Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brave Downtown for Baco Mercat

Baco Mercat is located on Skid Row. Literally. The Office for Skid Row housing is one block away. If I haven't scared you with this information on their location, you are willing to brave downtown traffic, and you are willing to pay for parking, then put this place in your GPS.

As everyone who knows me or reads this blog already knows, I love great bread. I will go miles out of my way to buy it and eat it. Bäco was originally a sandwich made with crispy pork belly and beef carnitas, and is the name of the bread they make and serve here. The bread was so popular that it became the basis for this place which specializes in sandwiches made with it and a crispy variation called Coca which serves as a kind of flatbread for toppings.

I wanted more than simply a sandwich so I ordered the caramelized cauliflower with garlic, tomatoes, sour cream, and green onions for $8. Although I'm not a cauliflower lover, I liked this vegetable side so much I took what I could not finish home with me!

I had the pescado Bäco with crispy shrimp, sirancha, and cole slaw for $11. Although the picture may make it look a bit too creamy, it was not. It was a perfectly dressed, slightly spicy slaw, with two large lightly breaded butterflied shrimp, all encased in the famous bäco bread. I could easily eat this once a week!

I had to come back for the beef tongue schnitzel bäco, with harissa, smoked aioli, and home made pickles for $10 because they had sold out of it by 1pm. Selling out of a tongue schnitzel sandwich is a great sign! I came back the same week around noon to be sure it would still be available and I was thrilled with my choice.

The hearty portion was succulent, tender (a sign of properly prepared tongue), and the accompanying pickles, arugula, aioli, and harissa made this unusual combination a standout. Just as I will travel for food, I will get down here by noon to get this bäco!

The picadillo coca at the next table looked so good that my friend ordered it. With house ground beef, tomatillo, cheddar, and crème fraiche on a crispy version of the bäco, she was so impressed, she also ordered the chocolate root beer (made in house) our neighboring table was drinking, and she loved the chocolate root beer so much she took a case home!
Our neighboring table ordered the banana semifreddo with mixed nut brittle and caramel ($8), so of course in keeping with the neighboring table's menu choices, my dessert eating friend ordered the same thing and was so happy with it, she finished every last spoonful. She declared it the best dessert she's had in ages, which is a huge compliment from a former pastry chef for Michel Richard!

If you are willing to brave all the elements of downtown Los Angeles, you will be generously rewarded at Bäco Mercat.
Bäco Mercat on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Seasons 52

After 20 years, Houston's closed in Century City this October. The space has now been completely remodeled to house Seasons 52. The idea behind the restaurant is seasonal menus based on local ingredients and they seem to have mastered both the spirit and execution of this popular concept. The result is a very welcoming outdoor and warm indoor space with an equally warm and welcoming service team. 

With wines by the glass starting at just $8 (I chose an '09 Bordeaux for $10.50) and a full bar for premium alcohol, you can come in just for a drink and some appetizers, like their varied flatbreads starting at $11, or their crab, shrimp & spinach stuffed mushroom caps.

Every item on the menu is under 475 calories, so this is the perfect spot to go for a sensible meal without sacrificing ambiance and flavor. Their salads are made with organic greens and they even offer an EU certified organic salmon (for a $6 supplement).

The mixed organic green salad was dressed in a white balsamic and the greens included pumpkin seeds, cucumbers, and grape tomatoes. This would have been the ideal light meal, but as a side to my Buffalo burger, it was a fresh and flavorful accompaniment.

Since bison is one of my favorite meats, I had to order the buffalo burger, oak-fired and served with roasted red pepper salsa, and spicy chili sour cream for $12. The description included guacamole, but aside from a thin smear of green, I can't say that guacamole was evident in the burger (probably to keep within the 475 calorie allotment). It was done rare as I requested, and the quarter pound portion was perfect for me, although some hungrier people might have wanted a bigger serving.
Dinner items offer a much heartier portion. This crimini mushroom sauce on the bone in New York was a delectable way to enhance the meat without detracting from it. The sides of asparagus and roasted potatoes were simply done, but satisfying, and surprisingly this entire meal was still less than 500 calories! For $27, this dinner is easy both on wallets and waistlines.
A beautiful tray of mini desserts (all $2.75) allows you to choose from a Meyer Lemon meringue pie, a canoli with white chocolate filling, s'mores, peanut butter and chocolate, or a tropical fruit mix. 
In keeping with the season, I opted for the pumpkin pie, decorated with a gingersnap :) It was the perfect small bit of sweetness to round off my meal.
With a location next to shops, this is a great place for a respite from holiday shopping; after all even Santa gets milk & cookies, why shouldn't you?

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Coco Laurent

After having brunch at Bottega Louie, my friend Marian and I went to look inside Coco Laurent across the street. They were going to open the next day and didn't even have menus or business cards yet, but the indoor/outdoor space was beautiful and the host said they had imported a chef from France, so of course we made plans to come back once they opened.

After giving them a week to let the dust settle a bit, I ventured in for lunch today since my favorite French restaurant downtown, Church & State, had already stopped lunch service by 2:30pm. Coco Laurent serves all day, so it seemed to be perfect timing. The complimentary filtered water had lemon in it, and as with any good French restaurant, they offered a decent sourdough with excellent butter.

It was a cold (for Los Angeles) afternoon, so I started with the Soupe de Poissons, a fish bisque soup with tomatoes, saffron, aromatic vegetables, croutons, and sour cream for $9. The saffron tomato base made this a nicely rich soup, and the flavor of fish was present without being overwhelming. I would have liked it to have been more aromatic and complex, but I think this was conceived to be more middle of the road for those who might not appreciate stronger flavors. Tant pis for me, but I'm sure most would like this soup (I did like it, but I just didn't love it).

My wonderful server Justin, as well as the manager Pascale, stopped by to see how I liked the soup. I appreciated the attention to customers from the staff very much. The busboy even picked up a button that fell off my raincoat for me and set it on the table! The wine list is quite varied and reasonably priced with a glass of St. Emilion for $15 or a Malbec for $9, for drinkers of white, they have a a nice Chardonnay from Sonoma Cutrer for $10.

I couldn't wait to try my steak tartare, made with extra lean Angus ground beef, cocktail sauce, onions, capers, cornichons, capers, chopped parsley and topped with a quail egg, served with smoked rosemary waffle potato chips for $14. Like the Soupe de Poissons, I found this good, but not great.

The quality of the beef was wonderful, but the flavor was a bit bland. I loved the rosemary waffle potato chips and although they were fragile, topping them with the beef tartare added a nice texture and seasoning to the beef. I mixed in the micro cilantro greens, but I found that they detracted a bit from the tartare, so I would recommend not incorporating them into the beef.

The desserts looked lovely, but with aggressive Los Angeles parking enforcement, I risked being towed if I lingered. Coco Laurent would be worth another visit, perhaps after a few more weeks as the kitchen and executive chef improves to equal the service in the front of the house. If the wait at Bottega Louie is over 30 minutes, which it often is, this place will surely get some of the overflow, but they won't keep it unless they add more flavor to their French menu.

Coco Laurent on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Las Vegas in December?

If you want a quick getaway this December, you can go to Las Vegas and stay at the Vdara* in a suite for less than $95 a night, or a 1 Bedroom Penthouse Suite for less than $277 a night. A $28 resort fee and 12 % tax are not included, but a $50 daily spa credit is included, so no matter how you do the math, this works out to a good deal for a stay at a AAA Four Diamond Resort.

Ahhh I hear you all checking airfares and your mileage as you try to figure out how to get to Las about trying the new Megabus? They have an inaugural fare of $1 each way, yes, you read that correctly ONE DOLLAR between December 12-19 on trips from Los Angeles to Las Vegas or San Francisco! These are the huge climate controlled, WiFi behemoths which have bathrooms, reclining seats, and outlets. The only "hidden fee" is a $.50 (yes, FIFTY CENT) per transaction booking fee.

As in all great deals, these won't last long, so book them now if you want them!

*Please note that this resort is nonsmoking and there is no gaming, so if you are looking for a casino/hotel, I would suggest another hotel like the Bellagio next door or the Wynn further down the strip.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Bad, The Bland, and The Best

Sometimes I feel like Goldilocks tasting food across the city; some dishes are bad, some are just bland, and I keep searching for ones that are just right, hoping to find the best ones. Unlike the notoriously bad review by the New York Times of American Kitchen and Bar, I do my best to post something likeable or hopeful about every place I go, unless something happens so beyond good taste or good manners that I remove a review, which has only happened once (for exceedingly bad manners).

So with all this being said, I will begin with the bad. Jinya Ramen recently opened on Sawtelle and I was looking forward to good broth to rival the excellent Tsujita which has lines around the block for a table. Unfortunately when their own press release says the broth is "pumped up with industrial quantities of dashi and dried fish" it means INDUSTRIAL, which a is distinctly different than QUALITY. As a franchise, I did not expect much, but I was appalled to see them using a MICROWAVE to heat up some ingredients! The spicy pork miso I ordered was presented beautifully, but after a few spoonfuls, I could not eat this exceedingly sweet slightly foul smelling soup.
Later that night I had an upset stomach and I woke up with the horrible consequence of having eaten an industrially produced soup stock. It is well worth the wait to eat at Tsujita.

After that experience I had to go get a bowl of something good to put into my system, so I headed over to Urth Cafe for their marvelous vegetarian chili. It is on their menu everyday and my favorite vegetarian chili (besides the one I make myself).
The quality of the ingredients and the blend of perfect spices, make this a filling and savory bowl of comfort food for any cold or rainy day.

After trying something new and something old, I wanted to try something different, so I went to Vino and Tapas in the Valley before a movie screening in the area. They have a Happy Hour from 4-7pm with drinks ranging from $4-7 and tapas for only $5. Since they open at 4pm the place was empty, but that was fine with me since that meant I could get in and out before my movie with ease.
I ordered a Kaiken 2009 Malbec which was quite nice, but ended with the much nicer DeLoach Pinot Noir, both $6 each during Happy Hour and served in the perfect glassware for the varietal!
I hardly ever see chicken livers on any menu, so I had to order them. They were a bit overcooked and a bit bland, so I asked for some salt, but even adding seasoning could not save this dish.
I also ordered some mushrooms with garlic, herbs and a Chardonnay sauce which were so delectable that I ate the sauce with slices of bread to soak up every last bite!
To get rid of the taste of the chicken livers, I ordered the meatballs in tomato sauce which had a nice basil flavor and decent tomato sauce. It was not an outstanding dish, but it was executed well and a nice rendition of the classic.
It was wonderful to end on the excellent flourless chocolate cake dessert for $8 with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate sauce. It is a very rare event when I finish a dessert and I finished this one!
I am very grateful to have a happy sweet ending to this week before Thanksgiving, and I am very grateful for all of you who read my blog and for all that I am able to share with you!

Vino Wine & Tapas Room on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book A Beach Stay on Black Friday

I'm not one of those people who camp out for a special on Black Friday, but I do appreciate a great one day deal. The Surf & Sand in Laguna Beach is one of my favorite hotels, with wonderful food, spectacular views, and within walking distance to Forest Avenue (the main thoroughfare).

The rooms normally go for about $400 a night during low season and as much as double that in the Summer, so if you add on the resort fee and parking, you are looking at a premium price for a premium resort. I appreciate quality, but when you can get quality at a discount, that is literally the best of both worlds.

If you set your alarm clock to call 866.860.6154 or book online on November 23, 2012 between 7am and 7pm, you can book a one night stay for as little as $219 Sunday-Thursday or $299 Friday and Saturday. You must go by January 31, 2013, but you also get complimentary resort fee and parking for this rate!

The best part is that if you can't get through, they are offering the same deal on Cyber Monday but only online!

Get set, ready, dial (or type)!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lunch at Lucques

Lucques was last restaurant at the intersection of La Cienega and Melrose that I had not yet tried. I can now say that I have eaten in every one with a smile:) Comme Ca, Taste, and Fig & Olive are all very good, with menus and atmospheres that range from casual (Taste) to hip (Fig & Olive) with a bit of flair thrown in (Comme Ca) for good measure. Ago is the only one I would avoid completely in this mecca for good food.

Lucques has been around since 1998, and the only reason I haven't been here is because Tavern (also created by Suzanne Goin with her business partner Carolyne Styne) is closer to home, and traffic dictates how far I am willing to travel in Los Angeles! Sometimes it is good to venture out a bit from my neighborhood, and since West Hollywood isn't that far away during midday traffic, I decided to brave the drive and I am very happy I did.

The space is welcoming both inside and out.

Since it was one of those beautiful 80 degree days we get in Southern California in November, I sat outside in the covered patio. The walls of climbing ivy made this space much more inviting than the indoor tables on a balmy afternoon.
The bread and this small plate of amuse bouche made me smile with delight. The small plate of kosher salt and butter harkens to the Tavern presentation, but the olives and almonds were a nice variation and I am glad I saved room for my meal because I could have easily made a meal of bread, olives and almonds.
My waiter came by to inform me that the market fish today was Salmon, and when he saw the disappointed look on my face, he quickly offered to see if he could substitute another fish for me.  The substitute fish he offered was a Barramundi (one of my favorites), and it was served with farro, caramelized brussel sprouts, baby carrots and haricots verts so fresh they could have been green candy! A nice tapenade and sour cream accent made this Barramundi a perfect lunch for $25. They have a variety of wonderful wines by the glass from $8-$30, and I chose an Entre Deux Mers at $12 to compliment this tender white fish.
The plate was quite large, but I did manage to finish nearly every grain of farro. I wish I had saved some room for dessert because the woman at the next table loved her coupe so much she ordered TWO!

Oh well, that just means I will have to come back for another meal (or maybe just for two desserts:)

Lucques on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Church & State Was Worth The Wait

I am not one of those who try a place immediately after it opens or when it is red hot. Staying power and consistency after the initial passion count in both romance and restaurants. That is why I love places like Il Grano (which just celebrated 15 years of business) and why I waited a year to try Bottega Louie

Church and State has been on my "go to" list for some time, and I finally made the trek to the literally Industrial street of downtown Los Angeles. The restaurant is in the former Nabisco factory building, and the area reminds me of New York City's meat packing district, but the food is decidedly and wonderfully French bistro.

A hallmark of a great French restaurant is the bread they serve. Any place that serves mediocre bread (or worse, no bread) automatically becomes a suspect in my book of "Faux French restaurant". Not only is the bread here marvelous, but the butter is so good that when one of my dining partners spilled some on the table, she scooped it up to get every bite of it!
The Salade de Mesculn had heirloom radishes and fennel in it and the dressing was a superb vinaigrette. The waitress said they grow their own greens, so this plate is quite literally freshly picked for the meal! If you order their daily $19 lunch Prix Fixe, this can be one of the three courses, otherwise it is $8.
The Ling Cod on a bed of lentils with roasted tomatoes, pearl onions, and a wonderful mustard sauce is now one of my favorite fish dishes in any restaurant in Los Angeles! For $24, this main course is both light and filling enough to convert non fish eaters.
Steak Tartare is listed as an appetizer, but for $14, this is a very nice lunch with a side of greens and fries. The hand cut New York strip loin tartare was one of the best I've tasted in over a year, and the portion is big enough to share if you are not eating this as your main meal.
The fries were delicate and crisp, served with a side of fresh mayonnaise.
I saw two nearby tables with the Bouillabaisse, a provençal fish stew made with blue prawns, manilla clams, p.e.i. mussels, fennel, tomato, potato, leek and could not resist. They offer two sizes and I went for the larger one, priced at $24. It was perfumed with saffron, and the soup was "comme il faut" with the rich fish stock, fennel, and leeks blending their essences into a heavenly broth. The rouille topped toast and the perfectly cooked seafood reminded me of my favorite Bouillabaisse place in Nice.
The larger plate is a hearty meal, but somehow I managed to finish every delectable bite of this marvelous soup. The prawns were some of the best blue prawns I've ever tasted (and that includes ones I've made myself)! Their wine list is exclusively French and very reasonably priced with glasses from $8-$20, so I ordered a nice Rosé from Provence for $12 to go with this seaside Provençal dish.
I could not eat dessert, but one of my dining partners could not resist the pot de creme of chocolate and coffee custard, crème chantilly, sablés cannelle cookies for $9. I tried the cookies, which were wonderful, and she loved the creamy pot de creme.
Finding excellent French fare in the heart of an industrial area is like finding a pot of gold buried in your backyard!
Church & State on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 19, 2012

DL & Co. w/Madame Chocolat

My name is Elaine and I'm an addict. Ever since Madame Chocolat's retail location closed I've suffered chocolate withdraws. As anyone who has an addiction knows, when you need your fix, you can't wait for delivery, and thankfully my source is back in town at DL & Co. in Beverly Hills.

Since DL & Co. opened today, the Halloween decorations befitted the theme. With wandering animated statues, hors d'oeuvres and wine, the opening party was packed with friends, clients, and well wishers.
This peacock is the sentry at the entrance.
Graphics on the wall give the airy open space an edgy urban vibe.
If you love skulls, this shop has everything you could wish for, from candles to plates in your favorite motif.

Not everything in the shop has a skull theme or dark colors; there are also beautiful bright items, like these candles.
For me, the draw was Madame Chocolat's creations, and she had her signature Louboutin glitter pumps on display (and for sale), along with matching handbags (of course).
I bought one of these chocolate Eiffel towers as a gift. At first the people I bought it for didn't want to eat it because it was so beautiful, but they did eventually devour it!
If you ever wanted to literally "bite someone's head off", you might want to get some chocolate skulls and eat these instead (I bet they taste better). There is the shrunken variety in a trio of color and flavors.
Or the big skull with glittery eyes; I must say these are probably the only skulls I've ever seen which did not frighten me :)
Other gifts in the shop include exotic diffusers.
Candles and metalwork make for both a centerpiece and an art piece for your home decor.
Besides Madame's chocolates, my favorite gifts in the store were the Swarovski "apples".
This black crystal apple epitomized DL& Co.....a beautiful place which sparkles with a twist on classics to entice you to awaken your senses to unusual pleasures.