Jun 16, 2013

The Best of the West Coast (Part 1-LA)

 Upon arriving in LA, I was famished.  The combination of several delays and airport drama caused my flight to be stuck on the tarmac for an extended period of time.  After around three hours of waiting around while seated on the airplane, the captain informed us we would not be flying out that day, disappointed, disgruntled, and hungry all the passengers, including myself started making alternative plans.  Half an hour later the captain made an announcement we would in fact be flying out! It was great news to hear, but we had already been sitting for four hours, and had another six hours in flight.....with NO food.  This was my worst nightmare come true.  

Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done other than to stick out with the granola bars and pray for some tail wind to LA.  Counting the minutes until we reached our destination, I couldn't have been happier to touch the ground.  I hustled to collect my luggage and contained my excitement for arriving in the fabulous West Coast as I was greeted by my friend at the airport.  The only thought running through my mind at this point was FEED ME.  Luckily just outside of LAX was the famous In-n-Out Burger I had heard so much about.  Kicking the diet and any regrets for not eating healthy, we entered the iconic eatery. 

Based on recommendations I went for the double double* "Animal style".  This hunk of a burger contained two slices of cheese, two patties, plus the extras!  It could have been the fact that I was absolutely starving, or the fact that everyone who makes a trip to the West Coast raves about these bad boys.....whatever the reason behind all the hype,  it was a damn good burger.

"Animal Style" is one of the most popular "secret" styles; in addition to the standard toppings, Animal Style burgers include pickles, extra spread, grilled onions, and mustard fried onto each meat patty. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In-N-Out_Burger_products)

As commercial as The Grove is, we were fortunate to come across some decent eats there.  Aside from the Farmer's Market Institution there, we dined at the French Bistro,  Morels.  It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, so a Brunch menu was appropriate, and aside form the fruit bowl, everything else hit the spot.
A classic Niciouse salald is the perfect lunch item on a warm sunny day. The generous serving of anchovies on top added that extra punch to this light and flavorful French favorite!
 I enjoyed the Crab Cakes Benedict.  This is my go-to item on any Brunch menu.  However, if you are a crab afficionado like myself, be weary of where you order this dish from.  The quality and freshness of the crab is imperative for this dish to work.  You want to see the jumbo lump crab meat, and nothing besides a little seasoning and light crust.  The Hollandaise is also an important element, and you can tell when this sauce is done the right way.  It's a bit thicker and smoother than the one below, and usually much deeper in color, as the main components are egg yolks and butter.  The sauce wasn't perfect, but it was tasty, so I enjoyed the dish regardless.....
Sno con Amor are organic artisan snow cones with flavors like coconut, pineapple-lime, and watermelon-basil how could you go wrong.  Cool and refreshing on those Sunny California days, not only is this concept stellar, but the branding and aesthetic of it are all really kitsch.  We came across this little set-up at the Anthropologie shop in The Grove, which was crawling with other small pop-up stalls promoting the small businesses in the area. 
We also came across the famous Magee's House of Nuts at the Original Farmer's Market adjacent to The Grove.  Operating since 1917, this place is an institution.  They have long been recognized for the quality of fresh nuts and nut products, but most well known for their peanut butter. The machine they had set-up was also antique, and churned the peanut butter out as they had done in the old days. 

 On our way to the LACMA we decided we needed a little lunch to tie us over before we entered the Stanley Kubrick exhibition.  Thanks to YELP we were able to locate this little gem en route to our destination! Mario's Peruvian and Seafood in Mid-Wilshire was exactly what we wanted, a solid meal, and excellent value for money! The ceviche was fresh and flavorful and fish fry had a spicy wholesome kick that tantalized our taste buds!
Tapping into the adventurous side of things, we decided to go on a little hike in the Hollywood hills.  The gorgeous weather, and breathtaking views really built up our appetites.  Luckily in the area (Los Feliz) not far from where we were, was the hole in the wall Yen Sushi and Sake Bar.  It was one of those places you imagine celebrities go to for a nice quiet lunch.  It's unpretentious, but classic Japanese ambiance make it an inviting atmosphere.  The fantastic quality of  sushi came in large quantities, and because we came straight from a work out session, we ate our money's worth!

For $12, this Spicy Tuna Bowl was chock full of the freshest Ahi grade tuna coated in a spicy ginger dressing and accompanied by some fresh and crunchy vegetables.  This could actually suffice as one's lunch, but my fiend and I thought we should explore more of the menu items.

We also got the Hamachi sashimi, delicately sliced and served with a fresh jalapeno round along with a touch of sweet soy.  The balance of flavors was precise in this perfect little bite.

A trip to a sushi restaurant wouldn't be complete without a couple of Maki rolls.  Of the numerous varieties we got, all were tasty and as fresh as can be!  The standard of Japanese joints in LA are a cut above the rest.   
After meeting several foodies in the LA area, we were recommended a couple of choice places to check out.  This fantastic artisan shop in Silverlake was one of them! Appropriately named Say Cheese, we decided the best way to enjoy these gourmet delicacies was at a picnic in the Getty! So we planned our day and menu and made our selection once we arrived there.  The cheese monger helped us make our decision my recommending his personal favorites and even sharing generous samples.

Our faves were the Old Amsterdam Gouda, 6 month Manchego, truffled Brie, Humboldt Fog Goats Cheese.  We made our selections and headed over to Trader Joe's right next door to pick up the rest of our picnic spread!
 I think many passerby's were envious of our display of Sandwiches, Salads, Cheese, and Fruits!  We thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful sunshine and breathtaking views views of the city as we sat on our yellow and white striped blanket indulging in our feast.     
 On another eventful evening, we passed by Barbrix in Silverlake for a little apperitivo.  The barkeep was friendly and informative and shared his knowledge of food and drink gracefully with us.  Event hough we had no intentions to eat (dinner reservations at Osteria Mozza for later that evening) he mentioned the mouth watering appetizer special to us. With avocado, sea urchin, seaweed salad, and pink peppercorns, it was hard to resist, so we decided to share an order! Salty, sweet, smooth, and crunchy...this little dish had all the elements you look for in a starter. 
This restaurant really deserves a post of it's own.  I have to say, I have never really thought twice about the "Celebrity Chef" restaurant circle, as most end up being over priced and overrated.  But there is something about Mr. Batali that makes anything stamped with his name synonymous with good quality.

We drove by the restaurant several times over the course of the week, and even the branding was cool.  With a more casual pizzeria concept right next to the fine dining concept, there was a buzz on this street corner like no place else I had seen in LA.  Not just a place to be seen (like many other venues in the city), Osteria Mozza drew in a crowd that were there for purely good food.  

The night we dined at Osteria the restaurant was completely packed! In fact it was was so busy, even after we checked in and follow-up with the hostess multiple times, they gave away our table!  A bit disgruntled at first, they quickly made an effort to remedy the situation and seated us in a busy corner of the dining room.  Upon being seated, we were immediately served the Buffalo Mozzarella Caprese, as a "we're sorry to keep you waiting" treat,  which is an excellent show of the hospitality.
Happy that we were acknowledged by the management for our patience, we went ahead and ordered the meal.  With so many exciting items popping out at us, the choices were difficult to make.  I have simply highlighted some of my favorites, as there were just way too many tasty treats this evening.

The amberjack and sea urchin crudo goes to the top of list.  The unique combination of the succulent meaty fish topped with the sweet velvety texture of the sea urchin.  Sitting in a plate of chili vinaigrette, the oil and acid broke down elements of this usually tougher type of fish which resulted in a textural harmony.
One of the Primi  items we ordered was the Tagliolini with Maine Lobster and Roasted Sea Urchin.  This delicate pasta plate had it ALL going on.  The epitome of decadence,  each ingredient stood out individually, but the came together to compliment one another in this beautifully comprised dish
One of the Secondi we enjoyed was the Butter Braised Halibut.  This fish was cooked to perfection and literally melted in our mouth like butter.  The seasoning was on point and the flavor of the fish was divine.  A well executed dish that reveled in its simplicity. 
Before we hit the road on our excursion to San Francisco, we made sure to make a stop at the Heirloom LA food truck with so much on offer and served in the perfect takeaway container, this made for the ultimate road trip snack.  They are best known for their Lasagna cupcakes, which I didn't quite understand at first, but once we bit into the perfect little packets of gourmet goodness, it all made sense.

 If you happen to find yourself in LA, make it your mission to locate one of these food trucks!  The trend has really hit the streets, so you may be spoiled for choice, but I can vouch for this one as the food is fresh and uber tasty, you won't be disappointed.

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