys every 30 days. Think of this as free toy recycling, with the added bonus that you aren't paying to own when your children are only interested in short term rentals. Even if you sign up for the most expensive package, you will still spend about 25% of what it would have cost you to buy 96 name brand toys in a year, and that can save you enough to buy a nice toy for yourself!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ink Sack

I love good bread, it's my comfort food and finding a place in Los Angeles that serves good bread is the equivalent of finding a treasure buried in my backyard. A place which uses good bread to make good sandwiches is as rare as finding gold coins in a backyard treasure. 

The venerable Bay Cities, in Santa Monica, has lines around the block because they bake their bread daily and make their sandwiches with fresh ingredients. For those who want something a bit more sophisticated inland, Ink Sack is your go to destination. For anyone who doesn't know who Michael Voltaggio is, think of dining at Charlie Palmer's or Jose Andreas' Bazaar, both places where Voltaggio showcased his talents. Ink Sack is the casual affordable lunchtime spot for those who have limited time and or limited budgets, but who still have voracious appetites for impeccable food.

Nothing on the menu is over $6, and while the sandwiches are not monstrous mile high mounds of meat, they are filling and flavorful. One is enough for most people, but if you are starving, you might want to indulge and get two.

Everyone gets a black lunch bag with your name written on it with your sandwich tucked inside.

I ordered the “Reuben”, with Corned Beef Tongue, Appenzeller Cheese, Kraut, Russian Dressing for $5. This was my favorite of all the sandwiches I tried.

The ratio of meat to Kraut, cheese and dressing was perfect. The quality of all the ingredients from the bread to the kraut was outstanding. It was deli the way I always wished it could be in every deli.

I had to try the Banh Mi, made with Pork Butt, Pork Belly, Chicharrónes, Pickled Vegetables for $5. It was a beautiful presentation.

Each bite gave me a taste of the crunchy fried Chicharrónes with the fatty pork belly and the fresh vegetables which became addictive. If you have never tried Banh Mi, this sandwich will set the paradigm for future sandwiches.

The first item which caught my eye on the menu was the Cold Fried Chicken, with House Made Ranch Cheese, Gindo’s Spice of Life for $4. This was probably my least favorite sandwich.

Although the flavors were all good, the ratio of cold fried chicken to bread was too heavy on the bread side and I found the lettuce and dressing bland and boring after tasting the Reuben and the Banh Mi.

While waiting for my sandwiches, I ordered a Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookie for $2 and thought the crystals I saw on the top of the cookie were sugar. Once I unwrapped and tasted this treat, I realized they were SALT crystals and they added a wonderful counterpoint to the sweet chocolate!

If you are in West Hollywood or want a wonderful quick bite, get your name written on an Ink Sack filled with some of the best sandwiches Los Angeles has to offer. There are only a few stand up tables in this tiny place, but West Hollywood Park is only a few block away, and what could be better than spending your lunch time in a green space with a black bag full of delectable goodies?

ink.sack on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder, get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger.....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Crossroads Again

I do my best to give places a chance to fix problems and make improvements, especially when a restaurant is going through growing pains with new management and a new chef. I have known Bob for over three decades, so when he took over at Crossroads BBQ / Bubba Diego's in June, I went in for an early taste, gave him my feedback, and waited for his new chef Kelly to revamp the menu.

The improvements have been amazing (and yes, I am as harsh of a critic towards my friends as I am towards strangers, just ask Bob about the pie crust I would not eat because it was undercooked). Kelly has Southern roots, and it shows with her light and deft hand at everything from the marvelous fried catfish sandwich to her crab cakes, served here with a side of black beans and collard greens. Both the sides were classic versions done old school style and the crab cakes were full of crab, not filler, nicely livened up with some chopped red peppers and onions.

When some of my friends see chicken fried steak on the menu, they begin to salivate, but it is not high on my list of favorites, so when Robin insisted that I taste this dish I was shocked at how much I liked it! The chicken fried steak is double battered with a second coating of panko to give it a lighter crisp texture, and the steak is not overdone. The haricots verts and sausage gravy elevated this dish beyond diner food to fine dining in disguise.

Will wanted to try all three kinds of ribs (Baby back, Kansas style, and Beef) so he got a sampler with both sweet and hot BBQ sauce on the side. Since Will is a Cordon Bleu graduate, his pronouncement that the ribs had perfect smokiness and tenderness was noteworthy. I tried the Kansas style and loved the flavor and consistency.

We packed up about half our meals to go so we could try dessert. On an earlier visit I tried the mudpie but was not as impressed as my friend who loved it, so we went for three different desserts this time. Robin ordered the lava cake and found although the basic cake was good, it was not spectacular; if you love chocolate you will probably love this cake, but there are better versions elsewhere.

I ordered the apple tarte and I realized after a bite that I may just have bad luck with desserts. Although the flavors were fine and the ice cream was perfect, my tarte was cold, straight out of the refrigerator cold. I wish I could have tasted it warm or at least room temperature.

Will's creme brulee was the dessert winner with a smooth vanilla bean taste that would have satisfied the pickiest of sweet tooths. The only improvement would have been a bit more brulee crust.
All of this food with two soft drinks was under $80 for three of us, a great deal for very good food. They have a happy hour at the bar where all the appetizers are half price, so even if you order all ten appetizers (I recommend the hot wings and the fried okra) your bills would be only $50 and you would be stuffed!

Go in and tell Bob that Elaine sent you in to annoy him (and since you're there, go ahead and order some of Kelly's food:)

IMPORTANT NOTE: I just learned that the owners let Bob go after four months in which time he hired and trained the staff, revised the menu, and started promoting the restaurant on social networks. I would NOT recommend that you support this place with your business in light of how they do business with their employees.

Crossroads BBQ on Urbanspoon

Bottega Louie Part 2

As I promised last week, here is another post for Bottega Louie with more of their delectable dishes and desserts. This time I went at 10:55pm instead of am, literally five minutes before they close, and I am happy to report that they are as gracious with late night guests as they are with the morning crowds. Most of the pastries and all of the breads were already put away or sold out by they time we got there, but the dining room was full of late night diners and we never felt rushed to eat and leave. Dani had a glass of the the Coppola Riesling for $10, and I had a glass of the Ravenswood Zinfandel for $8. They serve their wine in a smaller "pour" for half the price of a glass so you can have a different wine with each course, so you are free to literally match each dish with a wine.

Having just arrived from the East Coast, Dani wanted something light to eat, so she ordered the poached egg on perfectly cooked asparagus that was served with a balsamic that must have been at least 8 years old, for $10, this was a steal.

We also ordered the Diver Scallops for $12 which were served on a bed of lentils. I am allergic, so I did not taste this dish, but my friends said they had a perfect sear and retained their moist interior.

Since everyone loved greens, we got a side of sauteed spinach which was a fresh and fragrant as this picture looks. They do one of the best spinach sautees I've had in many months here for $8.

With all the light fare, we had room for dessert, so we chose the butterscotch budino, a creamy sweet rendition with a miraculously lighter bottom layer than top!

The beignets were the best I have EVER eaten. Yes, I include those at Cafe Du Monde in that statement. These are lighter, fluffier, and home made (not from a mix). Heaven on a plate. the raspberry sauce was tart and freshly made, so it was a perfect compliment to the rich fried dessert. I would go back just for the beignets any time, day or night. Who wants to join me?

Bottega Louie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bellisima Bottega Louie

Fellow food lover Phil now works downtown so he told me about Bottega Louie a few weeks ago, saying that it has become his go to place. As fate would have it, my friend Realtor Georgia Seid, wanted to meet for lunch downtown, so today I combined both a place I wanted to try with a friend I wanted to see and got a fantastic afternoon of food and friendship.

The beautiful jewel box pastry shop and cafe sparkles like a precious stone in the middle of the salt mines of downtown Los Angeles. There is reasonable parking just 1 block away for only a $6-$7 flat rate, and Metro and bus stations surround the place if you want to use public transportation.

Depending on which entrance you use, you will be greeted with either an array of freshly baked breads or lovely macaroons displayed as beautifully as they would be in Europe.

They will make a gift box of macaroons in any size you wish.

Since the kitchen is open and the selections were plentiful, we wanted to sample several of the small plates instead of a pizza or full plate. We watched nearby tables devour the pasta dishes, pizzas and soups, so no matter what your preference, there is something on the menu for your mood.

They don't take reservations, so get here early or late if you don't like waiting for a seat. Once you are seated, they offer complimentary flat or sparkling water and tables have pink salt as a condiment!

The bread was so good that I bought a loaf to take home.

To get as many tastes as possible, we chose three small plates. We chose the roasted beet terrine for $10 which was a lovely generous serving on watercress with fresh burrata. If you love fresh flavors and or beets, this is a definite must order plate. The beets in the terrine were finely chopped, but there were small quartered golden and red beet accents. The crisp fennel and peppery watercress added nice textual elements and the dressing was light enough to allow the natural flavors to come through.

We also chose the the brussel sprouts with pistachios for $8 and found it a complimentary side for our third small plate.

Our "main" small plate was the sausage and beans for $12. It was a hearty plate of fennel sausage that served as a lively counterpoint to the smooth and tender beans. This was a very filling dish and my favorite of all our small plates.

Our three small plates were plenty for two of us at lunch, so we had no room for dessert. Georgia took some pastries home to her husband so he could feel as if he had lunched with us. My heart fluttered a bit when I saw the exquisite pastries, and even though I am usually not a big dessert person, if I were going to indulge, I would do it here.

I will definitely be back for more tastes here, so my next post may be a part 2 to this the meantime I will leave you with a tempting taste (for your eyes :)

Bottega Louie on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tsujita for Tsukemen or Tonkotsu Ramen

I was early for my appointment with Akiko at Taka Hair Salon on Sawtelle, so I went across the street to try the newly open Tsujita for their famous Tonkostu Ramen. Since this location is the first US outpost of an international restaurant, either go early or be prepared to wait at least 30 minutes for a seat. Note that they are a cash only restaurant, so make sure that you stop by your local ATM before coming for lunch.

Comparing Tsujita's Tonkotsu Ramen is to instant ramen is like comparing tap water to Champagne, about the only thing they have is common is that they are both liquids. Let's start with a few definitions for those who only know the prepackaged supermarket soup. Tsukemen is served with the noodles in a separate bowl from the very rich broth. You eat it by dipping about a third of the noodles into the broth and then adding a squeeze of lime and or condiments to the broth and dipping the rest of the noodles. The flavors change as you eat, so that your taste buds get to experience a variation on one dish. Some of the condiments available are hot leaf mustard, red pickled ginger, sauce, and sesame seeds.

If all this sounds too complicated, you can also order Tonkotsu Ramen, which has the flavors blended together in one bowl, which is what I did. The broth for both soups is cooked for 60 hours, so no matter which way you prefer your soup, the luscious reason for coming here will be in your bowl.

The menu is very simple, you only have four choices, plain ramen, which has 2 slices of Char siu pork, Negi ramen, with spring onions, a version with egg, or what I ordered, the Char siu ramen with about 10 pieces of slices car siu pork for $13.95. The tonkotsu ramen are the thin variety, so you can specify how you like your noodles cooked when you place your order (they will come medium if you do not specify).

This bowl was a melody of flavors, the intense broth, the fresh green onions, the crunchy wood ear mushrooms, the roasted seaweed, and the silky pork belly slices, all performed like an orchestra of virtuoso musicians. Every ingredient complimented the others, so you could enjoy all the single notes or simply enjoy the concert.

Bravo, encore!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Night Specials

Monday may be the start of the work week for many, but it is also one of the days off for most people who work in restaurants, clubs, hair salons, and spas. Whether it is the start of your work week or your days off, there are some good deals if you want to go out on Monday night.

Delphine has Raw Bar Mondays from 5pm-10:30pm with deals like $1 oysters and shrimp or $2 clams and mussels. An eatery in Hollywood would not just entice you with food and not offer drink specials, so you can get a glass of either sparkling Rose or Pinot Grigio for $5 a glass. With prices like this, your parking may cost more than what you eat and drink.

Chaya has an "Industry" after hours deal that begins at 10pm and goes until 1am the first Monday of every month, with $3 small plates and $5 drinks.

You could start the afternoon at Delphine and end the night at Chaya. Mondays may become your favorite night of the week!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nice Fat Dog

My friends who have dogs are always searching for places to eat which are pet friendly, after all this is not Paris, where poodles are welcome everywhere, including inside posh restaurants. The Fat Dog is one of those rare places to eat in Los Angeles which welcomes your pet on their patio anytime before 7pm. I don't know the reason behind the curfew, perhaps it's because the patrons get rowdy and the pups should not be allowed to witness rude behavior.

I met my friend for lunch before picking up my rabbit at Lindy Grundy next door because she said the fries were some of the best she had ever had in the States, and yes, that was enough to entice me to try this very comfortable gastropub.

The welcome was as nice as these complimentary rosemary almonds. The aromatic woodsy fresh herb gave the almonds a distinct twist that was intoxicating. It was a good thing we did not finish the bowl because even better things were coming our way.

Unfortunately the blue cheese stuffed fried olives for $5 was not to either of our liking and after one each, we left the appetizer on the table. The owner removed it from our tab and told us that 90% of the the people who order it love it, so if you are part of the 90% who love very salty acidic bar food, order this.

I had not eaten breakfast (it was only 12:30pm aka morning to me), so I chose the Croque Madame, made with country ham, gruyere cheese, fried eggs and baby frisee salad for $13. It was a beautiful deconstructed presentation and the soft bread gave it a nearly Monte Cristo effect. I loved the quality of the ham, and the baby frisee salad. It was wonderful brunch type comfort food.

My friend had been awake for hours, so it was definitely lunch time for her and she ordered the braised short rib French dip sandwich with gruyere cheese, caramelized onions and “au jus” served with a side of onion rings for $14. She declared it marvelous, and after I took a bite I had to agree. The meat was flavorful, tender, and so good, she kept eating it with a fork  out of the sandwich after she was full.

Since french fries were my enticement to come here, we had to get an order, and they did not disappoint. The home made ketchup and garlic mayonnaise were perfect dipping sauces for anyone who wanted them and the fries were light, crisp and delicate. They were the best I've had in at least the last year, so yes it is worth coming just for the fries.

Somehow we saved room for dessert, so we got the fried banana split, made with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and peanut brittle $6. Fried hot food with cold ice cream is a winning combo in my book, and this dessert was as delightful as it looks. The one thing I would omit is the peanut brittle, it was too sticky and the texture was not crunchy enough to be a contextual counterpoint to the soft sweet banana and ice cream.

We were both happy humans after eating at the Fat Dog.

The Fat Dog on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Short Ribs and Long Legs

Since I go to Lindy Grundy at least once a week, I had had the pleasure of tasting their addictive sausages, delectable pork chops, tender steaks, and wonderful lamb (see my previous post here). Today I picked up a rabbit and I will be making it into a gumbo with some of their andouille sausage (using Emeril's recipe) and my friend Robin picked up some short ribs. For those of you who have only eaten short ribs but never cooked them, Lindy & Grundy is teaching a small group of 40 how to they butcher, how to make short ribs, and how to pair wine with them for only $40 (instead of $75) if you reserve in advance here. They will be at the Century City Westfield Mall this Monday, October 24 at 6:30pm in Bloomingdale's, so get your tickets and get some short ribs!

For those of you who have never seen the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, this Christmas might be the time to go with a 30% TravelZoo discount for the show. Just put code TZ001 into the promotion code box at this link and get your discount. The best prices are available Nov. 11-23 and Nov. 28-Dec. 2 with Orchestra and 1st Mezzanine seats going for $52.50 instead of $75 and an additional $13.75-$17.60 per ticket, please note that full-price tickets are subject to the same additional fees. With the Travelzoo deal you can print your tickets immediately for no extra charge with the "Ticketfast" option.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fly to Auckland & Get 3 Free Nights in Tahiti

I have a friend who moved to Auckland and as I was checking airfares for his son to go visit him, I found that Air Tahiti Nui is offering a $1118 roundtrip airfare from LAX to Auckland with a three day layover in Tahiti and they are giving away three free nights in a Tahitian hotel with the deal!

The hotel choices include two waterfront hotels, the Radisson Plaza Resort or the Sofitel Tahiti Maeva Beach. For $275 more (the upgrade fee covers all three nights), you can stay in an over water bungalow at either the Meridien or Intercontinental. They even offer an hotel on Moorea for an extra $200 (for all three nights) at the Intercontinental. To get to Moorea, you will need to ferry to the island, which takes an hour and costs $30 roundtrip, and since I love Moorea I would say it's definitely worth it, but if you've never been to Tahiti, you may want to just stay on the main island.

You must book and buy your ticket by November 6, 2011, but you can travel anytime between January 30 and May 31, 2012. You can travel as early as October 23, 2011 but rates from October 2011 until January 29, 2012 incur an extra $102 per person surcharge. Keep in mind that it is the rainy season in Tahiti from November through February and New Zealand's Autumn begins in March, so I would recommend going between March and May for the best climate in both places.

Getting the best weather in two countries with a great airfare and free hotel nights may be one of the best holiday gifts to give or receive this year!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Madame Chou Chou

My comfort food is French Bistro, so when I want to treat my palate and my sensibilities, I always head to my neighborhood favorite. But today I "cheated" with Madame Chou Chou because I was in Santa Monica and the thought of lunch on a patio tempted me to stray. The ambiance in the back of the restaurant with rustic and modern whimsical decor was delightful. Madame Chou Chou was also a perfect hostess, making every diner in this small bistro feel appreciated and welcome.

 Details like the silverware added personality to the meal.
Since it was Dine LA week, they had a lunch special of three courses for $22, so I chose the Moroccan lentil salad, made with de puy lentils, orange slices, almonds and crispy duck prosciutto for my first course. It was a lovely presentation, but the dressing was a bit salty. Thankfully there were wonderful baguette slices to help balance out the flavor.

For my main course I chose the flank steak, served with roasted potatoes and haricots verts in a red wine shallot sauce. I ordered it "bleu", very rare, but it came out medium. I wish I could say something good about anything on this plate, but I found everything on it bland and unappetizing. I ended up leaving more than half of my meal on my plate. Madame Chou noticed and she said that she did not want me to leave unhappy, so she asked if I would prefer another entree, telling me the pasta was made in house, so I agreed to try it.

The arrival of my substitute papparadelle carbonara, with English peas, bacon and egg yolk made me smile with anticipation. After mixing my egg yolk with the pasta, I took a bite and was relieved to find it was better than the flank steak. But even though the pasta was made in house, it was heavy, and pieces of it were clumped together (it was not stirred enough during cooking). The presentation was pretty, but the dish was not well executed; the bacon was not crisp, the pasta was not cooked in salted water, and the peas were underdone. Even though they are an Asian fusion restaurant, Sawtelle Kitchen does a much better version of this classic Italian dish.

When Madame came by, she was happy to see me eat more of the pasta than I had eaten of the steak. I told her I did like the pasta better (omitting more detail than that). Madame is an excellent hostess and will do her best to make you happy, but I was not happy with anything the back of the house put on my plate.

For dessert, it seemed every table ordered the "deenie booh", a gluten free almond cake with pistachio mousseline and raspberries. It was beautiful and since the place sells pastries, I hoped it would taste as good as it looked. I am happy to report that yes, this was the highlight of my lunch. The almond cake was richly flavored and dense, the mousseline was light and creamy, and the raspberries added a nice fresh tartness.

They serve wines by the glass, so suggested pairings are listed under every dish, and their dinner menu includes bone marrow, steak tartare, and foie gras. You might want to have a glass of wine with an appetizer on the gorgeous patio with a date.

Sometimes you must learn through experience, and I have learned that no matter how tempting and gracious a new French Bistro might be, I have found the one I love and I will not stray again!

Madame Chou Chou on Urbanspoon