Friday, July 29, 2011

Westwood: Gastrobus

Friday lunch found me, Sophie, Jon and David in the Court of Sciences, where we got sandwiches from the Gastrobus food truck.  The pulled pork sandwich was satisfyingly large and juicy, with the pickled onions being a crucial flavor element.  Sophie ordered and approved of her fried egg sandwich, a vegetarian option.  The sweet potato fries (served with some sort of aioli) were crisp and lightly salted, and the other side dish of green beans and tomatoes looked reasonably fresh.

Pulled pork sandwich, soda and sweet potato fries

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Strawberry ricotta scones

SmittenKitchen's post on whole wheat raspberry scones got me to make scones last Thursday night, and now I feel like I should make scones for breakfast more often.  I followed SmittenKitchen's general proportions but replaced the raspberries with 1.5 cups of diced strawberries, and I used all white flour instead of half white / half wheat just because I didn't feel like lugging wheat flour from the supermarket in addition to other groceries.  The dough is indeed quite sticky and loose, but with some cajoling was shaped, sliced into wedges, and frozen on a baking sheet.

On Friday morning, I brought the scones to Coffee Club at Sophie's apartment, where we baked them and then consumed them alongside homemade chai tea prepared by our hostess.  Crumbly, fruity scones and spicy, milky tea: that is a great start to the day.

En route to Sophie's

Post-baking, pre-consumption

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weekday dinner: stomach recovery edition

Sometime between the weekend before last and last Tuesday, I developed a near-constant stomachache that was just low-grade enough for the foodie in me to persevere.  In context, though, the trip to Canter's Deli may have been slightly unwise, and Wednesday found me with very little appetite.   Sustenance being important regardless of appetite (or lack of), I composed a dinner that was not exactly bland as is typically recommended for upset stomachs, but was somewhat attractive and quite nutritious.

Eggplant sauteed with shallots, tomato roasted with garlic, plain toast, an egg over medium, fresh mango with almonds, and herbal tea.  I don't know whether this dinner helped or not, but I don't think it hurt, since I was almost back to 100% the next day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

West Hollywood: Canter's Deli

Well, I can now say that I've been to the LA institution known as Canter's Deli, since it was (thanks to Jesse) the site of our third group dinner last Tuesday night.  Canter's is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and the interior looks like it hasn't changed much since 1931.  We took up two booths, facing each other, in the back corner of the restaurant.

Being overwhelmed by the large menu, I went with the semi-familiar corned beef Reuben, which comes with potato chips by default.

Here is David's "Downtowner," with cole slaw (the latter being a little bland):

And Sophie's avocado melt, with steak fries:

Sandwiches are in the $11-13 range if I remember correctly; my guess is that there's some sort of LA institution premium.  Deli food isn't my favorite gastronomical genre, but I liked my Reuben well enough for what it is: an excuse to eat a large amount of corned beef or pastrami, on toasty bread with cheese.  At some point I do want to return to Canter's to try some of their very appealing (and, in many cases, oversized) bakery items, including the assorted rugelach.  Parking on Fairfax tends to be challenging, but fortunately Canter's has a private lot.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Carmageddon Commemoration part 2: lemon sables and oatmeal cookies

After dinner at Sunnin, we all headed back to Westwood and reconvened at my apartment for wine and dessert.  On Friday night I had prepared two types of cookie dough: lemon sables (Amanda Hesser's recipe, which another blogger has written about here) and oatmeal cookies (a tried-and-true recipe from Andrew).  I went ahead and baked the lemon sables on Friday, given that their flavor apparently improves after a couple days.  Although Meyer lemons would certainly have been better, regular lemons worked well enough; I added an undefined amount of extra lemon zest to compensate.

No pictures of the oatmeal cookies, sadly.  Those were baked during the gathering on Saturday night, since I think they're particularly good when warm.  All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate Carmageddon than with cookies, wine, music, and new friends.


Notes for next time: As of Monday July 18, I can confirm that the sables do indeed improve after a couple days.  I suppose planning ahead would help ensure that these cookies are served at their best.

Carmageddon Commemoration part 1: Sunnin Lebanese

This past Saturday, my classmates and I had planned to have a BBQ but were foiled by nonfunctional grills.  So instead, we all walked down Westwood Blvd to Sunnin Lebanese, where I first ate back in April during revisit weekend and know to be a great (and reasonable) choice.  Based on my phone calls to Sunnin, they favor same-day reservations, and they readily gave our group of nine a 6:30pm table.

Sunnin serves Turkish coffee (in little pink-flowered cups), of which Jesse and Jon partook and approved.  We all started off by sharing two orders of the rekakat, which is phyllo dough filled with feta, onions and parsley.  Essentially Mediterranean spring rolls, and certainly tasty.

About half the table went for the ouzi (rice with ground beef and pine nuts, seasoned with allspice and topped with either lamb or chicken), which comes with a little dish of yogurt.  Honey is available on request in case, like Hua and Jon, you prefer your yogurt as a dessert.  The ouzi is rich, satisfying, and comes in a large portion that easily provides two meals.  The lamb or chicken on top is unseasoned, so make sure to eat it in conjunction with the flavorful rice.

Other entrees at the table included the chicken shawerma, falafel (in both plate and sandwich form), and chicken kabob.  All were good, with the one fault being a somewhat leaky/soggy pita in the falafel sandwich.

Chicken shawerma
Falafel plate

Baskets of pita were also placed on the table but seemed unnecessary, so we ended up bringing most of it home along with our leftovers.  I disagree with Yelp's "not good for groups" designation; our servers were very friendly and accommodating, despite being visibly rushed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Westwood: Acapulco

Last Monday night, I walked from lab directly to an M1-M2 bonding dinner at Acapulco, which is apparently popular for its 2-for-1 Margarita Monday special.  I stuck with just one margarita: pineapple coconut, which turned out to be extremely sweet.  As for the food, it was better than I expected (given my preconceived notions about a margarita-centric establishment).  Chips, salsa, and guacamole to start, about which I rarely have complaints:

I ordered the quesadilla de camarones (shrimp), which arrived in pieces and seemed to be pan-fried.  To accompany, rice, some sauteed vegetables, and a little dollop of guacamole.  There was also some unexpected spice in the quesadilla, and the shrimp were pretty good (not mushy).

Continuing with the shrimp motif, Hua ordered and liked the enchilada de camarones.  I tried a bite and shared her positive verdict.

To my right, ZeNan ordered the steak fajitas, which are served on a fun warmer:

For dessert, Martin, Jesse and Sophie shared the fried ice cream, which comes in an enormous margarita glass and is surrounded by fried tortillas dusted in cinnamon sugar.

ZeNan and I decided to order the flan.  Satisfyingly smooth and - like the margaritas - very sweet, but after all, flan is caramel custard (and who ever heard of not-sweet caramel)?

Plenty of entertaining and enlightening conversation to go with all the food and the sugar highs, and just like that, three hours went by.

Monday, July 18, 2011

West Hollywood: Griddle Cafe

The Sunday before last at 8:15am found me and fellow morning person David at The Griddle Cafe, a West Hollywood institution popular enough that when we arrived, 15 minutes after opening time, the restaurant was already mostly full.  Griddle is quite unassuming as far as appearances go, with a worn-down, diner-like atmosphere.  There are booths along the wall, tables in the middle, and a U-shaped bar that takes up about half the room.

Coffee is served in French presses, but I didn't want *that* much caffeine, so I went for a latte instead.  David's hot chocolate was quite pretty:

The pancakes and French toasts here are known for being epic in both preparation style (just check out the first few pages of the menu) and, especially for the pancakes, exceptional size.  We decided to share one "Mounds of Pleasure" pancake - coconut and chocolate-filled with whipped cream on top - and the "Mom's French Toast," which doesn't have any fillings or toppings.  Behold:

Both the pancake and French toast were excellent, with the former being a sugar-high-on-a-plate and actually wider than the plate, and the latter seeming moderate by comparison.  Each table has a bottle of real maple syrup, which is nice (though hopefully only useful for the plain French toast).  I have no idea how anyone could finish even a single pancake on their own!  David and I gave our best effort, which resulted in consumption of ~60% of the pancake and ~75% of the French toast.

Service is efficient; we didn't feel at all rushed, but were out the door at 9:00am.  Sharing is definitely the key to survival at Griddle.  If I went with a group (and showed up promptly at opening in order to get one of the booths), it could be fun to order a stack of two or three pancakes and slice them like a layer cake.  There is, in fact, a "Red Velvet panCAKE" that is topped with cream cheese icing.   Hats off to Griddle for fully acknowledging that it is, in many ways, serving ridiculous quantities of dessert as breakfast!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pasta inspired-by-Ponza

I intended to try another Giada de Laurentiis pasta recipe last weekend and thought Pasta Ponza sounded good, but my product ended up being almost unrecognizable.  Yes to the cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, tube-shaped pasta (I used macaroni), Pecorino Romano, and the foolproof bake-vegetables-then-add-to-cooked-pasta-and-toss-with-cheese formula.  No to the capers, breadcrumbs, and parsley, the latter being just a garnish, anyway.  Also added: broccoli, mushrooms, and [cooked] ground beef.

It tasted good, was easy, and was relatively healthy, and I think that's what matters for an everyday dinner.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

West Hollywood: Food Fair by Diego

Last Friday night, my here-for-rotation classmates and I piled into two cars and headed to West Hollywood for dinner.  A Yelp search (criteria being not-in-Westwood-but-not-too-far, reasonably priced, highly rated, and down-the-middle in terms of cuisine) had turned up a restaurant on Beverly Blvd called Food Fair by Diego, which advertises itself as "a casual restaurant serving fresh upscale American comfort foods."  Amazingly, despite its very high rating on Yelp, there was no problem getting our group of nine a reservation for 7:30pm when I called around noon on Friday.

There was plenty of street parking, as well as the nearby garage parking at The Grove, and it turns out that the food more than makes up for the restaurant's unattractive strip mall location.  We started with bread baskets, which are served warm with some minced garlic tapenade.  For appetizers we shared some gnocchi in Alfredo sauce and mussels with French fries.  Hua also tried and liked the potato leek soup.

Potato leek soup; mussels and French fries

I ordered the salmon and spinach salad (with garlic fried potato cubes, red onion, a perfectly cooked egg with soft yolk, red onion, olives, and vinaigrette) and was immediately reminded of the salmon open-face sandwich - sadly no longer on the menu! - at Calafia in Palo Alto.  Other entrees at the table included the pork Milanese (served with dressed arugula), spaghetti Bolognese, Angus burger (with a pretty pile of onion rings), and chicken burger.

Salmon and spinach salad
Angus burger
Pork Milanese

As far as I can tell, based on observation and superficial questioning, everyone enjoyed their dinners.  It was quite satisfying to have an excellent meal [in LA] for under $20 a person including tax and tip; we each ended up spending $19.  Food Fair seems amenable to a range of diners, whether in the form of large and potentially loud groups like us, couples on dates (like the table on one side of us), or families (like the table on our other side).  Also, Jesse noted that there is no a corkage fee, which is promising information for future visits.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

[Key] lime coconut cake

It's hard to match the magic of a great chocolate chip cookie, but for weeks I had planned to bake a cake for my lab's beach party, and for over two years I've wanted to try SmittenKitchen's key lime coconut cake.  (Seriously, why does it take me so long to try recipes after I read them??)  Anyway, I didn't see key limes in my neighborhood supermarkets, so I picked up regular limes and made the cake last Tuesday evening right after achieving cookie nirvana.  (It was a pretty awesome night.)

I doubled the cake recipe, slightly reducing the sugar as usual, and also substituted coconut milk for the whole milk; I generally do this for any coconut cake recipe that doesn't already call for coconut milk, since not surprisingly, the substitution helps amplify the coconut flavor.  I put on the icing and coconut topping on Wednesday morning, and then drove myself and the cake to Manhattan Beach in the early afternoon.

Half of the cake was consumed at the beach, and the remainder was consumed in lab on Thursday, with positive feedback.  Unfortunately I don't have documentation of the cake actually at the beach, but here's a picture of the lab's very spirited beach volleyball game, after which the cake was cut:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

San Francisco: Toyose

After leaving Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences (I love the coral reef they have there) two Thursdays ago, we headed to Toyose, an Outer Sunset Korean restaurant originally recommended by one of Andrew's friends.  Upon walking into the narrow front room, I momentarily wondered whether we'd actually entered some sort of tropical island-themed speakeasy, since there are no windows, the booths have bamboo curtains (of the marginally effective sort), the furniture is made of heavily varnished wood, the lighting is both dim and reddish, and the atmosphere definitely veers toward loud and lively.

We were seated after about 20 minutes and decided to share the seafood green onion pancake and a kimchee stew.  (Note that each booth has a buzzer, to be used for summoning the server.)  Banchan (side dishes) consisted of broccoli, dried/marinated tiny fish, bean sprouts, and kimchee, and were served alongside the pancake.  I'm used to eating green onion pancakes of the Chinese variety, which is practically the same as the Korean species (but without seafood), so this was very comfort food-like.

The kimchee stew with pork and vegetables was deeply flavored, pleasantly sinus-clearing, and generally a good complement to the mild pancake.

Even though I'd previously eaten Korean food on multiple occasions, this was actually my first time trying kimchee (in both unadulterated and stew form).  I liked it well enough as part of a varied meal, but not so well that I would crave it or want nothing else.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cookie nirvana, thanks to the NYTimes

A couple years ago the NYTimes went on a quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, in which they interviewed several noted bakers around New York and finally came up with The Recipe.  The secret seems to be letting the dough rest in the fridge for up to 36 hours before baking.  The article and recipe had haunted me until the start of last week, almost exactly three years to the date of original publication.  But now, having tried the recipe (and baked batches after both 6 hrs and 30 hrs of refrigeration), I have to hand it to the Times and to Jacques Torres.  The warm-cookies-are-almost-always-better effect plays a large role, I'm sure, but this was by far the best cookie I have ever produced.

I followed the recipe with only one addition: ~1.5 cups chopped walnuts.  After baking several trays and getting an increasingly refined understanding my oven (which I'm pretty sure runs significantly hotter than what its temperature dial indicates), I achieved cookie nirvana with a product that was crisp at the edge, chewy for most of the interior, and soft (almost but not quite under-baked) in the very middle.  A gentle sprinkling of sea salt, prescribed in the recipe, also helps amplify the chocolate's flavor and plays against the cookie's richness.

This is when I wish I had a DSLR.

Aurelie the Cookie Guru: your cookies may be fantastic in their own right, and they're arguably more attractive, but this recipe could easily go head-to-head with yours, especially since I didn't have to pay $3 per cookie.  In fact, I would argue that the NYTimes cookie could win simply by how perfectly it encompasses the glorious range of soft-chewy-crispy.  The wonderful caramelized flavor and hint of salt are the clinchers.

Even after baking two dozen - most of which were brought to a program meeting - my freezer still contains one more log of cookie dough.  I'm positive that it's one of the best things this freezer has ever stored or will ever store :-).

Friday, July 8, 2011

Palo Alto: Vero

Last Wednesday night, Andrew and I met up with Elyse and Max at Vero Ristorante on Bryant St for a late-ish dinner.  Vero has an interior that is both cozy and elegant, while service manages to be both friendly and also surprisingly slow; our server's long absences were noticeable even though we weren't in much of a hurry.  This definitely doesn't seem to be a place where one can expect to get in and out quickly, but if one is in the mood to linger then the pace may be just fine.

Fortunately, the food was very good, starting with eggplant parmesan and continuing with orecchiette with broccoli rabe and some sort of cream sauce (no picture, sorry); spaghetti con vongole (pleasantly garlicky, with a satisfying amount of clams); and ravioli with spinach, ricotta, and either an almond or pine-nut-based tomato sauce (I particularly liked the nuttiness, both textural and flavor-wise).

Spaghetti con vongole

Elyse and I enjoyed glasses of prosecco, and to round things off, we all shared the warm flourless chocolate cake with vanilla gelato.  The cake actually wasn't as chocolately as I would have liked, but it still provided a nice ending to a very pleasant dinner.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pasta with greens, garbanzos, and ricotta salata

I may as well intersperse my vacation posts with some post-vacation cooking/baking posts.  After getting back to LA on Sunday, I went on a shopping spree (which continued on Monday) around all three grocery stores in Westwood: Ralphs, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods, with an emphasis on the first two.  On Monday, I decided to try a recipe from Giada de Laurentiis' Giada at Home, which was a send-off present from a family friend.  Since I wanted to make something relatively healthy, I chose the orecchiette with greens, garbanzo beans, and ricotta salata.

Instead of orecchiette I used small shells, instead of cherry tomatoes I used chopped Roma tomatoes, and the greens were one bunch of mustard greens and one bunch of kale.

I didn't have a bowl big enough to mix everything together.

The recipe is both easy and tasty, with the lemon zest being a simple addition that has a big payoff.  A friend came over for dinner and seemed to enjoy the dish, though perhaps she was just being gracious :-).  This one preparation yielded several nights' worth of dinners, which was quite convenient for the week.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Palo Alto: University Cafe, x2

It seems that even the charms of Lool and Cafe Ma can't compare to Palo Alto cuisine or, more specifically, to a well-executed brunch, because my Middle East Bureau Chief is so taken with University Cafe that we ended up going twice in one week.  Given my own fondness for this restaurant, I had no objections.  At this point we've now tried the Bananas Foster brioche French toast with bacon, the vegetable frittata, the baked croissant French toast (which we tried for the first time back in March, and which is notable for the generous amount of vanilla custard), the vegetable frittata, and the club sandwich with tomato soup.

Bananas Foster French toast with bacon

Vegetable frittata with home fries and toast

Club sandwich with tomato soup

The frittata was the least memorable, which is simply an issue of comparison; the egg dishes here are perfectly well-prepared, but just aren't as good as the French toast and sandwiches.   And of course, that mocha smoothie is still awesome :-).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

San Francisco: Medjool

Last Monday evening, Andrew and I met up with Mike, Mel and Chris at Medjool in the Mission.  Medjool has a high-ceilinged, red-toned restaurant/wine bar atmosphere on the street level, as well as a roof deck ("Sky Terrace") with a very nice view of SF and a tapas-style menu.  We sat on the roof deck and shared a bottle of red wine - a syrah, I think? - and the following plates:

Mahi mahi, calamari, and sliced lemons, all breaded and fried with a light dusting of spices.  The lemons were surprisingly awesome, especially when dipped in a little bit of aioli.

Braised short rib, marinated in a cinnamon sauce, with cute little baked potatoes that were filled with pureed potato.

Coffee-marinated flat-iron steak with spinach and a pseudo-latke.  This disappeared relatively quickly, which I think is proportional to the level of enjoyment.

The surroundings were quite pretty despite it being a cold and misty evening (hardly surprising for SF, and also a nostalgic change of pace from LA).  On a somewhat warmer and less cloudy evening, I imagine the roof deck would be quite spectacular, and since the food is quite good, I'd be happy to return.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Palo Alto: Cafe Venetia (formerly Caffe del Doge)

I returned to LA yesterday after a wonderful vacation.  Now it's back to the routine of lab and gearing up for the start of classes next month, but as promised, I have some posts from the past week.  First off, there was a Saturday visit to Caffe del Doge (recently renamed Cafe Venetia) on University Ave.  With drinks and dessert at a sidewalk table, Andrew and I spent an hour or two basking in caffeine and glorious Palo Alto weather.

One Giacometto, which is the same espresso drink with Nutella and crushed hazelnuts that I had last time.  This time the drink was much more attractively foamed/presented; I think your aesthetic experience may depend on who your barista is.  To accompany, one drink-with-a-fancy-name-I-can't-remember, involving espresso with a thick layer of foamy mint cream and chocolate shavings on top.  And of course, it was hard to resist the attractive array of cakes and pastries, so we chose a slice of chocolate almond cake.  It's not too sweet, on the dry side, and has an outer ganache and frosting layer that is almost fondant-like.