Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Five More You Should Check Out

In my last post, I talked about Jonathon Gold’s 99 Essential LA Restaurants list. This time I’d like to make mention of a few restaurants that weren’t on that list. I don’t think any of these restaurants would be on any essential list, but for reasons known only to my taste buds; these are places I just keep returning to over and over. They may not be “great” restaurants, but for the price and the quality, I think they are damned good, so I’d like to bring a little bit of attention to them.

1) Boneyard Bistro (http://www.boneyardbistro.com/)

There are two faces to this restaurant. One is as a BBQ restaurant and the other is an American Bistro. In fact, there are two menus to reflect each personality. I think that the BBQ menu is very good, but I tend to stay away from it. That’s because you can find much cheaper BBQ at mom-and-pop places around town that is just as good, if not better. (Mom’s Barbecue in Van Nuys comes to mind.) But I love the Bistro menu of this restaurant and have always enjoyed every meal I’ve had here. Chef Aaron Robins is an adventurous chef that doesn’t shy away from strong flavors and unusual ingredients. The first (and only) time I had kangaroo was at this restaurant. It was delicious. The fact that it is just down the street from my house helps, but even if it wasn’t, I would go out of my way for the appetizer of chili donuts, three fat donut holes filled with Kobe beef chili and cheddar cheese and covered with a flavorful mustard glaze and a dill pickle slice. They are absolutely heavenly!

2) Ca De Sole (http://www.cadelsole.com/)

This is a Northern Italian restaurant with a German-born, French-trained chef (Soerke Peters) and everything I’ve eaten here has been delicious. The menu is seasonal and always features fresh ingredients. This was the first place I ever saw Pumpkin Ravioli with Butter and Sage on a menu. It’s now a dish you can find in any Italian place, but this version is still one of the best in town. The cooking is simple and flavorful, as good Italian cooking should be. The fact that the restaurant is open late, including most weeknights, helps a lot when I’m looking for a place to eat after a movie or show. It may not be the best Italian food in town, but I find myself back here more than any of those other places, so I know they’re doing something right.

3) Casa Vega (http://www.casavega.com/)

This is another Sherman Oaks restaurant that is open very late, so it’s a convenient place for us to stop into after a concert or club show when we need something tasty to soak up the alcohol. We used to drive past it all the time and wonder what it was. The restaurant is a big white building with no windows. There are two hedges out in front. One is shaped in the letter “C” and the other in the letter “V”. I have to admit that we were a little intimidated by the place. Then one day I read an interview with Nancy Sinatra and she named Casa Vega as her favorite restaurant in LA. I resolved to go and since then, I find myself back there a lot. It’s extremely popular and always packed to the rafters, so we tend to go either very early or very late, but the margaritas are big and delicious and while the food is typical American-Mexican, meaning lots of heavy enchiladas and burritos and the like, it’s still well-priced, fresh and tasty and, damn, it’s just a lot of fun to go there.

4) Gardens Of Taxco (http://www.gardensoftaxco.com/)

This Mexican restaurant is like no other Mexican restaurant in LA. It’s the one restaurant that we always take friends from out-of-town for a fun, adventurous and delicious meal. There is no written menu here. You are seated at your table where you wait for a host to come around. That host explains that the restaurant is typical Mexico City cuisine. There are 5 courses of shrimp, 5 of chicken, 5 of beef, a vegetarian option and a fish option. You tell the host what protein you want and he’ll explain the options. There is shrimp in cilantro sauce, beef chunks grilled on a skewer, and chicken in cream sauce. The host will tell you that the chicken tastes like it was born in that sauce. After you order, pickled vegetables and chips and salsa are placed on the table and what follows is a 5-course adventure in eating that includes three appetizers, the main course, and desert, which is always bananas in cream with a shot of sherry on the side. Add on a liter or two of their amazing wine margaritas and it’s a meal fit for a king. If you go before 7 PM on weekdays, you get all this (minus the margaritas) for only $14.95! That’s one of the best deals in town. As you leave, the hostess will make sure you get a chocolate mint. (I tried to sneak out without the mint once and she chased me down the street to make sure I got it.) The food is great and flavorful. (“Not hot…spicy”, as the host will tell you.) You need to go hungry though as there’s lots of it.

6) La Cabinita (Glendale)

From the outside, this place looks like any other cheap Mexican restaurant in a town full of them. No one would guess the culinary wonders that the place contains. This was the first place I ever ran into Chiles in Nogada, the Christmas Chile rellano that was the showcase of the wonderful novel, “Like Water For Chocolate”. It’s a Chile stuffed with chopped meat, nuts and dried fruits and covered with a creamy walnut sauce and its easily one of my favorite items on any Mexican menu. The version here is the best in town, as far as I’m concern. (As are the other half dozen Chile rellanos they have on the menu.) But everything here is wonderful, from the pazole to the fried pork chop. And they make a great margarita as well. It’s cheap and delicious and I couldn’t ask for anything more.


I really am trying to get this blog back on a regular schedule. I would like to do this blog every two weeks, with my music, etc blog on alternate weeks, meaning I would have a new blog entry every week, just like the old days. I’m working towards that, but right now, I’m overwhelmed with trying to raise money so we don’t end up homeless and broke. Most of my time is spent listing items for sale on Amazon, Gemm and EBay. I’m trying to get that into a schedule as well, so I will have separate days for listing, writing and time away from home for movies and such. (I’m so far behind on movies now. I haven’t had time to see one in several months.) This will also help me find the time to work on these blogs a bit more so I don’t feel I’m rushing them out. So please be patient with me and I promise that I’ll get all this together. I still have a lot of food subjects I want to touch on. Keep with me and I’ll get to them all.

I’m also trying to figure out where to take this blog. I want to continue talking about some of my favorite restaurants, but I don’t want it to be so Los Angeles centric and I just don’t want it to be a review column. I may start concentrating on a specific recipe or something. I’m trying to decide. If anyone out there has any thoughts or recommendations, they really are welcome. But I will get this all together and you’ll be getting whatever I decide on a regular schedule soon.


Chef Mark Gold started out working at various restaurants in Santa Monica and Malibu before finishing up his education at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. Upon arrival back in LA, he was hired by Joachim Splichal’s Patina Group, working at their flagship restaurant, Patina. He then spent five years at the Water Grill before returning to the Patina Group as Executive Chef at Café Pinot and Leatherby’s in Orange County. Last year, he left the Patina Group to open his own restaurant and he finally opened that restaurant a few months ago on Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles. The restaurant is called Eva (http://evarestaurantla.com) after his grandmother, who is his cooking inspiration.

Skip and I have been fans of Mark’s cooking since he was at Café Pinot, so we were really looking forward to eating at his new place. He has moved into the space that used to be occupied by Hatfield’s (which is moving up to a larger space on Melrose in Hollywood), a nice, comfortable room with a half dozen tables spaced around the bar, and another half dozen or so outside on the porch. He has placed a bookshelf along one wall that contains cookbooks by the chefs that he admires. The room, and the service, is low-key and inviting.

We started with a plate of Long Cove oysters on the half-shell. I don’t recall ever eating these oysters before, but they were delicious. They were plump and flavorful, with a nice ocean brine to the taste. They were served without any mignonette, as Mark felt they should be tasted naturally. He was right.

For our first course, Skip had Burrata Ravioli with Butter Glaze, Summer Truffle and Corn. He loved it and thought it was the best use of summer truffles that he tasted all year. My Assorted Baby Lettuce Salad with Bacon, Tiny Tomatoes and Green Goddess Dressing was perfect. The salad was lightly dressed with the dressing. It’s about time that Green Goddess, a wonderful mayonnaise/anchovy/green herb dressing, which was put out of style when Ranch dressing became popular, made a big comeback.

For our main course, Skip enjoyed Poached Beef with Cauliflower, Chanterelles and Salsa Verde. I loved my Lightly Smoked Bigeye Tuna with Cauliflower, Matsutake Mushrooms and Black Figs. The rare tuna had a beautifully earthy taste due to the smoke. We shared a side of Smashed Potatoes with Butter and Foie Gras. The foie wasn’t mentioned on the menu, so our waiter was afraid we might be upset when he brought them. He needn’t have worried. They were genius. That small bit of foie mixed in with them made all the difference in the world.
For dessert we had a selection of five cheeses and we split an order of Hand-Carved Melon with Little White Cakes. The cheeses were wonderful and the melon/cake was light and delicious. It was the perfect ending to a practically perfect meal.

The menu is seasonal and changes monthly. For the quality of ingredients and the care of preparation, the restaurant is already a great deal. (Openers are between $10 and $15, and mains are between $16 and $24.) But there is a special Sunday night dinner for $35 that is the real deal and brings in quite a crowd. Corkage is only $12, which is one of the more reasonable corkages in a restaurant of this caliber.

Los Angeles should be proud to host another great restaurant and hopefully people will discover this little gem and continue to eat there. Mark Peel’s is a great chef and a great guy. You won’t regret giving him your support.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Some Thoughts on the 99 Essential LA Restaurants

Last week, the LA Weekly, a free weekly paper handed out here in Los Angeles, published food critic Jonathan Gold’s annual “99 Essential L.A. Restaurants” list. (Actually, due to a mistake, it turned out to be the 105 essential restaurants.) You can find the complete list here:


Mr. Gold is a long time Los Angeles food journalist and critic. In 2007 he became the first food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for his insightful writing about the Los Angeles restaurant scene. His reviews cover everything from the most expensive to the small ethnic restaurants that are usually ignored by many food critics and the public.

This yearly list is like the Food Bible to me and I use it constantly throughout the year to decide on places we want to eat. I can’t even begin to tell you how many restaurants I’ve discovered through Gold’s list. (Just last night we ate at Chang’s Garden after Gold recommended a place to find the best sea cucumber in town. It is now one of our favorite Chinese restaurants along with Chung King. Both are on Gold’s list. And the sea cucumber with shrimp eggs was delicious!)

Unlike other reviewers, food or otherwise, I find myself agreeing with Gold almost all the time. But at first, when I read this new list, I found myself disappointed over a few of his deletions from past list and what I felt was a major new restaurant that was missing. Once I thought more about the deletions, I had to agree though. For example, I love Chef Eric Greenspan at the Foundry on Melrose. The man is a joyfully boisterous presence while dining in his restaurant. So I was majorly pissed when I saw the Gold had cut his restaurant for this new list. But on reflection, I have to admit that the last couple meals I’ve had there have been missing that spark that made him so great even a year ago. Greenspan has been remodeling the restaurant to be more of a bar/club up front, with the main dining area now on the outside back patio. With his attention redirected towards making this work, perhaps his food is suffering. I don’t know, but he needs to put his full attention back on his food and maybe he can get back on that list next year.

I was also unhappy to see Philippe the Original taken off the list only because it’s a Los Angeles institution. Philippe’s claims to be the originator of the French Dip sandwich and there isn’t a day when people aren’t crowded in front of the counter to order those sandwiches. But again, I thought about it and realized that I had eaten a few weeks ago at the reopened Cole’s, a restaurant that also claims to have originated the French Dip and I had liked their sandwich better than Philippe’s. (It had something to do with the bun.) And I also realized that a lot of other Los Angeles institutions aren’t on the list, such as Canter’s Deli and Pinks Hot Dogs. But I realized that as much as I’m glad that these restaurants are there, they aren’t really essential and I just have to let it go. Besides, for LA institutions, he does have Langer’s on the list for those who need a major sandwich fix, and Musso & Frank’s, where I just had one of the best prime ribs I’ve ever eaten anywhere.

So, the only thing that I majorly disagree with Gold about is the snub of Chef Jose Andres’s The Bazaar (
http://www.thebazaar.com/). I’ve eaten there three or four times now and have not only had some of the most delicious meals I’ve had in LA recently, but I’ve also had a hell of a lot of fun eating those meals. The restaurant is designed by Philippe Starck, who is known for his outrageous, crazy designs and he went all out on this restaurant, creating a space that feels like you have fallen down a rabbit hole into Wonderland, with different dining rooms for different moods, a bar with television sets built into the table tops and a separate dessert room that feels like a spun sugar hallucination.

I asked Gold about this and he answered that he loved Andres’ food and had no problem with referring to people in Washington DC to his restaurant there, but he just felt that The Bazaar was too much of a gimmick. Now, I understand what he’s saying. I have fun at the restaurant, but eventually the whole Wonderland, amusement park ambience is going to get stale. When it does, the restaurant had better have the food to fall back on to keep the customers coming. And that’s where I disagree with Gold. I think the restaurant will easily be able to fall back on that food. It’s amazing and I haven’t had a bad dish in the place. I love the little foie gras pops wrapped in cotton candy, the chicken fritters, the modern molecular olive orbs, and the potato tortilla “new way”. Even if the crazy ambience of the place wasn’t there, I would be returning often just for the wonderful food.

So, if you’re in LA, look at Gold’s list and don’t be afraid to visit any of those restaurants, but I would make the list 106 and add The Bazaar to it. I think it’s one of the three best restaurants in Los Angeles. (Melisse and Providence being the other two.)


I have just a quick note about the LA County Fair. I went this last weekend to try out the new deep fried foods that make an appearance this year. There wasn’t a lot. I was hoping for the Deep Fried Butter that had shown up at the Texas State Fair, but the only new fried item I could find was a thing called a Zucchini Weeni. This was a hot dog, shoved into a hollowed out zucchini and then covered with batter and deep fried. It’s sort of like a corn dog with a serving of vegetables added. This sounded like a great idea to me, but once I ordered it, I realized the thing was a failure. The hot dog was still raw and cold in the center and the zucchini was practically raw. Frying the batter to a golden brown just didn’t give the contents enough time to cook properly. Perhaps they should cook the hot dog and then put it into a blanched zucchini and then fry the whole thing. That might work, but for now, if you’re going to the Fair, I’d give this item a big pass.

Much more successful were the bacon-jalapeno poppers I found at one of the Mexican food stands. The jalapeno is stuffed with cream cheese and then wrapped in bacon. Instead of frying, the whole thing is popped onto a grill until the bacon is well-done and crispy. These things were delicious and I could have sat there all day and eaten them. Look out for them. You won’t regret it.

The only other item of notice that I found was at the main Dr. Bob’s ice cream shack by the animal petting zoo. Dr. Bob’s is considered by many (including Jonathan Gold) to be the best ice cream in Los Angeles. I don’t know if I’d call it the best (I would vote for Milk), but it’s damned good. This year he had a Soy Sauce Ice Cream on the menu and I couldn’t resist trying it. It turned out to be really good. It was mostly vanilla with just a hint of soy and a very slight saltiness that complemented the sweetness beautifully. I wish they would package this flavor so I could pick it up regularly at my local Gelson’s, it was that good.

I’ll be visiting the Fair a couple more time before the end of the month, so if I discover anything else, I’ll be sure to report on it.


Skip and I stumbled into a restaurant in Santa Monica the other day before the free Patti Smith concert on the Pier. It’s called The Yard (
http://www.theyardsm.com). It’s been around for awhile now, but while we were walking by, we noticed a sign out front announcing that their new chef was Chris “CJ” Jacobson from Top Chef. He was the real tall, handsome guy that had survived testicular cancer. So, in we went. And we really enjoyed it. CJ is still tweaking the menu and getting the restaurant itself in shape before the big announcement of his arrival is made, but his modern gastropub fare was very good and I’m looking forward to seeing where he’s going to take this seaside bar in the near future. I especially enjoyed his Tenerelli Farms Peaches with Buratta and the Roasted Artichoke Risotto with pine nuts, lemon and mint. Give him a year and he just may show up on Jonathan Gold’s Essential restaurant list for 2010.


Melisse (
http://www.melisse.com/) is one of Los Angeles’ best and most expensive restaurants. For some reason that I can’t think of, I had never eaten there. I’ve gone to most of the other expensive fine dining establishments in LA a number of times, but I just never made it to Santa Monica to try Melisse out.

That all changed a few weeks ago when the restaurant offered a special 10-course dinner to celebrate their tenth anniversary. What I ended up eating there became the best meal I’ve ever had in Los Angeles. Better than Spago. Better than Providence. Better than The Bazaar.

Skip and I both went out and bought some new clothes to wear and I’m glad we did. We arrived to the elegant, French-style room in slacks and coats (sans ties) and felt comfortable with what we were wearing. Unfortunately, the illusion was shattered by other diners wearing shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops, but such is the way of life in Los Angeles these days.

The meal became a 14 course meal after adding in all the amuse bouches and special desserts. We also got the wine pairing, which was supposed to be nine wines, but became eleven when the sommelier got enthusiastic, something I will never complain about. Everything was wonderful and the wine pairing was about the best and most complete that I have ever experienced at any restaurant anywhere. A few notable choices:

1) Mandarin Tomato Soup, Tomato Tartare & Sorbet

Almost surreal in color, this dish was so delicious that I would go back to Melisse simply to eat this over and over. It was ultimate taste of what tomatoes can be.

It was paired with: Italy, Fruili, Scarpetta, Pinot Grigio, Colli Orientali dei Fruili, 2008

A gorgeous wine that was not heavy on the fruit. It was definitely a food wine and was perfect for bringing out the flavors of the tomatoes.

2) Sweet White Corn Ravioli, Summer Truffle Sauce

Sweet, earthy and so amazing I was left speechless temporarily after eating it.

It was paired with: Spain, Rias Baixas, Pablo Padin, Albarino, Segrel, 2005

Skip thought this was the wine find of the evening. The nose smelled of rotten lettuce, although the sommelier corrected me with “rotten runny cheese”. It sounds unpleasant, but wasn’t at all. It went brilliantly with the truffles in the sauce. Most Albarinos are citrus-y, with a nose of orange in particular. But Pablo Padin doesn’t play by the rules when he created this wine, which is highly sought after. It was fantastic.

3) Wild Loup de Mer, Coco Beans, Shellfish, Bouillabaisse

Loup de Mer is an incredibly flaky and tasty fish. It was served skin-on in a seafood stock with squid and coco beans, which were subtly sweet and flavorful. It was a wonderful dish that defines what fine dining should be about.

It was paired with: France, Loire, Huet, Vouvray Sec, Le Mont, 2006

This is one of the best high quality French Chenin Blanc wines. The mineral and floral qualities went perfect with the fish dish.

But just in case, the sommelier also poured us: France, Loire, Breton, Chinon, Les Picasses, 2004

Skip thought this vegetive, pleasant red wine with a nose like tomato leaves was perfect with the fish. I loved it, but preferred the white wine.

4) Reblochon Tart, Honey-Pepper Gastrique
This was the cheese course, served between the savory dishes and the sweet dessert dishes. I love this cheese and serving it in a tart with the peppered honey made me love it even more.

It was paired with: Hungary, Kiralyudvar, Tokaji Furmint Sec, , 2006

The only Tokaj we’ve ever had were dessert wines. This one was only slightly sweet with lots of herbal and spice flavors. It was perfect with the cheese.

5) Chocolate Soufflé, Banana Mousse, Chocolate Sorbet

This was the first of three dessert courses. I am not a chocolate fan, preferring fruit desserts over chocolate any day. Except this day. The waiter brought out huge hypodermic needles and injected more chocolate into the soufflé. I was so damned good. The banana mousse perfectly tempered the chocolate. I was shocked at how much I loved this.

It was paired with: Portugal, D'Oliveira, Madeira, Boston Bual, 1995

Skip and I both prefer Madeira over Port and think it pairs better with chocolate. This had a slight smoky quality to it. It was perfect.

Melisse is easily up there as one of the top restaurants in LA. It’s a beautiful room with impeccable service. I can’t think of a restaurant here that is more perfect for a special event. If you’re looking for the best gastronomical experience that LA has to offer, this is the place.

Monday, August 10, 2009


I went into the movie, “Julie & Julia”, with some trepidation. This is the new film based on two true stories. One was based on the Julia Child’s memoir, “My Life in France”, and the other was based on Julie Powell’s book, “Julie & Julia”, another memoir documenting how the author discovered her purpose in life and got it on track by attempting to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook in a year’s time. In other words, she decided to make 524 recipes in 365 days.

The movie had a whole lot of things going against it, in my view. It was written and directed by Nora Ephron. Ms. Ephron started her career out strong by writing the screenplays for “Silkwood” and “When Harry Meet Sally”. But since she’s decided to be a director as well as screenwriter, her work has gone down hill rapidly, culminating in the abysmal “Bewitched”, which destroyed many fond childhood memories and was not only the worst movie of 2005, but one of the worst movies of all time.

I also have very mixed feelings about one of the film’s subjects, Julia Child. As a committed foodie, I have to admit my admiration for the woman for all she’s done for the art of cooking and eating. Her cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, is a tremendous achievement. It helped change the world’s view of eating and introduced Americans to food that was more than just over-cooked or plopped into casseroles. And her TV show is always amazing and fun to watch, even to this day. At the same time, her irrational homophobia is a well documented fact. She believed that gay men were entering the food business and making it less attractive for straight men. It doesn’t make any sense, but homophobia is ignorance and it never really makes any sense except to the people looking for an excuse to hate.

(While I have a mixed-mind about it, I tend to ignore the faults of many people if I enjoy their art. This may not be a good thing, but it’s a choice I’ve made. I prefer to separate the person from their art. If I didn’t have this attitude, I’m afraid I would be denying myself a lot of great art, from the fine arts to movies to music to literature.)

There were also the early reviews of the movie that I read. Those all seemed to think that the “Julia” part of the movie was very good, but that the “Julie” part dragged the film down and ruined it. If there’s anything I hate, its spending my hard-earned and increasingly limited cash on a movie that turns out to be a dud, especially if its one that I’m excited about seeing.

Well, I saw the movie the day before it opened nation wide at a special preview and I’m here to tell you that I had nothing to worry about, and neither do you. I believe that this is one of the best movies of the year. It’s a film that will stay with me and that I’ll watch many times in the future.

Although I haven’t read Ms. Powell’s book, I was aware of the story, and of course I’m very familiar with the life of Ms. Child. But just in case you don’t know how everything turns out, I don’t want to ruin it for you. There will be no spoilers here. I will say that the acting is beautiful throughout the movie and I fully expect that Meryl Streep will get another Oscar nod for her portrayal of Julia Child. She’s like a force of nature on screen and it would be easy to overlook the acting of Stanley Tucci, as Julia’s husband, Paul, and Amy Adams, as Julie Powell. Don’t overlook them though. They’re both great. A lot has been made by some critics about the Julie Powell character. They claim that she is shallow and irritating. I didn’t find that at all. I found Ms. Adam’s portrayal to be a fully fleshed out character, confused and insecure about life, and unsure what the future was going to bring her. In fact, I found her story to be extremely inspirational, wishing that I could apply myself to a task as massive as she did. She’s every bit of a culinary and literary hero to me as Ms. Child is.

The production design, switching constantly between 50’s Paris and post-9/11 Queens, was beautiful. My head swam with memories every time the camera panned down one of the narrow Parisian streets. It took my breath away. And the soundtrack was close to perfect, using songs from the various times to underscore the action on the screen beautifully. (One of my favorites is the use of the Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” to underscore the frustration and guilt that Julie’s feeling when it comes time to dispatch some crustaceans in order to make lobster thermidor.)

And that brings me to the food. DO NOT go to this movie hungry. Or, if you do, make sure you have dinner planned directly after seeing the film. The food used in this movie isn’t just stunt food, Styrofoam painted to look like the real thing. This IS the real thing and you get long, close-up shots of boeuf bourguignon (beef stew in red wine), pate de canard en croute (boneless stuffed duck in pastry), and reine de saba (chocolate and almond cake), among others. It’s no wonder every character had a “Yum” moment in the film. I was having “Yum” moments constantly. I ate before seeing this movie and still left the theatre ravenous.

Now, the movie isn’t without its flaws. Some of the dialog can be a bit trite and a few dramatic elements are introduced and resolved too easily. Julia Child’s intolerance is ignored except for a very small bit towards the end of the film that flew by most of the audience without notice. But this movie spoke to me and because of that, I’m able to overlook those small flaws. I put it into the same company as films like “Ratatouille” and “Sideways”. These films also had their flaws, but have become important to me due to their relevancy to my life.

So, forget the nay-saying critical voices and go see this movie. (Actually, some of the later reviews have been much more kind.) This is a film for everyone. The audience I saw it with was full of uncomfortable looking husbands who had obviously been dragged to see this movie by their wives. When the movie ended, the audience applauded loudly. The man behind me, one of those husbands, stood up and said, “That movie made me want to learn how to cook.” I can’t think of any better recommendation than that.


With every post, I want to highlight one of the many restaurants I love here in Los Angeles. (Or, if I’m traveling, a restaurant from the area I visited.) This first restaurant is really remarkable and you have less than two weeks to experience it.

Last year, Chef Ludovic Lefebvre (Ludo) (
http://www.ludolefebvre.com/about), took over the Breadbar on 3rd Street (http://www.breadbar.net/) for a short stint to try out some recipes before moving into his own restaurant. He then went to Las Vegas and helped open Lavo in the Palazzo Casino. That lasted a very short time before the owners decided his food was confusing the patrons and simplified it into a boring list of typical dishes. Skip and I ate there too late, but the one dish that prevailed on the menu was Ludo’s take on crudo, the Italian version of raw fish. It was beautifully flavored and presented and to this day is still one of the best raw fish dishes I’ve ever eaten; Italian, Japanese or other wise.

Now he’s back at Breadbar, working his very original magic on an ever changing list of dishes. He started in May and will be closing on August 22. After that, he is moving on to other endeavors. We’ve eaten at the new Ludo Bites at Breadbar twice now, and will be doing so again before he leaves.

I don’t have the time to list everything we ate, but some of the more amazing and original dishes we tried are:

1) Green Beans Salad, Peach, Coconut, Apple, Horseradish, Lemongrass

This was a salad. I was a little worried about it as I have some problems using sweet fruits in savory dishes, but I needn’t have worried. The flavors were balanced beautifully and tied together with the horseradish, which was whipped into heavy cream and was almost like a spiced marshmallow.

2) Snails, Spinach, Curry-Yogurt

The absolute best presentation of escargot I’ve ever eaten! The curry snails were just amazing. At the bottom of the dish was a butter-soaked piece of brioche that brought all the richness and taste of the ingredients together.

3) Foie Gras Black Croque-Monsieur, Ham, Cherry, Amaretto, Goat Cheese

This was an amazing and extremely original take on the standard French grilled ham and cheese sandwich. The bread, which was brioche, was soaked in squid ink. It was filled with a slice of ham, a slice of duck foie gras and “Lamb Chopper” goat cheese, with a bit of cherry and amaretto for taste. This was all grilled and presented on a plate. I could have eaten this all night.

4) Spaghetti Carbonara, Santa Barbara Prawns, Sage, Black Pepper

The “spaghetti” was made from strands of celery root, making what can be a heavy pasta dish into one that was light despite its richness. The split grilled prawns were wonderfully cooked and liberal use of sage and cracked black pepper took the flavors into the stratosphere.

5) Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, Caviar

Yep. This is a dessert. (We also had a foie gras frosted chocolate cupcake with candied bacon.) It’s standard practice these days to add sea salt to chocolate and caramel candies. There’s something incredibly appealing about the sweet and the salty. Just look at the popularity of kettle corn. Instead of using salt, Ludo heaped a spoonful of caviar into the top of the vanilla pana cotta with caramel sauce. That caviar added the salt, but the slight taste of the ocean took the whole thing into another dimension. I have to admit that this was the another dish I was very worried about, but it worked beautifully and made us very happy men. Skip says it was ethereal and I agree.

There were at least a dozen other dishes we tried during our two meals. The only one that didn’t wow me was a bacon tart with cinnamon and brown butter. It was delicious, but it was probably presented at the wrong point of the meal. It was the second course and I think it may have worked better towards the end, maybe even as a dessert.

During both meals we had long conversations with the Chef. He was very interested in our feelings about the food and what we liked and disliked. I could see him mentally taking notes as we talked. Because of that, I’m really looking forward to what he plans next after this second Breadbar run is through.

Note: If you’re here in Los Angeles and planning to visit Ludo Bites before it closes on August 22, and you should, be aware that they don’t serve alcohol. You can bring your own bottle of wine and they’ll open it for you for a corkage of $5. Bring something nice. The food deserves it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My History with Food

These days it always comes as a big surprise to me that I’m an “eat-whatever’s-in-front-of-me” kind of guy. From the time I was a kid up until my mid-20s, this wasn’t the case at all. As a kid, I was very limited in what I would eat in most cases. Surprisingly, I did like just about all vegetables, which is a rare case when it comes to kids. I blame Popeye for this. I was a big fan of the cartoon sailor and when he told me to eat my spinach; I did as I was told. That also opened the door for other vegetables and I can’t remember really disliking any vegetable, although I remember not being all that fond of peas for some reason.

But when it came to meat, I was super picky. I would eat hamburgers, hot dogs and fish sticks, but anything else had to be chopped up in a casserole for me to consider it. I didn’t like steak. I didn’t like fried chicken. Anything other than fried fish was shunned, although I did like canned tuna to some extent and my favorite dish was my Mom’s Tuna & Noodle Casserole. I had a real problem with eating anything on the bone. The whole idea made me sick to my stomach. (I still have a small problem with bones, but only if I bite into something that is not supposed to have a bone in it and find a small chip or something, like I have in sausages now and then.)

To this day, if someone held a gun to my head and made me choose between vegetables or meat, I would easily choose the veges.

As a kid, I preferred white chocolate to dark chocolate (and still do). . I hated milk (and I’m still not fond of it), although I loved milk products like cottage cheese and ice cream. I liked most fruits, except for apples. I didn’t like apple pie at all, preferring pecan pie, which I absolutely loved. I thought avocados were delicious and was really happy we had a tree in our back yard, as well as a fig tree, which I thought were weird, but I liked them. I absolutely hated Mexican food, but liked most of the other ethnic foods of the time, which were Americanized versions of Chinese and Italian dishes. My hatred of Mexican food can probably be traced to my grandmother, who loved to make tamale pie and then would force me to eat it. It got to the point where the smell of anything Mexican would make me nauseous.

All this pretty much persisted as I grew older. Going out to eat to me was going to Burger King or Der Wienerschnitzel. Occasionally, I would eat at a Denny’s or a local Italian joint, but that was rare. I remember liking Coco’s as well. But I certainly stayed away from any food I didn’t recognize or that seemed weird to me, although in my 20s, I discovered delis and decided I liked knishes and matzo balls, as well as sliced meat sandwiches.

Then, at the age of 25, I met Skip and everything began to change. He grew up in a Navy household and his mother had entertained people in their home from all over the world. Because of this, she learned to cook many of the ethnic favorites these people ate in their countries. Skip grew up eating them and so had a much more rounded view than I did about what was edible. I remember one of the first places he took me to was a French restaurant and he wanted to get escargot. I was horrified at the idea of eating snails, but he got me drinking wine and before I knew it, I was tipsy enough that he talked me into trying one. I was shocked. I actually liked the slimy little thing. It was chewy, but tasted of butter and garlic and I loved that flavor combination. Before long, again with the help of alcohol, Skip had me eating squid, and I was beginning to realize that maybe I didn’t really hate all these things I thought I hated. In short steps and over time, he even got me eating Mexican food again. (It’s currently one of my favorite types of foods, especially when we get into the very regions that are very different from standard American/Mexican food, like Oaxacan.)

But there was still a lot of stuff I was afraid of. Most seafood still left me cold and I couldn’t even think about eating internal organs. Then I started touring Europe with Thin White Rope. I had always wanted to travel the world and working with the band finally gave me the chance. I was determined to experience these cities and countries as the locals see them. Working with a band is a great way to do that, as the local promoters take you to places that tourists would never set foot in. They were very proud of their local restaurants and I quickly realized that it would be very rude not to at least try what they gave me to eat. So I would close me eyes and steel myself to the horror, and I was always surprised how much I usually liked many of these strange items. I learned to love wild boar in Denmark, periwinkles and octopus and rabbit in Italy, anchovies and blood sausage in Spain, liver and kidneys in England, and beets in Russia. Once I tasted something, I found that I usually liked it. It took me a while, but each year I would add another couple items to my edible list. I’ve eaten alligator and crocodile, snake, kangaroo, and a whole slew of exotic animals in South Africa. One of my favorite dishes is huitlacoche, or corn smut, which is a black fungus scraped off corn and made into a sauce for meat and fish. It may not be pretty, but it tastes like heaven to me.

And now, here I am. I will eat anything put in front of me. Most recently I enjoyed a meal at Incanto in San Francisco, a restaurant known for its offal dishes, and greatly enjoyed a pasta dish with shaved salt-cured Sardinian tuna heart and a wonderful tripe salad. I also loved the brain raviolis at Mozza here in LA. There are two dishes from my past that I didn’t like. I had sea cucumber at a Chinese restaurant in Alhambra that didn’t sit well with me. There was also a Burmese restaurant where I tried a dish called sour vegetables that seemed like a giant pile of horse manure to me at the time. Both of those were years ago and I’m determined to try them both again. I’m willing to bet my tastes have evolved enough that I will like both of them now. After all, I had always hated eel and then just recently realized how much I liked it during a great sushi meal at Matsuhisa.

A couple of other things.

I have little patience for vegetarians, especially those who preach. As I said above, I love vegetables, but I truly believe that human kind is omnivorous and to eat nothing but vegetables is unnatural and ultimately, unhealthy. Meat isn’t murder…it’s the natural order. And I feel pretty much the same way for the mostly meat crowd. There is someone in my family who will only eat meat and potatoes. It makes me sad.

But I do believe that the meat industry has a lot to answer for and the way they raise and slaughter animals in this country is out of control and unhealthy. I really believe that we need to put more restrictions on the way they do business. I will avoid milk-fed veal, as I have no doubt that the way that calf was raised is torturous. But I don’t avoid all veal. If it’s not milk-fed then it is fair game in my opinion. I also don’t believe that foie gras (fatty duck and goose liver) is a bad thing despite what the animal rights people would want me to believe. I have seen ducks force fed to fatten up their liver. They run to have the process done. I never saw any fear in those animals and I refuse to believe that it is torture.

I like beer and most hard alcohols, but drink them rarely. Nothing goes with food like wine. I recently went to a beer and cheese tasting. The guys putting it on tried to tell us that beer naturally went with food much better than wine because wine coats the tongue and doesn’t let the full taste of the food through. These guys were full of crap. There’s nothing better to me than a great pairing of wine with food. I recently had a meal at Melisse in Santa Monica and one of the things that made the meal so damned great was that every wine paired with every course of the 10-course meal was absolutely perfect. (I’ll get around to talking about that meal in the next week or two.) There are times when beer goes with food very well. I also recently ate sausage sandwiches at Wurstkuchen in downtown LA and they were perfect with glasses of Belgian beer on tap. But on the whole, give me wine with my food and I’ll be a happy man.

I don’t like most fast food and won’t eat it these days. Fast food is unhealthy and unnaturally processed. I’ll make a few exceptions when I have to, but only when I really have to. I like the chicken ciabatta sandwiches at Jack in the Box, or the fish tacos at Rubio’s, for example. And just about everything at Zankou Chicken is amazing. But I won’t eat a burger at any of those places. That includes the overly salty and greasy burger at In-N-Out. And Taco Bell gives me the hives. The same goes for chain restaurants. Most of them specialize in large plates of bland food. I want my food to taste of something more than salt and trans fat please. Of course, there are a few chains I do like. California Pizza Kitchen makes salads and a few pizzas that I enjoy. Hamburger Hamlet has some really good burgers on their menu if I ask them to cook them rare. I used to eat at El Torito Grill every now and then until they gave money to the “Yes on Proposition 8” crowd. Now I’ll never eat there again. In the long run, I think that fast food and chain restaurants are too expensive. I feel I’m getting more for my money when I pay $60 a person for a meal at a great restaurant than when I pay $20 for giant plates of tasteless food at Denny’s or the Cheesecake Factory.

Now that you know where I stand on a few things, I’m ready to really get into this column. Next time I’ll be back talking about a few of my favorite meals recently here in Los Angeles. I hope you’ll all join in with discussion, or at the very least, send me the name of local restaurants you like. I like to travel and hope to be doing so again soon. I keep lists of recommended places from all over the world that I want to visit if I get to that country or city. So educate me and give me those suggestions. Thanks.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pour Yourself a Drink and Relax

Hey folks,

Welcome to my brand new blog, which is devoted to all things related to Food & Drink. I used to run restaurant reviews and stories of my eating and drinking adventures in my other blog (The Top of My Head) and people seemed to enjoy them. In fact, since I've stopped writing about them, I've had more than a few requests to start up again. So that's the purpose of this new blog space.

I won't promise a regular schedule here. I'll just add a word or two or a story when I feel there's something of interest to share with you all. And I really do encourage comments and discussion. Please. Let me know your favorite recipes and the restaurants you just die for, even if they are in another city, state or country. I travel a lot and always keep a list of places I want to visit.

A few words about the title of this blog. A few friends and I wanted to start a small, manageable mailing list to share restaurant and recipe recommendations between the few of us. At the time, I came up with the name "The Order of the Omnivores" because it fit with this small group. We all liked food and we all like science fiction and fantasy, especially the Harry Potter universe. The name fit and was adopted. The mailing list is still going on and will remain just the few of us, but I wanted to expand on what I think is a good name and decided it was time for this blog.

I hope you will all enjoy what you find here. Please recommend it to other foodies you may know. I'll be back soon with my first post.

In the meantime, I will finally be going to one of LA's top French restaurants in a few days. We've been dying to eat at Melisse (http://www.melisse.com/) and are now using their tenth anniversary as an excuse. I'm very excited and I'm sure a full report will follow.