Thomas Keller…if loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna’ be right. Folks, look at the photo above of Bouchon Bistro’s Croque Madame ($18.95). Pure French goodness all on one plate. Grilled ham and cheese on brioche topped with a Mornay sauce AND a perfectly, fried egg, partnered with crispy French fries. At the time it seemed so, so wrong, but it tasted so right.
I have been a fan of Chef Thomas Keller’s for a long time, a chef groupie if you will. I own many of his cookbooks and have been regaled by friends of their experience at his iconic restaurant in Napa Valley called The French Laundry. Bouchon serves classic bistro fare, but really, they elevate it to a higher level. The restaurant itself is a rather grand space, very open with high ceilings and classic French decor, yet it felt very comfortable and casual to me. Before you enter the restaurant on the second level, there is a wine bistro and a take-out bakery on the first level.
My accomplice on this calorie consuming extravaganza is my friend Gail who shares my zest and zeal for dining adventures. Our plan was to share all our dishes to maximize how many different things we could taste. The strategy was soup, salad, sandwich and dessert.
Their soup special that day was a Potato Leek soup ($9). The soup was light and the flavors were subtle, so we had plenty of room left for their heartier dishes.
Their frisee salad with lardons, and poached egg with a bacon vinaigrette ($14) is my new favorite salad ever, it’s almost like a deconstructed BLT. I think the secret weapon here was the vinaigrette, which could make paper taste delicious. The toasted brioche was perfect for scooping every last bit of salad up.
As for dessert, we felt the only right thing to do was to have something chocolate, and a wise choice it was. The dark chocolate mousse with burnt orange cream ($10) for me was shear perfection. The mousse had rich chocolate flavor, but was not overly sweet and when you dipped it into the orange cream…well, you’ve just gotta try it yourself.
I would certainly go back to Bouchon again. For a short while I felt transported far across the ocean to a traditional bistro in the heart of Paris, even though I was just a block off of Wilshire Boulevard. The service was impeccable, and I loved the servers black vests and bow ties…so European. And, in a land where parking is at a premium, there is a lot right next door with 2 hour free parking. Lovely.
Bouchon Bistro – 235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210 (310) 271-9910
I hope to get to Paris some day because I like many things about the French. Their “joie de vivre”, their art, music, clothing and especially their food. I often picture myself strolling up and down Parisian boulevards dining in one French bistro after another. Oh, and not getting fat. That would be very un-French. Since I was not getting out of the country today, I settled for getting out of the San Fernando Valley. I went with my friend Gail to The Original Farmers Market at Third & Fairfax, a Los Angeles institution since 1934. That’s where we stumbled upon Monsieur Marcel.
Monsieur Marcel is both a bistro and a marketplace, and very, very French. Before we could shop, we had to eat. There’s no indoor dining, it’s all outside. But as luck would have it, it was an eighty-degree February day…perfect for eating al fresco. To start with, what would be more French than French Onion Soup ($7.50). This one is perfectly done, with a rich, flavorful broth, tons of caramelized onions, and a gooey layer of Gruyère cheese. I’m not just saying it, but this is my new favorite onion soup. It was perfect.
Quiche was very popular back in the eighties (for those of us who remember the eighties). It was served a lot at wedding showers and women’s luncheons. So, when I saw Quiche on the menu I was feeling a little nostalgic and thought I would give it a try. This Quiche of sautéed leeks and artichoke hearts ($10.99) was the definition of French comfort food. It’s rich and decadent with chunky vegetables and goat cheese atop a lovely, crispy crust. This dish is definitely for splitting.
To counter-balance the richness of the previous two dishes, we ordered their endive salad ($13.99) with apples, walnuts and Roquefort cheese with a walnut vinaigrette. The ingredients in the salad were crisp and fresh and the resulting salad was very flavorful. Three different dishes, with three different cheeses.
And speaking of cheese…After a most enjoyable lunch, it was time to wander into the marketplace. If you’re a lover of artisanal ingredients like I am, this place will give you goosebumps. They offer an extensive selection of high end wines, cheeses, charcuterie, chocolate and any other delicacy your heart could imagine.
Monsieur Marcel, Los Angeles Farmers Market, Third & Fairfax, Los Angeles, CA 90036 (323) 939-7792
It was my friend Zonia’s birthday today and I was taking her out to lunch to celebrate. We were headed to a restaurant called Plate in Malibu right on the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s located in a non-descript strip center that it shares with a health food market, but it has a glorious view of the Pacific Ocean. As we park the car and walk toward the restaurant, we both stop and take in a deep breath of that salty, ocean air. Ah, we’re relaxed already! I’ve been to Plate several times and I keep coming back for that simple reason, the food tastes really good.
The restaurant is not very big, and the decor is minimalist and zen-like. The entire front of the space is glass with an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean which naturally enhances the dining experience.
I’m an iced tea aficionado, so I’m very impressed with their exotic selection of organic iced teas. Zonia ordered the raspberry, and I got the ginger pear. I’ve never seen tea served like this before, but the tea steeps in a little pitcher and then the waiter pours it over the bottom pitcher of ice. Next time I would share the drink with another person as it’s certainly enough for two, and because it was expensive.
I’m a burger girl. If I had to pick my last meal, it would be a burger and fries. But like everyone else these days, I’m trying to make healthier choices and eat less red meat, sooooo I opt for the turkey burger (pictured above, $12.50). It was just as satisfying as any beef burger I’ve ever had. The burger is charbroiled and topped with fresh, organic lettuce, tomato, peppers and avocado. Buns are important, and this one was perfect as it didn’t fall apart as you ate the burger. Their fries are fried in rice oil and they were light and crunchy.
Plate touts itself as healthy and organic, and that was evident in the curry chicken salad ($12.00). Everything tasted so fresh. The spice of the curry, the sweetness of the papaya and the bitterness of the greens was a lovely layering of flavors, and the toasted croutons added a nice textural contrast. You can tell I really liked this dish.
So what’s a birthday without cake. You didn’t think we were going to leave without dessert did ya? Their rendition of flourless chocolate cake was light and not too sweet, and nicely plated as well. A great ending to a very enjoyable lunch.
The service at Plate was professional and attentive. Parking can be a problem at other restaurants along the PCH, but there is plenty of free, rooftop parking. It’s stress-free dining at it’s best. Plate is opened seven-days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I appreciate that they use natural, organic and locally harvested ingredients; free-range chicken, cage free eggs and meats from known sources. Come on people, if you’re dining out, these things should be important to you.
Plate, 22601 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265 310-317-6800
I just love getting out of the San Fernando Valley. It’s been my home for over thirty years, but there is a wonderful world that exists beyond Ventura Boulevard. One of my favorite neighborhoods to go to is Los Feliz. It’s like being in a 1940′s film noir. A place where you might have expected to find Robert Mitchum walking the streets wearing a felt fedora. I love the architecture of this neighborhood, original 1930′s and 40′s buildings mixed in with 1970′s strip centers. I was spending the afternoon with my friends Amy and Gail and we decided to try out a place for lunch called Vermont Kitchen & Bar.
The restaurant has a very cool and funky vibe. The building is from the early 1940′s and had originally housed Sarno’s Bakery & Italian Restaurant. The interior has so much character with it’s exposed brick walls, arched ceilings and columns. For lunch they have a fairly large menu offering sandwiches, burgers, brick-oven flatbreads, salads and both large (entree size) and small plates. To start with, our server Cody suggested that we try the Ahi Tuna Tacos ($13), with cumin-avocado puree, jicama slaw and served in taro root shells. The dish comes with 6 small tacos which was perfect for three people to share. I loved this dish; the ahi had tons of flavor and the taro root shells were a delicious departure from the more conventional tortillas. I will order this dish the next time I return.
For Gail, the vegetarian diner, we ordered the veggie burger ($11) with grilled red onion, tomato, avocado and roasted red pepper sauce. I split this with her, and I definitely did not miss the meat. The veggie patty was moist and the onions added a great layer of flavor. It also came with a little side salad.
Cody suggested that we try one of their brick-oven flatbreads and we chose the Wild Forest Mushroom ($14), with sauteed leeks, cheese sauce, white truffle oil and Parmigiano Reggiano. We all enjoyed the fresh and earthy combination of ingredients and they nailed the flatbread. It was a very satisfying dish.
If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, then you know I order fries with every meal. We ordered the combination of sweet potato fries and hot and skinny fries ($6). These had a real kick to them, and I gotta say I loved ‘em!
Vermont Kitchen & Bar 1714 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027 323-661-6163
Until recently, when you went to a food court in any mall in America you were greeted by the usual suspects; Cinnabon, Subway and my personal favorite Hot Dog on a Stick, just to name a few. The food is cheap, fast, and processed. Well, America has cried out for justice and it seems their voices have been heard. May 20th saw the opening of The Market in the Santa Monica Place Mall, just off the Third Street Promenade. I didn’t know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised by this modern, open and airy space that adjoins the 3rd floor dining deck that’s also home to six restaurants.
For me it’s a brilliantly conceived idea. The space houses these independently owned shops offering everything from fresh baked goods, flowers, organic coffees, skincare items to a cooking school. The shops are not enclosed but open, allowing the shoppers to wander in and out of each space creating the feel of an outdoor marketplace.
These vendors are selling products that are organic, artisanal, sustainable, fairly traded, seasonal, and locally grown. That’s a lot of adjectives, but that’s how I love to shop. My friend Marci and I make our first stop at Rockenwagner Bakery because, duh…I love bread. We’re greeted by a very friendly and hospitable Hans Fama Rockenwagner who offered us a sampling of their pastries. We tried several of their sandwiches served on their artisanal breads, and purchased some bread and cookies to go. Their breads are fresh, hearty and full of flavor. This will be my first stop when I return for my next visit.
It was impossible to walk past L’Artisan du Chocolat without stopping in. They offer up their stunning chocolates and macarons made fresh each day at their Silverlake location. Their chocolates are made with no preservatives and less sugar, and come in an array of unusual flavors.
The chef behind Primi Al Mercato is Piero Selvaggio of Valentino Restaurant in Santa Monica. What I found most intriguing about this spot was the two women making fresh pastas right there in the window for shoppers to view. You can purchase these pastas in the retail space, or walk next door to a lovely dining area to enjoy “small plates” of pasta and fresh sauces. Personally I have not found too many places in the Los Angeles area where I could buy such unusual, freshly-made pastas.
I am a true coffee lover, so we had to make a stop into Groundwork Coffee Company. Their coffee and teas are organic and fair trade, and I definitely like to support retailers who offer fair trade products. We purchased some of their “Black Gold” to go!
Norcino Salumeria Cheese Bar is also operated by Piero Selvaggio. Serving charcuterie plates of the most amazing selection of high-quality, imported meats and cheeses, this is a must for my non-vegan friends. For me this place is a decadent treat!
I like to give nice wine as a gift, and Venokado had a great selection of fine wines and champagnes to choose from. They also offered a large selection of modern gifts.
Once you’ve purchased your wine, your dinner, your coffee and dessert at The Market, your last stop should be to Magical Blooms. This vibrantly designed shop offers creative, one-of-a-kind floral arrangements, as well as floral design classes.
And finally, not only does The Market offer its visitors a gourmet shopping and dining experience, there’s also a cooking school in the space as well. Gourmandise School of Sweets & Savories offers 3 and 4 hour cooking classes, chef demonstrations and special events. As a culinary school graduate, I can say I never tire of taking cooking classes and their’s covers a wide variety of topics.
I love to dine out and I love to try everything on the menu. Just ordering a single entree is boring to me. I like a little protein, some carbs and lots of veggies. So when I saw the menu of “small plates” at Santa Monica’s newly opened The Misfit, I thought this is probably the restaurant for me. The Misfit is the creation of LGO Hospitality, and is located in the historic Clock Tower Building just around the corner from the 3rd Street Promenade. There’s a sprawling bar that runs the length of the restaurant serving $9 signature cocktails that sounded amazing. I was unable to give one a try because it was only noon time after all, and I was driving, but I will return for their Happy Hour. The man behind the menu is Executive Chef Bruce Kalman, formerly of Chelsea’s Kitchen in Phoenix.
I was dining with my friend Zonia, and we decided to throw caution to the wind, and just let it rip! We started with the French Dip Sliders, ($12) tender prime rib, perfectly seasoned, and served with a homemade au jus. It totally melts in your mouth and was the perfect size for two.
Our server suggested that we try the Ahi Tuna Burger ($11). I’ve ordered this in many other restaurants and it tends to come out dry and tasteless. Their’s is served pan seared medium rare with a Meyer lemon aioli and avocado. It was so juicy, cooked just right and full of flavor.
As we glanced around at the surrounding tables, we noticed everyone had ordered the shoestring fries ($6). I wasn’t leaving this place without them, and I’m glad I didn’t. These were addicting, crispy not greasy and yummy dipped in the honey mustard sauce. Plenty for a table of four!
However, for me the real hit of the day was the English & snap peas with toasted garlic and Thai basil ($6). As Chef Kalman told us, they purchase all their produce from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. The peas must have been picked that day. The dish is prepared so simply and the flavor and freshness of the peas shined through. I would return just for this dish.
I was awestruck at what Chef Kalman could do with vegetables. We ordered the heirloom cherry tomatoes with toasted garlic and herb salad ($6). Again, he allows the tomatoes to be the star of the dish. It’s simply dressed and the garlic and herbs are the perfect contrast to the sweetness of the tomatoes.
For my vegetarian friends I would recommend the spicy chickpea dish ($9) because it’s killer. I could definitely see becoming a vegetarian if I could eat things like this all the time. The chickpea mixture has a real kick to it that you feel in the back of your throat. It’s served with kale leaves, and we composed our wraps with a dollop of chickpea, some cucumber and radish and dunked the whole thing in the pesto sauce.
When you’re serving fresh, high quality ingredients there’s no need to go crazy with sauces and spices. It’s evident that Chef Kalman respects his ingredients, as everything was seasoned with a delicate hand to simply enhance what was on the plate and not overpower it. Not everything though was a winner. Neither Zonia nor I enjoyed the sauteeed greens with blood orange and garlic chips. It happens.
It should also be noted that the service was warm and friendly and very efficient. We felt our business was appreciated. In the ever changing restaurant landscape of Los Angeles, I think The Misfit will do very well.
The Misfit Restaurant + Bar 225 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA
Beginning in 1924, Culver City was home to the famed MGM Studios. Like many of LA’s neighborhoods it lost it’s glow and faded from the spotlight. But, like an aging Hollywood starlet, Culver City got a facelift and it’s definitely made a come-back. As we drove down Culver Boulevard, I marveled at the juxtaposition of upscale restaurants and boutiques against the classic 1920′s Spanish architecture. You could almost see Clark Gable and Judy Garland strolling down this wide boulevard.
I was with my friends Amy and Gail, and at Amy’s suggestion we decided to try a restaurant called Akasha. Built in 1925, the building that houses this restaurant was formerly the first hospital in Culver City. Immediately I’m excited to be here, and as we entered my eyes dart around the restaurant noticing all the vintage features of the building that have been thoughtfully restored.
The food preparation is as thoughtful as the building restoration. Their ingredients are organic, sustainable and obtained from local growers. I have several friends who are vegetarians, and this would be the perfect place to bring them, as they offer a large selection of deliciously sounding vegetarian dishes. However, today I’m dining with the non-vegetarians. As we always do, one of the dishes we order is the Lemon-Chicken Cobb. This was especially good as the Niman Ranch bacon was very meaty, adding a lot of flavor to the salad that was dressed in a very light, lemon vinaigrette.
Amy ordered the House Pork Belly sandwich normally served with arugula, avocado and tomato chutney. She, however asked to have it prepared with melted gruyere cheese and caramelized onions. It was one of those melty, gooey, full of flavor sandwiches that came with a side of black bean soup . She appreciated that the chef was willing to make the change for her.
I caught a glimpse of the Tandoori Chicken Salad at the table next to me, and decided to order one for myself. It’s prepared with fresh, local greens,and cashews, tossed in a light chutney dressing, and topped with a pappadom (a thin, crisp, Indian flatbread). That’s a salad I would order again, and again.
I always like to support a business that strives to offer the customer the best product they can. That’s very evident at Akasha. They’ve built an entire restaurant that’s environmentally friendly, they support local growers and serve creatively prepared food. The food won me over, and I’ll be back!
Akasha, 9543 Culver Boulevard, Culver City, California 90232
One should not only focus on the final destination, but be aware of and enjoy the road that gets you there. And what a road it is. Let me preface this story by saying it’s Philadelphia blood that runs through my veins, but my heart beats pure “Angeleno”. I love my adopted hometown. It’s a marvelously multi-cultural city that offers so much in terms of culture and things to do. But it is the city’s physical beauty that I never want to take for granted. So, back to “the road”.
My friend Lauren and I are headed today to Santa Monica. The road we are taking to get there is called Malibu Canyon. It’s a winding, two-lane highway that meanders through the Santa Monica mountains and dumps you onto Pacific Coast Highway. I have literally driven this route thousands of times. It’s scenery is a visual image I wish every human being could see, and one you never tire of. As we make our way through the canyon and to the beach, the scenery dramatically changes, but is equally as beautiful. As we drive along PCH, with Santa Monica Beach off to our right, we’re two people who are happy to have been transplanted here.
Our destination today is R + D Kitchen on Santa Monica’s trendy Montana Avenue. This place is owned by a large restaurant group, the people behind Houston’s which had a location in Woodland Hills near my house.I liked Houston’s so I’m not opposed to eating at a chain-owned restaurant if the food is good. And I will say up front, the food was good. Very good.
R + D Kitchen has the welcoming feel of a neighborhood restaurant. It was jam-packed when we were there, but that wasn’t bothersome. The space is modern, open and airy. The service there was very friendly and efficient. The ice tea glass was never empty and that’s always a good sign.
The menu is small, actually unusually small. So, if your offering your customers a limited variety of choices, you better do these dishes extremely well. From what Lauren and I ordered, I think they accomplished that.
Lauren ordered a Seared Tuna Salad with avocado, cucumber, beets and goat cheese. It came with a deviled egg on the side which was a tasty surprise. I ordered a Shrimp Louie which was a more decadent salad. It’s served with four large shrimp on a mound of crunchy iceberg lettuce with a deliciously prepared Louie dressing. It’s surrounded by a variety of cherry and grape tomatoes and avocado. Now I’ve had this salad in dozens of restaurants and it’s not always a winner. It basically comes down to the quality of ingredients. Everything was very fresh, and I really enjoyed this salad.
Next, we ask our perky server what they have for dessert. She says chocolate mousse or carrot cake. Two desserts, surely you jest! Luckily for us we both agree on the carrot cake with mascarpone frosting. Wow, what a hunk of goodness they put in front of us. A moist carrot-y cake with chunks of pecans, and a frosting with just-the-right-amount-of sweetness. Nicely done!
I definitely liked everything about R + D Kitchen. It’s casual, relaxed atmosphere, professional service and well-prepared food makes this a place I will return to in the near future. Especially since the road getting there is so awesome.
It’s been 31 years since I moved to Los Angeles, but I still get excited about living here. A half-hour away from my house and it’s as if I’m in another world. A ninety minute lunch can feel like a mini-vacation, and that’s what this afternoon’s excursion felt like. Today’s partner-in-crime was my friend Kim who I met at my very first job when I moved to LA. We met at a Century City accounting firm where she was the office manager and I was the receptionist. The job lasted 2 months, but the friendship endured over 30 years.
We arrived at the entry to the London West Hollywood, a 3-year old hotel just off the legendary Sunset Strip, and were immediately wowed by it’s sleek and sophisticated lobby. We took the elevator to the Rooftop by Gordon Ramsay and when we exited we were definitely transported to another world. We were greeted by the staff that looked more like a casting call for HBO’s Entourage. This place was more like a movie set than a restaurant. Where were Vinnie and Turtle I wondered. We were on top of the world. The rooftop is surrounded by nothing but plexiglass, and the City of Angels surrounds you on all four sides. In one direction was Century City, in another downtown Los Angeles, and of course the remarkable view of the Hollywood Hills and the Sunset Strip below us. We were not even thinking about food as the view was just overwhelming.
I looked at Kim and said, “this calls for a drink”! I’m not much of a drinker, but they had an amazing choice of signature cocktails. We both ordered the Cucumber Viper; a combination of Tequila, Orange Liquer, cucumber, fresh lime juice and agave nectar. At this point, we truly felt like we were on vacation. As I always like to do, we decided to split several dishes, so we started with the Spinach Salad with Shrimp, Scallops and Avocado. It was not a very big portion, but since we had other dishes coming we overlooked that.
Next we ordered the Short Rib Tacos with Pico de Gallo and Guacamole. It was very good and again a smallish portion, but great if you’ve got that audition for Entourage coming up and you need to keep that trim figure.
The restaurant offers several fresh sushi items so we chose the King Crab Roll. Another very good dish.
But hey, if you’re on vacation you’ve got to order dessert, right? So we did. They brought us the Lemon Tart with Burnt Meringue. As a pastry school graduate, I appreciate a well conceived and executed dessert. This tasted as good as it looked.
So all in all The Rooftop by Gordon Ramsay did not disappoint. The menu, though not large, is very well thought out and has something that will appeal to all diners. Everything is fresh and flavorful and beautifully plated. But it’s the view of the city that is the real winner here. For that brief ninety minutes I felt like I experienced what it is that makes LA that hip, cool place that the rest of America thinks it is.
My good friends Lauren and Cindy have hounded me for so long to make the trip to Huckleberry Cafe & Bakery in Santa Monica. Knowing how I love my bread and pastries, they couldn’t believe that I’d never been there. Since we were going to a vintage clothing fair at the Civic Center, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity. Cue the California sunshine, blue skies and cool breezes. It’s February, the dead of winter everywhere else, and it’s 80 degrees in Santa Monica.
I’m an ambience kind of girl. Yes, the food is the focus, but I love when I walk into a joint, and it makes me feel comfortable and welcome. That’s how I would describe Huckleberry. It was the height of brunch service and the place was packed with hip urban types, young and old. We had to wait a little while to get seated, but once we did, the place was buzzing with a mellow energy.
To place your order one must stand in a long line. But this gave me the chance to view everything on the shelves, counters and cases. Oh Lawdy! Breads and pastries everywhere. Huckleberry makes all their baked goods right there on site. In fact, we could see their pastry chefs kneading their breads as the kitchen was open to public view. I felt like I was at one of the elementary school bake sales I used to go to as a child. Amazing crusty breads and ciabatta’s, hearty cakes, cookies, cupcakes and muffins. See, this is what appeals to me. I’m not a fan of fancy French pastries, I love good ol’ homestyle goodies. Like mama used to bake, right?
As I made my way through this line I was enticed by fresh made salads, rustic sandwiches and baked goods as far as the eye could see. What to do, what to do!!! I finally decided on the cured salmon platter, with red onion, arugula, cucumber and cream cheese on country toast. Good choice. Simple, but so darn good. But, I would have to finish off the meal with a sweet. So I opted for a whole wheat scone. Scones can tend to be dry and crumbly, but this hit the spot.
The girls and I finished our brunch feeling very content as we left, and continued on our way for a fun day of shopping.