Last Meal in LA

March 7, 2016

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So where do you go for your last LA meal?  We wanted delicious food, of course, but we also wanted a place where a large group could talk, a place that wasn’t too expensive, a place that would be fun.

Adana, in Glendale, Jonathan decided, would be perfect.

And it was.  Except that before we were done the six foot long table was covered with dishes and the food just kept coming.  We were piling them on top of one another, laughing, eating for hours. You see here the merest fraction….

The problem? I wanted to eat everything.

The tabbouli above -more parsley than grain – and the finest I’ve ever eaten

IMG_7601Eggplant is done in a dozen different ways. This murtabagh, smoky and creamy, was my favorite.

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Or did I like this one better?  Kashk e bademjan: sliced eggplant topped with labnah and crisp, fragrant, frizzles of caramelized onion.

IMG_7604And then there was this, an Armenian version with tomatoes, garlic and peppers  called igra,

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The cheese platter came with a condiment that was a tangle of salty olives, slick oil and spices.  Completely irresistible.

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The meats were all beautifully cooked, but the tender, juicy chicken took my breath away. When was the last time you had chicken kebabs that weren’t dry? The lamb chops – just a few fine bites apeice – were excellent, as was the filet.  You order the ground spiced beef, koobideh kabo for the pure pleasure of saying the words, and then you enjoy the somersault of flavors: this is minced meat to reckon with.

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Two platters of basmati rice. One with sour cherries, the other with candied orange peel. Each is so seductive that trying to choose one over the other is a fruitless task.

I have to admit that at a certain point I gave into the food, stopped taking pictures and simply enjoyed it. There was too much, and it was all too tasty.  So you’ll have to take my word for the fact that the mint tea – a pure infusion – is the perfect ending, along with the dry and peculiarly appealing “honey cake.”

Leaving LA isn’t easy. This meal -shared with people I love – didn’t make it any easier.

But on Wednesday I’ll be in Detroit. And I’m looking forward to that.

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Cassia, the restaurant, not the herb

March 5, 2016

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Oh no!

That was my first thought on walking into Cassia.  The huge room was roaring with sound, which bounced off the walls, and ricocheted off the tables until I wanted to flee. And yet…. everyone in the place seemed to be having such a good time that I sat down, had a glass of Gruner and tried to relax.

Then the food began to arrive, and it was so damn good I forgot that the woman at the next table had that irritating laugh and I couldn’t hear anyone at my own table.  The seafood platter – I expected the usual tower of raw seafood – was so irresistibly idiosyncratic that I was instantly charmed. First there were the “Vietnamese sunbathing prawns” bathed in chiles, garlic and hot sauce, the heads completely seductive. There were raw scallops in a tangle of peas, dried shrimp and chiles, and a smoked salmon dip that took smoked salmon straight out of loxland.  And those herbs….

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Custard with sea urchin and braised mushrooms – that’s the deliriously delicious spoonful at the top. I love uni chawan mushi, but it’s always seemed slightly twee.  This one wasn’t.

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Jellyfish salad with shredded chicken, crispy rice and sesame bacon dressing. For a texture freak like me: pure heaven.

 

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Spreads to accompany those great flat breads: chickpea curry, surprisingly classic. Chopped snails, a Vietnamese twist on the classic French escargots, and a trip into textureville.  As for that pate – it’s got an Asian twist and is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted.

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Whole grilled sea bass bathed in turmeric, dill, lime, scattered with herbs – and pretty perfect.

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Applewood roasted duck. The best part is hiding underneath: noodles and pickled Chinese cabbage.

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Grilled spicy lamb breast with Sichuan peppercorn, cumin, jasmine rice, sesame sauce. Oh come on!  The chef couldn’t resist, but  lamb breast has the fat and flavor to stand up to just about anything you throw on it. Fantastically flavorful.

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And then, at the end, the most wonderful little coffee pot de creme, served in a cup. Just the thing to linger over. By this point in the evening the room was starting to empty out, the woman with the bad laugh had left, and we could finally have a conversation. What did we talk about?  The food, of course.  It had been such a satisfying meal.

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Best Bites at Sushi Tsujita

March 4, 2016

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Had a long and lovely omakase lunch at the extremely serene Sushi Tsujita the other day.  That braided kohada was one of the highlights.

So was the finale: soft, sweet anago and a square of tamago that had just a hint of fish ground into the omelet.

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In between were a couple of memorable moments, like this fascinating mingle of chewy jellyfish, crisp fresh bamboo shoot and tiny tender mushrooms in a green tea miso sauce.

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I’ve always loved sayori, for its clean flavor and crisp texture, and this bite was especially appealing.

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And how could I possibly resist this?

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Three Ambitious Courses: Thirty-Seven Bucks

March 3, 2016

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Everything about Papilles was a surprise.

To start with, there’s the location in a minimall on a difficult stretch of Franklin Avenue, almost underneath the 101 overpass, and just past the on-ramp.  By the time you turn into the parking lot you feel you’ve been in some kind of crazy collision car chase.

Then you park, noticing with some dismay the stores surrounding the restaurant. Are you really in the right place?

And then you open the door.

Some of the best meals I’ve eaten have been in minuscule Paris restaurants whose chefs decided they were tired of feeding rich tourists. They stopped shooting for the stars, decamped to little storefront places in unimpressive arrondissements, lowered their prices and their expectations. Papilles feel like part of the bistronomie movement. The menu’s a flimsy sheet of paper, the tables are tiny, the chairs mismatched. And should you want a bottle of wine it’s probably on the shelf behind your chair.

You are, for all intents and purposes, eating in the kitchen.  Or perhaps the chef is cooking in the dining room.  You’re all in this together.

But the ambitious menu (and the interesting wine list), tell you that the owners are not novices. Chef Tim Carey worked at Patina; his partner Santos Uy was a sommelier at AOC.  They intend to feed you well. And generously; there is nothing mingy about these portions.

This was the menu a few nights ago:

Prix Fixe $37
First, Main, Dessert

First
Mustard Frills, Shaved Vegetables, Citrus, Pecans, Manchego
Nettle Velouté, Pickeld Cauliflower, Spiced Pepitas
Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Uni, Trout Roe, Brown Butter +5
Chicken Liver Mousse, Brioche, Raisin Gastrique
Foie Gras Torchon, Orange, Guava +13

Main
Monk Fish, Bok Choy, Radish, Dashi Broth +3
Flat Iron Steak, Broccolini, Spring Garlic, Flowering Rapini

Dessert
Selection of Cheeses +5
Meyer Lemon Curd Tart
Butterscotch Pot de Crème, Cajeta

The picture at the top is the panna cotta, a riff on a famous Robuchon dish.  I would have liked it served in a smaller, deeper pot so the proportions were heavier on the panna cotta, but you can’t argue with generosity.  The flavors are intense, the cauliflower and cream taming the trout roe and framing the sea urchin.  I’d happily have eaten two.

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The foie gras was a huge slab – and that orange cream on the side an inspired touch.  Definitely worth the extra money.

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“You’re not making much on this dish,” I said to the chef.  He looked rueful. “You’re right,” he sighed, “but it’s not often I see such lovely monkfish.” He cooked it so carefully that the fantastic texture of the fish (it used to be called “poor man’s lobster”) was emphasized.  I loved the bit of rouille on toast. The crispness of the vegetables. And that dashi broth?  Beautiful.  Eating this I remembered that the chef started out as a fish monger- and likes to go fishing in his spare time.

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But he has a good hand with meat as well. This was a fine piece of beef – beautifully cooked – and crowned with that splendid bouquet of rapini flowers.

Desserts? Both simple. Both splendid. I’ll be back.

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A Little Taste of LA

March 2, 2016

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These snails – from Petit Trois – are among the most delicious things I’ve eaten in the past few days. I couldn’t stop mopping up the intense butter and garlic sauce with the restaurant’s fantastic bread.  And then there was this irresistible potato cake- crisp on the outside, soft inside, with a buttery golden flavor.

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Other memorable bites over the past few days: the boat noodles at Sapp, a modest  coffee shop in Hollywood. This is Thai comfort food at its murky best, a bowl of noodles containing beef, tripe, liver and assorted animal parts, along with chiles, cilantro, fish balls….  Rich and soothing at the same time, it’s just what you need when you’re feeling slightly out of sorts.

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Should you want something a little less intense, try the jade noodles: crab, duck, pork, lime and… sugar?

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In the mood for something more opulent?  The felafel at the soaring new Otium, downtown next to the Broad Museum, is as satisfying as it is pretty. Love those pickled baby eggplant!

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This next was probably my single favorite bite all week.  It was a special at one of my favorite restaurants, Jar.  Old-school American food – steaks, chops, a terrific pot roast – modernized and served in what may be LA’s most comfortable restaurant. This geoduck -giant clam – was a special last week.  It’s got a pure, clean flavor and an appealing crunch. I liked it so much I ordered another portion.

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Went to Vincenti the other night. Wonderful food.  Lovely service.  An old fashioned restaurant where you can actually have a conversation. My favorite dish? This squid ink pasta topped with sea urchin.

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And then, just because it’s so pretty, a bit of borage from the Hollywood farmer’s market.

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Tomorrow – a lovely meal, and a true bargain – in Hollywood.  Three delicious courses of ambitious food for $37.

Stay tuned.

 

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