Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beverly Hills: Spago

Spago in the evening

I closed out my first dineLA with a Friday night dinner at Spago, joined by Hua, Karthik and Brian.  We arrived early for our 6pm reservation and, as such, spent some time waiting in the bar area while the restaurant finished setting up for dinner.  Around 6, we were seated in the lovely courtyard, which has lights in the trees, candles, a sculpture, a water installation, and plenty of heat lamps.  With four people, we were able to try pretty much the entire dineLA menu.

First, bread service: walnut bread, olive bread, white bread, and Parmesan lavash, all good:

Hua's cocktail (the components of which I don't remember, but it was both tasty and strong):

Tuna tartare cones, one of Spago's signatures:

Dungeness crab cannelloni:

Arctic char gravlax (with creme fraiche, a quail egg, and blini):

Pumpkin soup:

Sweet corn agnolotti, another Spago signature:

Duck breast with butternut squash puree:

Halibut with an accompaniment involving shrimp and crispness (memory is clearly a bit fuzzy here):

Lime cheesecake:

Apple vol au vent:

Medjool date sticky toffee pudding:

The main courses and desserts were all excellent, but the appetizers and agnolotti were really "wow"-inducing.  With the service being polished, warm, and well-paced, and the setting elegant, it was a beautiful meal all-around.  It goes without saying that we'd love to return!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hollywood: Cafe Gratitude

Back in July, I saw this article in the NYTimes about the new Cafe Gratitude in LA and sent it to Andrew.  We thought it would be a fun place to check out, given our propensity for irreverent humor, and we decided the all-vegan menu would be a great way to balance out the Fogo de Chao and bakery indulgences.  Accordingly, on the Saturday morning of our staycation, we drove out to Larchmont Blvd in Hollywood.  Our first impression of the restaurant - besides the fact that there was free parking - was that the space is filled with light, cheery and airy.  All the menu items are named as positive affirmations or adjectives, and with some direction from our very cool server, we went with the following.

I Am Extraordinary, a BLT made with spicy cashew aioli, crispy chipotle-maple coconut (the textural substitute for bacon), lettuce, tomato and avocado.

I Am Humble, one of the grain bowls.  This one has curried lentils, spinach, yams, tamarind chutney and cilantro over brown rice and quinoa.

I Am Effervescent, which is ginger and lemon juice with agave and sparkling water.

I Am Grace, a smoothie of coconut milk, almond butter, date and vanilla bean.

In short, everything was amazing; we were pretty blown away at how flavorful and texturally satisfying both the foods and drinks were (seriously!!).  Plus, the items tasted quite clean, which probably has something to do with the vegan-ness.  We left with some coffee (with almond and coconut milks) and a newly established LA routine.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Beverly Hills: Fogo de Chao and Bouchon Bakery

On the Friday after dinner at JiRaffe, we drove to Beverly Hills for lunch at Fogo de Chao.  The restaurant was incredibly busy, probably because of the well-priced dineLA promotion.  Addictive mochi-like cheese breads to start, plus a trip to the salad bar for hearts of palm, greens, and sun-dried tomato.  The salad bar at Fogo de Chao is actually smaller than the one at Libra; the same vegetables are present at both, but Libra also offers several cooked dishes.  Anyhow, as is par for the course, soon after we flipped over our Yes/No cards (which is how you signal to the servers that you're receptive to more food), three small plates of fried plantains, caramelized bananas, and mashed potatoes were set down, and then the carnivorous parade began.  I don't even remember all the cuts that were brought to our table, but they were all good, and we ate just enough to be satiated without going overboard.

After lunch, we headed to Beverly Drive, in quest of coffee at Coupa Cafe.  We are loyal customers of the Stanford branches, but Andrew insisted that the quality at the Y2E2 had suffered of late, so of course we were curious about the other franchises.  Lattes in hand, we meandered down the street to Bouchon Bakery for some cookies, which were consumed in the picturesque, fountain-containing courtyard area between Bouchon and the Montage hotel.

TKO (Thomas Keller Oreo), which was much better than the TKO bat cookie I had at Bouchon Bakery in New York last fall:

Passion-fruit macaron, probably my favorite of the four cookies we tried:

Nutter Butter (Andrew's response: "Now in this, you can actually taste the calories."  Agreed - the peanut butter buttercream is overkill.  I don't think I'll get this cookie again.)

Chocolate bouchon, i.e. a glorified brownie bite:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Versatile Blogger Award

In response to my last post on JiRaffe, Joanna kindly nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  The rules for recipients of this award are: 1) to post a link to the person who awarded you; 2) to tell your readers seven random things about yourself; 3) to award 7 newly discovered blogs, and 4) to send those bloggers a note letting them know you nominated them.

#1 is easy: Thank you, Joanna!  She is an artist by descent, spirit, and training.  Her blog, Stoveless, is beautiful and a real pleasure to view and to read.

Seven random things about me:
1) I really like Command Hooks and Command Strips.  So useful!
2) I like buying Medjool dates at Whole Foods.
3) I can read a paper while cooking [frozen] potstickers.
4) My piano at home is named Franz Baldwin.
5) I'm extremely ticklish.
6) I have houseboated down the Rio Negro, one of the tributaries of the Amazon.
7) I hate slugs.

As for #3, I honestly don't think I know of 7 newly discovered blogs, but I'll work on it!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Santa Monica: JiRaffe

Andrew arrived in LA quite soon after block exams ended, two Wednesday nights ago.  On that Thursday evening, we drove to Santa Monica for a celebratory dinner at JiRaffe.  The restaurant - which in fact has giraffe figurines displayed on ledges high above the dining area - is dim and relatively loud during peak dinner hours, and service was on the slow side; fortunately, we weren't in any hurry.  Our dineLA meal started with a bread basket (white, something dark and anise-flavored, and brioche) and an amuse bouche of mushroom soup in shot glasses.  This was extremely mushroomy and rich, to the point where we couldn't sip more than half of the portion.  For wines, we chose a glass of Malbec and a glass of (I think) pinot grigio.

Appetizer 1: tomato tart.  Puff pastry base, chopped and dressed tomatoes, burrata (i.e. mozzarella + cream), some caramelized onions, and garnishes of basil, olive and ratatouille sauces.  Possibly my favorite dish of the entire meal, because of the perfect combination of well-seasoned tomato with creamy burrata.

Appetizer 2: seafood ceviche.  Shrimp, calamari, grouper, cabbage, cherry tomatoes and a refreshing lime dressing.

Entree 1: roasted loup de mer (branzino) with Manila clams in a tomato-saffron broth.  Pretty much any seafood in a saffron broth is something I'll enjoy.

Entree 2: beef filet with a tomato galette, chard, salad, and Madeira sauce.  Consumed with enthusiasm.

Our desserts were the caramelized banana cream pie and the chocolate hazelnut mousse dome with a crispy base, both excellent - and even with my love of chocolate and hazelnut, I think I liked the banana cream pie a little bit more.  All in all, a lovely meal!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Red wine chocolate cake

My post-exam baking produced a red wine chocolate cake, following SmittenKitchen's recipe.  My cake didn't turn out nearly as reddish as hers apparently was, but it was still very tasty.  Plus, the baking process filled the apartment with a pleasant blend of wine and cinnamon.

I think this cake would work well, recipe doubled, as a layer cake.  I can also report that the texture and flavor both improve over the course of a few days, becoming more heavily aromatic and also even more moist.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Westwood: Le Pain Quotidien

Last Wednesday was the last day of Block 1 exams; midday, I had my standardized patient interview.  Beforehand, Alex, Sophie and I braved the surprisingly heavy rain and walked the few blocks to Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast.  Le Pain may be an international chain, but the individual franchises seem to do a remarkably good job of being un-chain-like.  Plus, they serve the best bread and pastries in Westwood. 

We settled into a small table at the back of the room, and the ordering commenced.  First, coffees and the bread basket to share: big slices of various crusty and sometimes nutty breads (sadly cold, but fortunately fresh), which we slathered with butter and/or the indulgent praline spread, raspberry and apricot jams that are at every table:

Sophie's oatmeal with granola and apricots:

Alex and I both ordered the croissant sandwich with ham, Swiss cheese, and egg, served hot with a tiny salad and three different mustards:

One interview and a couple hours later, Block 1 was over, and the rain stopped quite soon after that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Westwood: Iso Fusion Cafe

The Friday before block exams, Karthik and I grabbed dinner at Iso Fusion Cafe on Gayley Ave.  We had been planning to go to San Sai, but noticed Iso as we passed it and decided to be spontaneous.  Verdict on Iso: decent but unremarkable.  Iso has a more interesting menu and less fast food-ish atmosphere than San Sai, but if a quick, inexpensive meal is the goal, then I'd probably just go to San Sai since the food is just as good and the prices are lower (around $8-9 instead of $10-11, if I recall correctly).

Chicken katsu bento, with rice, salad, three pieces of California roll, and some orange:

Beef teriyaki bento:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tel Aviv: Lehamim Bakery

Middle East Bureau Chief Andrew returned to the States two Fridays ago.  Despite the clear drop-off in his "Notes from Rehovot" guest post series, I think he still deserves some sort of Awesome Correspondent Award.  Here's why:

Behold, pastries from Tel Aviv's Lehamim Bakery, which had been on my radar (and consequently Andrew's) ever since this NYTimes article from before he went to Israel.  The same bakery is apparently also the subject of an epic Youtube video with a Gainsbourg soundtrack.

Very, very sweet.  And the pastries were really good, too :-).

I'm a little over halfway done with exams.  Tomorrow evening through Sunday will be block break and a much-anticipated "stay-cation," including some fabulous meals - it is, after all, dineLA - with a most excellent dining companion.  Posting will return next week.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Vegetable parmesan (with chicken)

Block exams have begun and I am strangely calm, mostly because actually working on and taking exams feels more satisfying than studying for them.  I'm also looking forward to post-exam baking - red wine chocolate cake, here I come!  But in the meantime, I may as well share my first experience making vegetable parmesan, following Giada's recipe.

I used the bell peppers and remaining eggplants from the Market co-op, and also added a layer of Trader Joe's cooked chicken breast pieces from (a most excellent product).  The recipe calls for 26 oz of marinara sauce and I only had an 18 oz jar, which made a noticeable but not too detrimental difference in the product's sauciness.  I filled my Pyrex loaf dish and two ramekins, and the result was attractively browned and bubbly:

I ate the Pyrex parmesan over the course of a week and froze the two ramekins.  Here was one of my meals, with some butternut squash ravioli (from Trader Joe's, and sadly the first fresh pasta from TJ's which I did not enjoy; I understand that butternut squash ravioli are on the sweet side, but these were too sweet).

Another parmesan meal, with green beans and bread:

It was an easy and satisfying recipe, one I'd happily make again.