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Mamas Gotta Bake
Why is it so hard for me to find good Mexican cuisine in Southern California. I mean, that’s crazy, right. It should be so easy to find here, but I can’t say anything’s knocked my socks off lately. Oh, until today. Palmilla Cocina y Tequila is a great little gem of a restaurant right on the pier in Hermosa Beach. I went with a friend today for their Sunday brunch. Executive Chef Christina Cipres is all about the flavor. If I closed my eyes I would have thought I was on the beach in Cabo because the flavors are fresh and authentic, from the cocktails to the house-made desserts.
We sat outside on their patio which is the way to go if the weather is good, because it’s excellent people watching as well as enjoying the cool ocean breezes. They nailed me right off the bat with their Bunuelos, homemade tortilla chips tossed in cinnamon sugar and drizzled with chipotle-mint honey. I think of all the other Mexican restaurants that serve those packaged tortilla chips and run-of-the-mill salsas. All I can say is, shame on you!
They have a great bar menu including a vast tequila selection, agua frescas, fresh juices and a build your own mimosa option. We ordered the Watermelon, Ginger & Hibiscus Agua Fresca (with tons of fresh ginger bits) which was light and refreshing as well as the Traditional Bloody Mary ($9) which was anything but traditional. Just check out the array of spices around the rim of that glass. Awesome.
But I haven’t told you about the food yet, and that was the best part. Chef Cipres takes Mexican cuisine to a whole ‘nuther level. For me, I would describe the dishes as homey comfort food with a great layering of flavors and textures, that bring out the best in Latin spices. The presentation is creative and the plating nicely finessed. A dish you must order is the Crab Benedict Croquette ($16) which is two perfectly poached eggs atop sweet potato croquettes with dungeness crab and a to-die-for adobo hollandaise sauce. I would also recommend the Papas Rajas Hash with Chorizo ($12). They serve it in a mini skillet with three sauces and three house made tortillas, it was easily enough for several people.
But wait, there’s more. The flavor doesn’t stop there, because you’ve gotta have dessert. To accompany our Lavazza Coffee ($4) which was excellent, we had the bread pudding and the deliciously crispy, crunchy churros with two dipping sauces.
Mama loves attention to detail, and the folks at Palmilla Cocina have put as much thought into their decor as they have their food. Once inside the restaurant you feel transported to a far off exotic location.. The room is illuminated in a soft golden glow from the handmade chandeliers on the ceiling. Artistic tiles and chains adorn the walls and give the space a hip, ethnic vibe. I don’t think it’s a place I would bring the kids, but it’s certainly perfect for a fun, girls night out.
And here’s the best part of all. When all is said and done, and you can’t eat another bite, even though you want to…you can go walk it off on the beach which is 10, okay, 15 steps away from the restaurant. I should add that the service was extremely friendly, attentive and efficient and parking wasn’t a problem since there are public lots in the immediate area.
Palmilla Cocina y Tequila 39 Pier Avenue, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254 (310) 374-4440
So here’s the strategy before you go to MB Post in Manhattan Beach, California, do not eat the day before. It’s comfort food extraordinaire, just liked you mama would have made if she’d been a world-class chef.
My husband and I were invited down to Manhattan Beach for Sunday brunch with our good friends L & L. “L” (the husband from the team of L & L) is quite the culinary explorer. He introduces us to many of the tasty and interesting restaurants the city has to offer that we may not have otherwise found on our own. They had been to MB Post for brunch before, and they thought we would enjoy the experience also.
It was tough to get a reservation, but we were able to get a table at 10am when they opened their doors. By 9:45 there was a line half-way around the block so I knew sumthin’ was up. By 10:15 every seat in the joint was filled. Our server, a totally laid back “dude”, told us they served small plates and that each person may want to order 2 dishes each. With all due respect to the dude, no way could anybody eat two dishes a piece. The dishes are saucy, cheesy, sweet and decadent. But man, they taste good. The Pecan & Brown Sugar Sticky Bun ($6) which luxuriates in it’s own sauce, was enough for all of us to split. We followed that up with the house-made Ricotta Stuffed French Toast ($12).
The house-made Trout Lox with Dill Cream Cheese, Capers and Cucumbers ($12) was a perfect counterpoint to the previous two dishes. Just the right amount of saltiness to bring me down from the sugar high. Another excellent dish was the Poached Egg with Tomato & White Bean Ragout and Creamy Polenta ($13) but it was large enough to serve a family of four and their pet chihuahua.
The interior of MB Post is warm and welcoming just like its food. A little industrial, rustic and casual with lots of rough hewn wood throughout the restaurant, which is really quite perfect for this mellowed-out little California beach town.
And here’s the best part of all, after you’ve consumed enough calories for the next three weeks, you can go walk it off at the Manhattan Beach Pier which is about a half block away.
Manhattan Beach Post – 1142 Manhattan Avenue, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266 (310) 545-5405
Having lived in Los Angeles for 33 years, I’m only now beginning to discover the rich history and diverse culture that the city has to offer. Downtown LA’s Grand Central Market puts you on sensory overload. The market, which has been in continuous operation since 1917, is 30,000 square feet of high energy sights, sounds, and smells (and I mean that in a good way) as well as a multi-cultural clientele. It’s got a little something for everybody. The marketplace offers fresh produce booths, gourmet coffee, juices and cheese, bakeries, as well as authentic style Mexican and Chinese restaurants, just to name a few.
The marketplace has a large multi-story parking lot attached to it, so it made accessing the whole downtown experience convenient and enjoyable. The first hour of parking was free with validation, so your afternoon outing doesn’t have to break the bank.
Accompanying me on this adventure was my partner-in-culinary crime, Gail. By 1pm it was time to make the decision where to sit down and eat because that was certainly the focus of this foray. Looking over the list of restaurants in the market, we both looked at each other and simultaneously said “Egg Slut of course”! Why, because I am an egg slut. I love them fried, poached, deviled and scrambled, and I’m a firm believer everything is better with an egg on it. Little did we know how deliciously nasty Egg Slut would be!
I ordered the Avo Burger, a 1/3 pound hamburger patty on a house-made brioche bun that’s toasted to perfection. They add cheddar, fresh avocado, caramelized onions, and, wait for it, yes an organic fried egg. I tried to look lady-like as I ate this, I just hope no one was looking. Gail had the Fairfax, which was soft-scrambled eggs with caramelized onions, cheddar, chives and Sriracha mayo on the homiest of biscuits.
However, after lunch it seemed our downtown Los Angeles history lesson was still not over. Directly across the street from the Grand Central Market is the Angel’s Flight Railway. Built in 1901, it’s called “the world’s shortest railway at only 298 feet. Costing only 50 cents to ride, it connects Hill Street with Grand, and was an iconic ending to the perfect day.
Grand Central Market – 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles CA 90013 (213) 624-2378
Connie & Ted’s is not your mama’s crab shack, but a wicked awesome experience that combines fresh, high quality seafood expertly prepared, efficient and friendly service and stunning architecture. Everything is so well thought out, even right down to the little sugar containers. My friend Gail and I had been assisting a friend on a catering job and hadn’t had a chance to eat that day. As we were heading home down Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of West Hollywood we could feel Connie and Ted just calling out to us. The facade of the restaurant resembles the hull of a ship (at least that what it looks like to me) and there’s creative nautical touches everywhere. Yet the space is open, modern and very inviting.
When we were presented with the menu, we literally couldn’t make a choice because everything looked so darn good. We could see the servers whizzing by with large plates of fresh oysters, clams and uni. They serve three kinds of chowda’, crispy fish & chips, steamers, and, if you really don’t like fish (shame on you) they have the Hook Burger, with or without bacon.
This is the perfect place to go with a group, that way everyone can order something different and you can share. However, it was just me and Gail so the pressure was on to pick something. The Lobster Roll ($24) seemed like the obvious choice. It’s served hot or cold, with butter or mayo. Pure and simple, just sweet, fresh lobster, a little mayo and the perfectly toasted bun. The massive side of fries were pretty amazing too. We also split Nancy’s Peeky Toe Crab Cake ($14). For sheer perfection, one must get the correct proportions of crab cake, tartar sauce and coleslaw all on the fork at once.
They offered a great selection of desserts, but we were struck by the Cornmeal & Molasses Indian Pudding. Because we had never heard of it before, we decided to order that. I can only liken it to sitting in front of a fire with big, fuzzy slippers on, on a cold winter’s day. It’s warm and cozy, and yes, just downright wicked awesome. That dessert, and Lamills coffee sealed the deal. I’m going back.
They’ve got a very lively bar scene there, and a large outdoor patio. I imagine it’s perfect for weekend brunches with a group of friends, or for just watching the traffic go by on Santa Monica Boulevard. Connie & Ted’s has their own valet parking lot on the premises. It is $7.00 but then inner city parking does come at a price.
Connie & Ted’s 8171 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90046 (323) 848-2722
I suppose food is my hobby, and, a hobby that I’m quite passionate about. I love everything about food. I love to make it, photograph it, write about it, talk endlessly about it, meet chefs, talks to chefs, and to travel far and wide to find the best products and dishes a gal can eat. If someone told me they had found the best ice cream, pizza or sushi, then I make it my mission to search out that place and see for my self what the brouhaha is all about.
Recently I turned to my friend Gail, as we were out on one of our weekly culinary re-con missions, and asked her, “are you willing to drive over an hour for what I hear is incredible bread and some seriously good coffee?” She quickly gave me the thumbs up. So, off we went, barreling down the 101 freeway headed towards downtown Los Angeles through some pretty gnarly traffic; which we call just an average day here in the City of Angels. I had heard from some of my carbohydrately obsessed friends that there was a bakery/cafe on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles that baked some of the best breads and pastries this side of the LA River. My, but I was intrigued. As we drove, my small car sandwiched in between semi’s and eighteen wheelers making so much racket that we couldn’t even communicate with each other, we wondered if we were both out of our minds to continue this quest. But continue we did.
Bread Lounge is located in the “Arts” district in downtown Los Angeles. The super good news is that there’s a free parking lot located in the back of the restaurant. The restaurant is small and somewhat industrial looking, yet it still has a warm ambience to it, which was probably due to the lively youthful crowd that was spilling out the door and down the street. I guess the word has gotten out about their amazing goodies. I am told that owner/baker Ran Zimon learned his craft in Israeli bakeries. As Gail and I stood in line waiting to order, we grabbed jars of homemade preserves with flavors like Peach-Mango-Passionfruit and packages of boxed cookies ready to go. For a small joint, the selection was pretty vast. They offer fresh made salads, paninis, and sandwiches made on the most awesome of baguettes and breads. I ordered the Smoked Salmon Sandwich and the Roasted Beet Salad with Chicken, both excellent choices.
But the best was yet to come. Gail and I ordered a cross-section of The Bread Lounge’s flakey pastries such as their custard filled timbale, chocolate croissant and pain au raisin. I guess what I’m telling you is, if you’re as obsessed with authentic French-style pastry as I am, then you must make the trek to the Bread Lounge.
The Bread Lounge – 700 S. Santa Fe Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90021
But what good is pastry without a good cup of coffee, am I right? Recently I had dinner at a restaurant called Red Medicine. I usually find restaurant coffee overly bitter or just plain watered-down, but the coffee they served tasted just like, well, coffee. Imagine that. Really, what’s a girl gotta do to get a good cup of joe in this town. I was told the brand they serve was called Handsome Coffee Roasters. Okay, so now I had to figure out how to get my hands on a bag of these beans. After doing a little research I discovered that their coffee roasting facility was in downtown Los Angeles and just a few blocks from Bread Lounge. Yay, must be karma. Good bread and good coffee in one easy downtown location!
As Gail and I made our way to the entry of Handsome Coffee Roasters we had to fight our way through lights, cameras and dozens of “extras” dressed in winter clothing although it was 85 degrees in Los Angeles. Only in LA. The facility was closed because they were filming an episode of ABC’s Castle that day. We would not be deterred. After some cajoling, and a lot of tears, the manager told us to go around to the alley and he would sell us some coffee. It was actually kind of cool because they allowed us to see all the behind-the-scenes equipment and just how the coffee is roasted.
So, happily we scored ourselves of couple of bags of coffee and we were on our way. Now I can enjoy a great cup of Handsome coffee each day in the privacy of my own home. So, for those of you who don’t live in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area, just go to your computer and order online.
Handsome Coffee Roasters – 582 Mateo Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Sometimes I think you all get tired of me saying it, but I really do think Los Angeles is a city with so much to offer. Since plopping myself down here 32 years ago, I feel as though I’ve been on a constant vacation. It’s not just Kardashians and Justin Bieber here in the City of Angels, but a wide array of spectacular cultural activities. The one place at the top of my list for anyone to visit, whether you live locally or are visiting from out-of-town is the Getty Museum.
Guys, go visit just for the architecture alone. Flawlessly designed by Richard Meier, it boasts 16,000 tons of stunning travertine stone imported from Italy, gardens, fountains and an outstanding collection of art from the Middle Ages to present time. My personal favorite is the Renaissance Art…just sayin’. The campus is so expansive, you never at any time feel as though it’s crowded. Admission to the museum is free, but parking is $15.00. Guests are shuttled from the parking lot up to the museum by a nifty little train, so they make it very easy for you to get around.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, you guessed it…there’s a restaurant there. The Restaurant at the Getty melds perfectly with the museum itself. It’s walls of glass expose the view of the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains. The food is fresh, modern and artistically prepared. It’s really very civilized. White tablecloths, shimmering glassware and a very attentive staff make it an extremely enjoyable experience. As soon as we were seated a plate of fresh breads and olive tapenade were placed on the table, and between the four of us, it was gone in 3 minutes. So they brought more.
We all tried to order something different, and passed the dishes around the table so everyone could have a taste. We started off with the Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Toasted Croutons. It was fresh and flavorful, and so we gave it a thumbs up.
A group favorite was the English Pea Risotto. It was the perfect springtime dish as it was light in flavor and not overly rich like a risotto can tend to be.
We followed up with two salads. As I order Cobb salads everywhere I go I consider myself a bit of an expert on the Cobb and this one was great. The other salad was a Roasted Beet Salad with Toasted Pistachios, which I have to say had so many really tasty elements in it.
Since the four of us are major sweets eaters, we had to end the lunch with a bit of dessert. We didn’t feel guilty since you definitely will walk off your meal at the museum, so we ordered the Citrus Tart with Edible Flowers. I can’t say that I ever had edible flowers before, but it made for a lovely presentation. Appetizers at The Restaurant range from $9 to $16 and entrees were $17 to $28. I have spent more on meals at other Los Angeles restaurants that were not as good as this. Between the museum and the restaurant, it’s really a very special day. I hope you’ll get a chance to check it out some time.
The Getty Museum 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles CA 90049 310-440-6810
The Inn of the Seventh Ray in LA’s Topanga Canyon is literally nestled amidst centuries old trees, flora and fauna of every kind, waterfalls and a babbling brook. It seems to exist in the land that time forgot. When one enters the canyon, either from the 101 freeway in the San Fernando Valley, or from Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, you enter a “zen” zone. It’s a community that seems to be stuck in the late sixties, and I say that in a good way. A very good way.
We entered the restaurant on this warm March day through wrought iron gates and made our way down a brick spiral stair; sun shining, birds chirping and New Age music playing quietly in the background. The restaurant exudes a positive vibe as it combines both nature and it’s natural approach to dining. *Note- they even had “fair trade” sugar packets on the table.
We chose a table right next to the creek that runs alongside the restaurant. I’ve dined outside many times before, but usually on a busy street all the while inhaling car fumes. I kinda didn’t care how the food tasted because I was just enjoying the peace and tranquility of this environment and breathing the fresh air. As we sat, our server brought us a basket of bread and told us that all their baked goods are made in-house using only organic grains and without refined sugar or bleached flour. Within seconds, Gail and I had finished the bread and were looking for more.
We started with their homemade tomato soup ($9) which I would describe as subtle in flavor, not overly-tomato like, but very natural. It was a large portion and could have been a meal in itself.
On their lunch menu they offer four salads. We chose the trio of roasted beets, with watercress, Forme de amber Bleu Cheese (not overly pungent), candied walnuts and walnut oil. ($15) If you like beets, I would highly recommend this dish as it was a great combination of flavors, perfectly roasted beets and plenty for two people to share.
Feeling like I needed a little carbohydrate, we decided to order one of their flatbreads. We ordered the wild mushroom with organic spinach, creme fraiche and gruyere cheese ($14). The homemade flatbread had a nice crunch to it, as well as being gooey and cheesey, with large, plump mushrooms bursting out under the spinach.
Being as dessert obsessed as I am, I couldn’t wait to see what they had to offer. There were five “healthy” sounding choices, but we opted for the blueberry financier cake with ginger ice cream and blueberry creme fraiche ($9). This was the one times I wished I wasn’t sharing with Gail. This was some serious comfort food without being overly sweet and cloying. We thought the overall meal was amazing, proving that food tastes better without food colorings, preservatives and refined sugar. The food at the Inn of the Seventh Ray peacefully co-exists with the environment. When you dine here, you can leave your Xanax at home.
But the day doesn’t end there. A visit to Topanga Canyon is a great little day trip. Wear your bell-bottoms and fringed jackets and you’ll fit in perfectly. Men with pony-tails, welcomed! The canyon is filled with a great array of antique stores, gourmet food shops, and funky clothing stores, not to mention the canyon’s ethereal beauty. And by the way, everywhere I went I saw Buddha heads, and I found myself calling everyone “man” and “dude”.
As we headed back to the San Fernando Valley and 2012, there was still one more treat. You can pull off the side of the road at the top of Topanga Canyon and below is a spectacular view of the valley. Just stand there and take it all in. OHM!
The Inn of the Seventh Ray 128 Old Topanga Canyon Road, Topanga CA 90290
I felt just like a kid in a candy store when I walked into Bottega Louie in downtown LA today. As you enter the restaurant, you are immediately hit with an array of tantalizing cakes, cookies, candies and confections, boxes and bows. It was sensory overload, a real-life Charlie and the Chocolate Factory experience. There were endless rows of glass cases filled with the most beautifully crafted French pastries, and a sea of pastel colored macarons as far as the eye could see. I fear not the carbohydrate, so I boldly entered and made my way to our table accompanied by my friends “the pastry girls”.
Before you get to the seating area you pass an open kitchen where you can view the chefs feverishly cooking and waiters buzzing and whirring about a mile a minute. Everyone’s attired in crisp white shirts and black ties. The seating area is a grand space; soaring ceilings with intricate crown moldings and stark white walls that act as the perfect canvas for all the brightly colored confections. A wall of floor to ceiling windows lets the light stream in and creates a warm environment.
At the back of the restaurant is an open area with a pizza oven where diners can watch the cooks prepare the large variety of pizzas they serve. So about the pizza. We ordered the Bianco Pizza ($18) with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, roasted garlic and arugula. Everyone kind of looked at each other quite disappointed. It was cheesey, but not in a good way, it was actually pretty soggy and the crust was not crisp at all. We think maybe we chose the wrong pizza, so next time I think I would select a pizza with a red sauce and hope for better results.
I did though, enjoy the Portobello fries ($10). The fries had a crispy, crunchy breading on them and it’s served with a basil aioli which was so good we put it on the pizza.
We also ordered the Lyonnaise Salad ($12) with frisee, watercress, shallots, chives, lardons and poached egg with a warm red wine vinaigrette. Had I not had the same salad at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon a week before, I may have liked this one better, but it greatly lacked seasoning and an abundance of oil seemed to drown out a lot of the flavor. Since Bottega Louie is a bakery, I hoped this would have been accompanied by some crusty French bread, but it wasn’t.
My favorite sandwich has always been the club sandwich ($12). I had high hopes that Bottega Louie would nail this one..but they didn’t. They’ve added hard-boiled eggs to their version. Maybe it’s my own personal taste, but for me it just killed the essence of a club sandwich. Again, maybe it’s just personal taste, but the homemade potato chips had no seasoning whatsoever. Some salt would have made these terrific.
I want to add that the service was extremely friendly and efficient. I love the environment they’ve created here. It’s light and bright, and a virtual feast for the eyes. If you love French breads, pastries and confections as much as I do, then this is a destination for you. I don’t know of another place in Los Angeles that has the variety and selection that Bottega Louie has. On my way out I did stop at the bakery section and purchased several items to go, and they were superb.
Bottega Louie 700 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles 90017 (213) 802-1470
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