Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Culver City: Libra Brazilian Steakhouse

Two Sundays ago, David and I had lunch at Libra Brazilian Steakhouse in Culver City, a restaurant we had been planning to visit ever since I bought the corresponding AmazonLocal voucher.  We had a reservation for noon, but that turned out to be unnecessary, since we arrived to find a completely empty restaurant that in fact had just opened for lunch service.

As our server explained, here's how Brazilian steakhouses work: there is a large salad bar with salads, cold dishes and hot dishes.  One can make unlimited trips to the salad bar, but it is recommended that one saves plenty of room for the main attraction, which are ten (at lunch; more at dinner) different meats that are brought to the table by a server.  The beauty of being the first and - for a while - the only customers in the place was that all the food was completely fresh, and seemingly prepared just for us.

The salad bar is on the left side, continuing behind the screen

But before we even got to the salad bar, a bowl of little cheese breads was set down at our table.  These things were addictive - gluten-free, and so they were essentially cheesy baked mochi.

I neglected to photograph my conservative selections from the salad bar, but everything was very fresh.  There is a [less expensive] option of only the salad bar, which would still provide a great meal considering that in addition to vegetable offerings, there were also two meat stews, rice, potatoes, caramelized bananas, and more.  Anyhow, the first meat that arrived tableside was garlic chicken, followed by garlic beef.

Garlic chicken

Garlic beef

After those two meats came some sausages, tri-tip, pork ribs, and two others which I can't remember right now.  All were very good, with our only criticism being that our slices of tri-tip were too salty.  I stopped photographing until the house special of picanha (top sirloin) arrived:

We tried all nine of the meats and managed two slices each of the picanha, finishing with some grilled pineapple that had been sprinkled with cinnamon.  The result was complete protein overload (and, I suppose, plenty of fuel for studying).  Needless to say, I had salad for dinner.  For the quality of food and also the relatively polished atmosphere, Libra is a great deal, especially if you go for lunch (and if you make it there before noon on a weekday, it's only $15 per person!). 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pork tenderloin with apple/onion/red wine sauce

Two Fridays ago, Karthik, Brandon, Hua and I had a group-study-session-turned-dinner-party.  After inundating our brains with embryology vocabulary (I don't think I'll ever forget that "the syncytiotrophoblast invades the endometrium"), Karthik and I started dinner prep, which continued while Hua and Brandon pushed us all through the milestones of fetal development and some signal transduction pathways.

"Salad bar" of red leaf lettuce, balsamic vinaigrette, avocado, orange segments, and ricotta salata:

The main course was pork tenderloin with apple/onion/wine sauce, which Karthik took charge of following this recipe.  We used red wine (La Granja) instead of white, and I rather liked the resulting purple color.  Right before consumption:

For dessert, there was mochi ice cream.

Also, as of four days ago, my blog is one year old; my first post was on August 25, 2010.  Hooray!  Thanks to everyone who has visited - and yes, I know that there aren't that many of you - and a special thanks to those who have been reading since the very beginning.  It's been a delicious and life-changing year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cranberry cornmeal cupcakes

For last Friday's Problem-Based Learning session, it was my turn to bring some sort of breakfast-like carb, so I decided to try Giada de Laurentiis' cranberry cornmeal cake recipe (in cupcake form for ease of transport and serving).  I doubled the recipe so I could also bake a loaf cake (a thank-you gift to Jon for picking me up from LAX).

I used both orange and lemon zest, and used both one bag (~8 oz) of Trader Joe's orange-flavored dried cranberries and half a bag of unflavored dried cranberries.  To amp up the cake's breakfast value, I also tossed in a cup of walnut pieces.  Doubling the recipe resulted in 24 cupcakes and one loaf cake, all aromatic, fruity and nutty.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bubbies mochi ice cream

Hua is quite an ice cream and mochi connoisseur, and being unsatisfied with the quality of mochi ice cream available at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, she decided to go straight to the source with a box of 48 mochi ice creams overnighted from Bubbies in Hawaii.

I tried and enjoyed a passionfruit, which is an ice cream flavor I've always enjoyed.  The mochi shell on these treats is particularly thin, much like a well-prepared dumpling, and the ice cream is satisfyingly rich.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sarasota: The Columbia Restaurant

Justin and Caroline's rehearsal dinner was at the Columbia Restaurant, in St. Armands Circle on Lido Key.  The Columbia is apparently a Florida institution; the Tampa location was established in 1905.  The rehearsal group was seated at four round tables in a cozily ornate enclave, and there was a pretty wine cellar along the back wall.

Warm loaves of bread with butter to start, along with sangria:

Salad in a garlicky dressing:

Tostones and platanos for the table.  It's hard to go wrong with fried and caramelized plantains:

Paras and I shared two entrees.  One of them was the shrimp with garlic, olive oil, and chili pepper; sauteed vegetables; black beans and rice:

Snapper with hearts of palm and sun-dried tomatoes, served with "good rice" (rice sauteed in butter with parsley, oregano, salt and pepper):

Elyse had the vegetarian platter of rice, black beans, tostones and platanos, yucca, and sauteed vegetables:

We all ate heartily and were stuffed by the time dessert was served, but we made good use of the fact that humans have a dedicated dessert stomach (which I'm looking forward to studying in gastrointestinal system lectures and in anatomy lab).  Flan:

Churros with raspberry, dark chocolate, and caramel dipping sauces (the dark chocolate sauce was definitely my favorite):

Max made some lovely churro art:

This was a fabulous meal on all fronts: delicious food, friendly and well-paced service, and most importantly, dear company gathered under the very happiest of circumstances.  Thanks to Justin and Caroline for including me in the wedding, thanks to their families for a truly memorable dinner (and weekend), and congratulations, with all best wishes, to the newlyweds!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sarasota: Helmsley Sandcastle Coffee Shop

Last weekend I flew to Sarasota, Florida for Justin and Caroline's wedding.  I could go into detail about how heartwarming it was and how happy we all were to be part of the celebration, but it gets me misty-eyed, and this is a food blog.  Which brings me to the Friday lunch that Elyse, Max, Helen, Paras, and I enjoyed in the company of the soon-to-be-groom.  The casual side of the Helmsley Sandcastle hotel's restaurant is called The Coffee Shop, and we had a great post-flight lunch:


Blue crab bisque, which Helen quite liked, though she was sad once the crab pieces were gone and only soup was left:

Grouper sandwich, which Max said was excellent:

I had a club sandwich on whole wheat bread, with potato chips.  Apparently I forgot to photograph my plate, but it was good (toasting the bread is key!).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pear-and-nectarine tart

My parents brought me a big box of homegrown fruit when they came to town, and while it was immensely satisfying to bite into beautifully sun-ripened, organic, and free nectarines and Asian pears (take that, Whole Foods Westwood!), I also realized that I wouldn't be able to eat them all before they started going bad.  Clearly the solution was to invite people over to help consume the fructose bounty, and so two Mondays ago, after the first day of real classes, I baked a pear-and-nectarine tart.  The recipe was Amanda Hesser's, the proportions for which I tripled to fill an 8x8 square pan and a 9x13 rectangular pan.  I reduced the topping by about 1/3, and didn't miss it since the crust was on the thick side.



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Westwood: Flame Persian Cuisine

Family dinner post-White Coat Ceremony was at Flame Persian Cuisine on Westwood Blvd.  I've been a fan of Persian/Iranian food ever since Paras introduced it to me via Shalizaar in Belmont, and my parents and grandparents enjoy it as well.  We were lucky to find a street parking spot just one block away, and then settled into the comfortable dining room (with two TVs showing Iranian music videos, and the bread oven in the corner).

To start: two baskets of freshly baked lavash along with a plate of panir sabzi (mostly mint, but also something bitter-ish and some green onion, fresh cheese, radishes and walnuts).

Our kebabs were koobideh (ground beef) and Cornish hen, served with charbroiled tomatoes:

We swapped in zereshk polo (Basmati rice with barberries and saffron) for plain Basmati rice:

Fesenjun (chicken stewed in a pomegranate-walnut sauce):

Ghemeh bademjan (eggplant in a lentil/onion/lime sauce):

Finally, we shared three desserts, the first of which was faloodeh, a shaved-ice like dessert of rosewater and vermicelli noodles:

Coconut-mango ice cream:

Saffron-pistachio ice cream:

A great meal!  Also, Flame Persian Cuisine happens the only Westwood restaurant that is on Jonathan Gold's list of 99 Essential [LA] Restaurants.  One down, 98 to go...just kidding....

Monday, August 15, 2011

San Gabriel Valley: Newport Seafood

My parents and grandparents came to town for the White Coat Ceremony, and on the Thursday evening they arrived, we drove to San Gabriel Valley to celebrate my grandma's 80th birthday at Newport Seafood.  As we found out after about 15 minutes of waiting (despite our reservation), the air conditioning had broken in part of the restaurant and hadn't been completely fixed yet, dramatically impacting table availability.  We also figured out, mostly thanks to my mom's ever-polite persistence, that groups of apparent regulars were swooping in and practically seating themselves.

So finally, after about half an hour, we took matters into our own hands, checked out the temperature in the unavailable section - which actually consisted of larger tables quite preferably separated by attractive floor-to-ceiling grids -, and decided that sitting there would be just fine.  Once we ordered, dishes were served quite rapidly and were all wonderful.

Seafood soup:

Salt-and-pepper crab:

Pan-fried noodles with bok choy and shrimp (you can't have a birthday dinner without noodles):

Bean sprouts:

Kung Pao beef (or something like it):

Fried tofu (simple and really good):

Clams in a sauce I don't recall.  Probably my favorite dish; I'm a fan of well-prepared clams.

Whole fish:

The drive out to San Gabriel Valley took a good 1.5 hrs with rush-hour traffic, but the food was definitely worth it.  Thanks to my second cousin Mia for the recommendation, and Happy 80th to Grandma!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Little Ethiopia: Merkato Ethiopian

Two Fridays ago, after an evening trip to LACMA, nine classmates and I headed to Little Ethiopia (a stretch of S. Fairfax Ave) for dinner at Merkato Ethiopian.  Despite having a reservation, our supposed table was nowhere near ready, so we ended up sitting on amusing saddle seats around five little tables.  Dishes are meant to be shared, which we did in groups of three or four.

The main problem with blogging over a week after the original meal is that, in the case unfamiliar cuisines, I don't remember the names of what I ate.  I do remember that at Pradeep's more experienced recommendation, my dining group (Pradeep, David and myself) ordered the vegetable combo (four different vegetable purees and stews), a sizzling beef dish, and a garlic/chicken/tomatoes dish.  Everything is served on and with injera, which is a spongy and somewhat sour bread; you rip off small pieces and use them to pick up the various stews.  The dishes are very flavorful and on the salty side, which encourages even more consumption.  And while it doesn't look like a huge amount of food for three people, we definitely could not finish.

The group next to us also ordered the veggie combo and garlic chicken, but their other items were a raw beef dish and a whole fried fish (not shown).

So, my first experience with Ethiopian food was both delicious and reasonably priced - my share turned out to be $14.  Service is decidedly slow, which I'm told is typical for Ethiopian restaurants.  Note that Merkato also offers free valet parking.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lemon bars

As a thank-you to my awesome rotation lab, I decided to make lemon bars following Amanda Hesser's recipe for Meyer lemon curd bars cockaigne.  I was making these around 10pm, two Thursday nights ago, when I was tired enough to lose count of how much flour I was adding (only three half-cup increments).  Fortunately, they still turned out fine. 

One caveat: I didn't have enough dough to fill a 9x13 pan, so instead I used an 8x8 square pan and a pie pan.  I poured most of the lemon filling onto the square crust, so that resulted in the classic lemon bar (perhaps with a thicker-than-intended crust, which I don't mind).  The pie pan lesser-half resulted in a thinner amalgam of shortbread and chewy lemon filling which I didn't bring to lab, but liked just as much. 


Anyhow, the product was well-received.  At least one person noted that these bars are on the sweet side, and I agree.  That said, because of the necessary balance with tartness, I'm actually not sure I would significantly reduce the sugar.  Also, my lemons were regular and not Meyer, and I imagine Meyer lemons would make the product even better and perhaps also enable some sugar reduction, so I look forward to a repeat. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Westwood: Hungry Nomad food truck

Ok, so I'm kind of behind on posts.  Time to lighten on text and get some pictures up, because I have in fact been eating interesting food....for instance, there was the Hungry Nomad food truck on campus, serving Mediterranean food of the wraps-and-hummus-and-salads variety.  Beef wrap (mine) and spinach pocket with hummus and pita (Sophie's).  All quite flavorful, and a pretty decent size as well.