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.

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