Bouchon – Beverly Hills

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

Monsieur Marcel – Ooh La La in La La Land

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.

sautéed leeks & artichoke hearts with St. Loup goat cheese

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.

Endive salad with apples, walnuts & Roquefort cheese with a walnut vinaigrette

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

Plate Malibu

Turkey burger with organic lettuce, tomato, peppers & avocado with sweet potato fries

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.

Ginger Pear Iced Tea

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.

Curry chicken salad in a papaya over organic greens with a honey raspberry vinaigrette.

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.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

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

Akasha Restaurant – Vintage in Culver City

The original architecture of this 1925 building

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.

Vintage architecture against modern furnishings

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.

Lemon-Chicken Cobb Salad

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.

Pork Belly Sandwich on Grilled Sourdough

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.

Delicious Tandoori Chicken Salad with local greens cashews and chutney dressing

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!

Gail & Amy at the entrance to Akasha

Akasha, 9543 Culver Boulevard, Culver City, California 90232

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