Archives for category: review

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every once in a while you have the meal of a lifetime. in the three short years that alma has been open, i have eaten here only four times, and each time i went was one of those meals. sure there were mistakes, delays in timing, a dish off just slightly, but man was i astounded that every time i went in i left with my mind blown by some sort of delicacy that even if i had the recipe i was sure i couldn’t reproduce. this is culinary mastery at its best. tonight was no different.

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i had heard of the troubles alma was having via social media, and quickly donated to their indiegogo crowd funding site. i chose the ‘dinner for one’ perk, and a ‘tote bag.’ this place was too important to the downtown los angeles cuisine, and more importantly…its community, to let it go away. it raised upwards of 50k, but sadly even with many efforts to stay open, it will close october 24.

i have often thought, if i were to open a restaurant it would be a place like alma: small, personal, farm to table, community driven, and sustainable. the same person greeting you at the door could be pouring your wine and taking your order, but also expediting the kitchen, and even sometimes preparing your dish. the kitchen is small, and the prep has to be thought out precisely. there is no walk-in freezer, actually to my knowledge there is no freezer, and only a very small fridge to hold what has to be kept cool until made that evening. i have been there when the kitchen is shutting down, cleaning out, and throwing away the last bits of mis-en-place, and it seems extremely minimal. impressive.

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i will truly miss this place, and rumors of another alma in the future makes me giddy.

*i must say, even though they knew i was redeeming my perk (i would only have to pay tax), the staff treated me like any other diner, and because of that they got better (and then some) than twenty percent and not just on the $14.85 tax i owed them.

it was almost a year ago that i discovered the wonder of guisados just a couple miles away in boyle heights. they have some of the best tacos i have ever had, so when i heard that they were going to expand to echo park, and eventually downtown, i was ecstatic. the echo park location is just down the street from dodger stadium, and opened just after the new year. i actually can’t believe it took me this long to go check it out.

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to no surprise there was a line out the door. granted it was lunchtime on a friday, but it moved fairly quickly. just like their boyle heights location, the tortillas are handmade right in front of you, from masa made next door to the other location, and the menu is on a chalkboard on the wall. it seems to consist only of tacos at this time, but perhaps they will expand to tamales and ceviche like the other location in the future.

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a nice young man wearing a dodgers hat, who seemed to be running the place, answered some questions i had about the menu, and also delivered our food. i ordered their version of an arnold palmer, called an armando palmero, named after the owner, which is a lemon-lime-hibiscus tea mix.

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for tacos i ordered a mole poblano, a pescado, and a cochinita pibil.

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they have decent sized indoor eating area…

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…but, even though it was a brisk socal day in los angeles, we chose to sit outside on the lovely patio, which has a stone fountain, veladoras on the tables, and a nice view of downtown.

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as we were finishing up, a pickup truck pulled into the parking lot, and none other than armando himself jumped out with a large bag of masa in hand. we congratulated him on a job well done. he explained that his son had called needing more masa, so he rushed it over, and confirmed that the dodger hat wearing young man was indeed his son. this echo park location was opened for him to run. i asked about the future downtown location, which he said is at least six months out, and apparently will be his daughter’s venture into the family business. each of the current locations are only a few miles from where i live, but i am very much looking forward the downtown location opening up only a few blocks away. i see a lot of tacos in my future.

guisados: echo park • 1261 w. sunset blvd. la, ca 90026 • 213-250-7600

today i woke up with a touch of a sore throat, my head was stuffy, and my eyes a bit goopy. ugh. did i just catch the cold that has been going around? great.

i discovered blossom vietnamese restaurant pretty early on living in downtown los angeles. since it is only a few blocks away, and has reasonably priced, quality, tasty food, i go there often. a few years ago, i got the start of what was in the makings of being a pretty bad cold. i hardly ever get sick, but when i do all i want is hot, steamy, spicy, brothy chicken soup. i remembered that blossom had phở ga on the menu, so i got on my trusty steed and biked up there.

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i must have sounded worse than i thought, or sniffled a bunch when i ordered, because the man taking my order asked if i was sick? then asked if i liked ginger and garlic? he said he would put some extra in, and that i should add it to the broth, and that it will help me feel better. i had heard of the wonders of garlic and ginger in the past, and i knew homemade broths are very healthy for you, but had pretty much thought that chicken soup wasn’t going to cure my cold, it would just make me feel better and comfort me. i was wrong. the next day my cold was gone.

good broth will resurrect the dead. -south american proverb

the chicken is juicy and never over-cooked. the broth is steamy and flavorful. the bean sprouts, thai basil, jalapeño, lime, ginger and garlic are fresh and plentiful.

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all together with a little hoisin and sriracha hot sauce makes a big bowl of delicious medicine.

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so today when i woke up feeling crummy, i got on my trusty steed once again, went a few blocks west up winston street, and ordered what i now call ‘the cold killer’: phở ga with extra ginger and garlic. needless to say i am already feeling better.

blossom vietnamese • 426 s. main street, la, ca 90013 • 323-623-1973

it has become a bit of a tradition to have an ‘orphans’ thanksgiving at my place for a few years now. i start with the usual list of friends, but anyone is invited, and there are always a few last minute add ons. this year it tipped the scales with almost 20 guests. from shopping at the farmers market all the way to the leftovers, here is the feast in photos:

the farmers market fairy delivered this 18+ lb beauty on monday:

i did a majority of my shopping at the wednesday morning santa monica farmers market:

on my way to the market, kcrw had a wonderful segment with christopher kimball, of america’s test kitchen and cook’s illustrated, talking about a julia child thanksgiving. of course he spoke of her simplicity and her use of the best ingredients. it was just the motivation and inspiration i needed. this is the beautiful and colorful loot i came home with:

the pie prep: cranberries, rhubarb, and roasted pumpkin.

the veggie prep: roasted winter vegetables, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and creamed corn with crispy bacon.

the free range willie bird all buttered up, stuffed, and carved to perfection:

the buffet: the aforementioned creamed corn with crispy bacon, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted winter veggies, along with sausage + fennel stuffing, and gravy. my guests brought sweet potatoes, green beans, carrots, salad, cranberries and homemade bread.

the table as people were plating up their food:

the pies: cranberry rhubarb (as well as, a crisp from the extra fruit) and pumpkin. not shown: pumpkin cheesecake and paleo pumpkin bread.

the dead soldiers the next day:

a few of us took off for big bear the next afternoon to just chill out (and digest) for a couple of days. these were some of the leftovers by the fire at the little cabin in the woods the next night:

i made stock from the carcass yesterday, and there was just enough turkey leftover to make soup today. recipe to come…

note: more (professional) photos from the evening can be found at rafiel chait photography. the photos above were just taken by me with my crummy iphone and hipstamatic.

last year i was introduced to the independent shakespeare company. i saw quite an enjoyable version of the merry wives of windsor, and if you can believe it, a somewhat humorous hamlet. they have had a few venues over the years, but as of 2010, they put on their wonderful performances under the magic hour, moon, stars, and sometimes howling coyotes of los angeles summer nights at the old griffith park zoo.

their audiences are encouraged to bring blankets, chairs, coolers and picnic baskets filled with snacks and libations to enjoy before and during the performances. sometimes i just bring an assortment of meats, cheeses, veggies, bread, olives and salad. wine is a no-brainer.

to kick off the 2012 season for the winter’s tale, i decided on making fried chicken (ala america’s test kitchen) and macaroni salad (ala omnivorous) to accompany the usual suspects mentioned above, and the pinot noir from red car wine was perfect.

…so was the performance, and evening.

this season of isc runs til september 2, 2012. shows are thursday-sunday starting at 7p. make sure to catch all three plays: the winter’s tale, a midsummer night’s dream, and the comedy of errors. all performances are free. donations are strongly encouraged (by me, but i’m sure they approve of them too).

i am not sure where i first heard of al + bea’s mexican food, but i believe it was an article on the best burrito. i remember it specifically mentioning the green sauce, and since they are just across the los angeles river in boyle heights from where i live downtown, i had to check them out. i am certain that they must use some sort of addictive additive (like crack) in their beans, because there are mornings i will wake up and have their bean and cheese burrito on the brain. maybe they use lard? or it’s the type of bean? but their refried beans are just damn tasty. other than ordering their chile relleno burrito once, i always get the bean and cheese with red sauce. i tried the green sauce, but i prefer the kick of the red. it is nothing fancy. a tortilla, refried beans, cheese and sauce. that is it.

the menu is above the tables and ranges from burritos and tacos to hamburgers and fries.

you stand in line to order from a window, wait for your number (called out first in spanish, and then nicely in english for us gringos in socal who don’t know their basic spanish), and pick it up at another window. fyi, it is cash only, but they do have an atm, and it is ridiculously cheap. lunch time can get quite busy. i managed to beat the rush today, but by the time i was done there was quite a line.

al + bea’s mexican food • 2025 east first street, los angeles, ca 90033 • 323-267-8810

i got together with a friend today to go hiking. we decided to go up to the griffith observatory.

we ended up parking on fern dell right across from the trails, a cute little cafe that serves pie, and other good stuff.

i’m not going to lie, pie was on my brain the whole way up and down our hike. by the time we made it back down, they only had one slice left…apple.

this was fitting, since it was their apple pie that began my obsession with pie a few years back, and even got me to enter the first annual kcrw good food pie contest. we also got delicious stumptown coffee, oh and a vanilla lavender shortbread cookie to go, and by ‘to go’ i mean to go in our bellies.

the pie was even better than before, mostly because when i had my first slice here they kept the skins on the apple (which is not my preference), but the crust was perfection per usual, and no skins this time.

it was a lovely way to end a really nice hike, and though it negated any calories burned, it made me very, very happy.

there are some places that you just need to try for yourself, and for those who don’t live in los angeles, or don’t have plans to come for a visit, i am very sad for you, because guisados is one of those places. my friend the farmers market fairy has been telling me about this place for a while now, and even called it ‘life changing.’ i recently recommended it to a friend in town looking for good mexican food. he was doing a little research for his new business mexicue in nyc, and it was already on his list of places to check out. i have been throwing this place’s name around without ever trying it myself mind you…until today.

the menu is fairly prolific, so i just chose a selection of three different tacos: hongos, pescado, and mole pollo. the tortillas were thicker than what i am used to, so i was full halfway through my second taco, but i trudged on, not unhappily by any means.

i also wanted to try the habanero salsa, which my fairy friend said to beware of, but it was wonderful, yet so potent only a tad cleared my senses.

my friend raf decided on the sampler of six mini tacos, and went with the first six on the chalkboard, which we were told are the most popular.

the owner armando, personally delivered our plates, and was incredibly friendly. i had heard from my out-of-town friend that his brother eddie makes the homemade masa next door at his market. so on the way out i thanked armando, and asked about the masa. he said he would show me. i thought, ‘are you (expletive) kidding me?’ he quickly washed his hands, and brought us next door.

first the corn is steeped.

after being rinsed to take an outside thin layer off the kernel, it’s ground up into what is basically a corn mealy paste. fat is added to make what is put in tamales.

otherwise, without the fat added, they hand flatten it into disks before cooking to make tortillas. now i understand why they are thicker than usual.

on the way out, he showed us they also make bread, and told us to try one of the sweet bread pastries called conchas, or something like that. i was too damn excited to remember what he said, and too stupid to write it down.

i will ask next time, which may very well be tomorrow. this place is a must. an absolute must.

guisados • 2100 east cesar chavez avenue • los angeles, ca • 90033 

most of us don’t have to think about where we are going to get our next meal, but living in skid row i see men and women everyday who struggle for just that…food. i love living where i do, if only that it tells me how fortunate i am every single day. i own a loft right next door to the new home of the downtown women’s center (dwc), where women have been going for help and assistance since opening in 1978.

‘the mission of the downtown women’s center is to provide permanent supportive housing and a safe and healthy community fostering dignity, respect, and personal stability, and to advocate ending homelessness for women.’

last year the dwc opened up a shop on the street level called made that sells gifts, pastries, food, teas and coffees. 100% of the proceeds go directly to supporting homeless and low-income women at the dwc.

the teas and coffee are from groundwork, a local downtown roaster.

food comes from room forty, ‘a restaurant without walls’ catering company. pastries are from chinatown’s homegirl cafe (helping formerly gang involved women).

the gifts range from unique ceramics, books about gardening and sustainability, and donated items such as purses, to jewelry, candles, soaps, and journals handmade from the women themselves at the dwc.

i spoke with denise, one of the volunteers since last october and fellow blogger, who told me about her favorite gift: the handmade journals. they take old books, use the pages to decoupage picture frames, and fill the bindings with with fresh blank pages.

i stopped in for a coffee and something for lunch, but also left with a blue denim coach purse i picked out for a very discounted price, just one of the many donated items to the center.

they have enough nicer donated items that can be resold they are soon to open an ‘upscale’ version of a goodwill type store in their original location on los angeles street. although made sells delicious food and wonderful coffee/tea drinks to me, what it has done to put food in my neighbor’s bellies seems more significant, and is only the beginning of what else it provides for these women.

made • 438 s. san pedro st. • los angeles, ca • 90013 

recently i went to las vegas to visit my friend (and guest blogger) elia, who was in town to run the half marathon. you would think the night before her big run we would hit the best italian place for pasta, but thankfully we didn’t. we ate at tom colicchio’s restaurant craftsteak at the mgm casino. it was one of the best meals i have ever had. we let our server marvin run the show with the three course tasting menu and wine pairing. boy oh boy did he hook us up. it was an insane amount of delicious food, and the wines were perfect. after the meal i sought out marvin, because i was interested in the artist who painted the cow art on the walls. he came back with the artist’s card, and a bag with a complimentary copy of ‘craft of cooking.’ we were floored. not only did we just have a perfect meal, but our waiter gave us a gift? wtf?!

as we were packing to leave the next day we weren’t sure what to do about the cookbook. elia said ‘you should take it. i don’t want to lug it on the plane back to mexico city,’ where she lives, but i knew it’s because she’s incredibly generous and selfless. it dawned on me that we could share it. we decided once i made one of the recipes, i’d make notes and/or alterations in the book, and send it on to her. then in turn, she would do the same.

the first time around i was ambitious, and made four different recipes:

  • grilled hanger steak with bordelaise sauce
  • puréed parsnips
  • pan-roasted hen of the woods mushrooms
  • poached pears

the hanger steak came from mccall’s meat + fish. it was such a nice cut of meat it really just needed a little salt and pepper, and was put on the grill for less than 5 minutes a side.

the bordelaise sauce took quite some time cooking down, but was so flavorful it was worth it. i didn’t even use veal stock like the recipe called for, but just regular store bought beef stock from trader joe’s. i wonder how amazing it would be to use real veal stock?

the puréed parsnips were so simple it was ridiculous.

hen of the woods mushrooms are incredibly expensive, so i did a medley and added some oyster, yellowfoot chanterelles, and hedghog as well.

i also made a root vegetable and bok choy gratin from tamarind brought to me via the tasting table, which complimented this meal wonderfully.

i couldn’t find bartlett pears at the market, but there were bosc and red d’anjou, so i used them instead.

for now i just put my notes on post-its, but who knows how long this book will be passed back and forth, so i’m thinking i’ll just make the commitment and pen them in the book itself.

the whole meal was a huge success, and the only thing missing was my friend elia.

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