In a county consisting of ten million people, how many times have you sat at home with endless thoughts about Los Angeles with no one to answer them? Where to eat? What to do? How to do it? I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I'm always looking for new places to eat and hang out. Consider this blog your go to website for ideas and tips to living in the city of angels.
With the waves of Vietnamese immigrants coming to California's shores, its no surprise that pho has become a local favorite. Rather than venture to your neighborhood deli or downtown diner for chicken noodle soup, these mom and pop shops have the perfect cure for your craving!
Since I don't venture to East Los Angeles much, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant probably doesn't meet the expectations of avid pho goers. I can say with complete confidence that this restaurant is as delicious - but I would hate to get into a Fast & Furious battle with those who disagree. And I mean that in a funny non-stereotypical way since there is very little parking.
Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe is oddly located in the Little Osaka district of West Los Angeles. Next to the ever popular Tsujita LA ramen sensation, this Vietnamese gem is the perfect alternative to avoid Tsujita's ever growing lines. Since I eat pork once in a long while, I actually prefer going to Nong Lá to get my noodle soup fix. It is a delicate balance between light yet savory chicken broth, with dense yet not overly filling noodles. Top that with shredded chicken and onions, and you've got a Hanoi party in your mouth.
Pho Ga ($7.95)
chicken broth with fresh rice noodles topped with white onions, green onions, cilantro
If you're not in the mood for a hot soup on a hot day, I recommend opting for the second most famous Vietnamese dish, the Bhan-mi sandwiches. You can never go wrong with grilled meat, french bread and Vietnamese spices.
Bun Steak & Eggroll ($8.50)
grilled kemongrass and sesame steak with eggrolls served on a bed of cold vermicelli noodles with lettuce, fresh herbs, cucumbers, bean sprouts, carrots and fish sauce
So, get on your tuk tuk, motorcycle, minivan or feet and head to Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe ASAP!!!
For those of us who can't afford to go to Indonesia this summer, let me point your attention to Simpang Asia. Sitting on the corner of National and Motor, this Culver City delight is no stranger to locals. Sharing a space with its Indonesian market, Simpang Asia serves up native dishes to American foreigners.
Influenced by Indian, Arabic, Chinese, and European traders, Indonesia's food is representative of its diverse cultural identity. Although the dishes are small enough to be eaten alone, the best way to enjoy this Southeast Asian treasure is to order several dishes and share among friends. Rather than explain these ancestral dishes that culminate from hundreds of years of history, I will let the pictures and description do the talking.
Chicken Satay ($6.50)
marinated chicken skewers
Veggie Stir-Fry ($6.50)
Nasi Goreng Jawa ($6.95)
spicy fried rice and noodles
dried beef curry
Ikan Goreng ($6.50)
fried whole tilapia
Had author Elizabeth Gilbert come to Simpang Asia before writing "Eat. Pray. Love", the book probably would have been renamed to "Eat. Pray. Eat." The dishes are extremely affordable given the quality of the food - substituting as a more viable option than Rock Sugar in Century City. Embrace a trip to the Indonesian archipelago by visiting Simpang Asia today!
One of the problems about getting to blog posts so late, is often, the dishes no longer exist, or even worse, the restaurant has closed. Despite my unlucky streak, I must take a moment to pay homage to this Southwestern delight.
El Torito Grill of Beverly Hills was the upscale version of the classic restaurant chain, El Torito. Taking a fancy spin on traditional Tex Mex dishes, El Torito Grill became one of my favorite spots. My last ride over there was during DineLA restaurant week. Below are some of the dishes me and my cowboys ate.
Tacquitos de Tinga Poblano
carnitas, chicken chorizo, red onions, chipotle chile, blue corn tortillas, cilantro
chicken breast, onions, pasilla chiles, red bell peppers, beans,
avocado relish, pico de gallo, handmade tortillas
I should mention the, Fire Roasted Tomato Soup [not pictured here] with grilled tomatos, chicken chorizo, pasilla chiles, roasted corn, garlic and spices, was the best tomato soup I ever got my hands on. Its a real shame that I can't round up some more of this amazing dish!
I'm sad to see El Torito Grill of Beverly Hills close its doors, because it truly was a great feast for the senses. They put up a good fight until the end! Visit their other locations in the Southern California area for a great Tex Mex experience.
Tavern is yet another enchanted creation of Chef Suzanne Goin: the superstar chef behind The A.O.C., Lucques, and The Hungry Cat. Every time I reminisce about my out-of-this-world experiences at one of her restaurants, I start to crave one of the delicious morsels I have had the pleasure of eating. Its hard to describe her cooking style, as each restaurant has its only personality and specialty dishes. Today, I'm here to rave about her Brentwood Neighborhood favorite, Tavern.
Traditionally, taverns are known as havens for drunkards and heathens alike to drink, be merry and eat. As it is uncommon in the United States to come across taverns, I can only imagine that they are as magical as they are portrayed in films such as The Lord of the Rings - filled with unlikely characters and good food. Tavern is just like that.
Rather than expect giants and dwarfs among the crowd, you can expect A-List celebrities to be crawling the restaurant. I had the pleasure of gawking at Nick Lachey and wife Vanessa Minnillo - however, they proved to be quite normal creatures.
For our first dish, my partner and I had a rendition of the Caesar salad. Unfortunately, it is no longer on the menu - but I can still remember the decadence of the Pt. Reyes blue cheese complimented with the roasted pecans. Each savory bite had a hint of acidic dressing to cut through the cheese, and was worth all $15.00.
Also no longer available on their seasonal menu was a braised short rib paired with mashed potatoes and au jus sauce. My mouth waters thinking about how the meat pulled apart with ease, and bursted with flavor in my mouth. Yum.
As for myself, I had the crispy duck confit with black rice, swiss chard and spiced rhubarb. It is one of the restaurants signature dishes, which is very unlikely to be found elsewhere. I swear, this dish is so good, it is borderline witchery!
This blog entry does not do Suzanne Goin proper justice, but I can assure you, each dish was exquisite. Tavern is on the pricey side, with main dishes averaging $30. The best way to imagine the food at this restaurant is to remember the love Gollum had for his ring...MY PRECIOUS!!!
As a native Angeleno, Michael's offers the best cuisine there is: Californian. Using fresh and seasonal ingredients straight from the Santa Monica farmer's market, you could not ask for a better source for lunch. That being said, Michael's tends is by no means a cheap eat given the quality of their food. Luckily for me, I got this trio of dishes for $25 during DineLA restaurant week.
"Chicken and Waffle Wings"
Half-Dozen, Chili Salt, Maple Syrup
When I say I know fried chicken, I mean it. I could eat fried chicken everyday if it wasn't for such a thing called cholesterol. I know that Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles have become an LA landmark, but for those of you have been there, its actually not the best fried chicken in town. This is definitely the best modern interpretation of chicken and waffles around. There, I said it. #juicy #crispy #sweetnspicy
Michael's Cobb Salad
Blue Cheese, Chicken Breast, Bacon, Tomatoes, Egg, Mustard Vinaigrette
To step away from carbohydrates for a moment, I dived into a cobb salad packed with farm fresh vegetables and meat. It was one of the better cobb salads I have eaten, but does not beat out Clementine's in Century City. #farmfresh #healthy #delicious
Chocolate Espresso Tart
Creme Fraiche, Coffee Ice Cream
The course to wrap it all up was a sugary delight of chocolate espresso realness (I stole that word from #RuPaul). It was really effing good apart from the creme fraiche bit. #yum
Avoid the crowds and the sky high prices by dining at Michael's for lunch rather than dinner. It's a short walk away from 3rd Street Promenade, which makes for the perfect meeting spot for a group of friends.
When people ask me where to travel during DineLA, my first response here on forward will be Piccolo Venice. For $45, I was able to sample FIVE delectable courses on a quaint winter evening on the cusp of Venice beach. The location seemed appropriate considering my mind wandered to Italy over the course of two hours.
tomatoes, burrata, basil, olive oil
The first dish was a modern interpretation of caprese salad. Layered like tiramisu, pomodori had delicate layers of salted tomato puree, creamy burrata, and fragrant virgin olive oil. My taste buds had arrived first class to Milan in a matter of minutes.
rabbit ragu, spices, white wine
The second course was slightly more adventurous, with bits of rabbit sprinkled throughout a penne pasta. This was my first experience eating rabbit, and I must say, it was delicious. Consider this unparalleled dish a day trip to the glorious stadiums near Rome.
What is an exquisite meal without truffles? This aromatic pasta delight was perhaps the most coveted dish of the meal. Light wafers of truffles contrasted with dense fontina ravioli made for an impressional bite of food. Reminiscent of the Renaissance period, my mind floated to Florence to savor the memorable details of this piece of art.
monkfish, kale, cinzano cream
For the main course, I savored a chunk of monkfish wrapped in a spinach and kale dressing. While I appreciated the creativity of this dish, I found the monkfish was in fact too dense. Perhaps the culinary masters need to spend some time in Genoa, Italy's principal seaport, to fine tune this dish.
puffs filled with valrhona gianduja chocolate
The grand finale was a cherished bite of chocolate puffs with vanilla cream sauce. My heart recalled the last scene of Romeo & Juliet, and flew me to Verona to savor this incredibly sweet moment.
As you sip your last drop of wine, you come to the realization that your tour around Italy is over. For those of you looking to spend an adventurous night out in Venice, California, beware of the portal that takes you to Venice, Italy.
Alas. After waiting several months to try this well reviewed restaurant, I got my chance last night. Why is the restaurant so popular you ask? Upstairs 2 does not your average menu organized by appetizer, main course and dessert. Staying close to its origins of The Wine House, Upstairs 2 has modeled its menu according to wine varietals. For example, if you're in the mood for a medium bodied Chardonnay, the chef suggests that you pair that with a fig and goat cheese flat bread. The point is not to order randomly; rather, it's about pairing the right wine notes with complementary flavors.
Rather than stick to the DineLA menu, my partner and I tasted several dishes from the menu [paired with several glasses of 2.5 ounce portions of wine].
Portabello Mushroom Ravioli ($6.00)
Wild Mushroom Parmesan Broth
Our culinary journey began with a Portabello Mushroom Ravioli. I found the dish to be quite tasty; however, it was very reminiscent of the Trader Joe's frozen dinner. That may sound disconcerting, but rest assured, both are very yummy. This was paired with a rich oak and butter 2010 Luli Chardonnay "Santa Lucia" (CA). The wine was so pleasing, I had to order another!
Our second appetizer was the roasted duck salad. I prefer more crisp to a fat rendered duck breast, but overall, the salad was a sweet and savory delight. The quince vinaigrette was a wonderful accompaniment to the dish, which would have been further enjoyed with bits of cheese. I found the presentation to be a bit sloppy, especially considering the dish cost $13, but in all honesty I look forward to eating it again in the not so distant future.
Grilled Bison Hangar Steak ($17.00)
Yukon Smashed Potatoes, Red Wine Sauce
Perhaps the star of the night was the hangar steak. I might have been a bit drunk at this point, but let me tell you, the red wine sauce went perfectly with my 2010 Standing Sun Grenache (CA). I found the steak to be succulent and rich with flavor, which paired well with a slightly blander side dish of potatoes. I urge you to order this!!!
Not as spectacular as the steak was the beef short ribs. I found them to be flirting with dryness, and in need of a succulent sauce. To my surprise, my partner and I found the roasted barley to be the best part of this dish. With some improvements, I think the short rib would be just as good as the hanger steak.
Bittersweet Molten Chocolate Cake ($6.00)
Vanilla Bean Gelato
As if we hadn't eaten enough, my partner ordered the molten chocolate cake for dessert. Considering this is my favorite dessert to order when I eat out, I was taken a back when I tasted this bittersweet morsel. I'm not sure which aspect of the cake is displeasing, but perhaps it would be better with a different type of chocolate.
Marcona Almond Pie ($6.00)
Spanish Sherry Glaze, Chantilly Cream
Last but not least, the marcona almond pie was without a doubt one of the best desserts I have ever had in Los Angeles. Think of it as pecan pie's better tasting sister. It was sweet, crunchy and creamy - a fantastic way to savor hundreds of calories.
After waiting for months to try Upstairs 2, I finally know what all the hype is about. I enjoyed every dish and wine I tasted, some more than others. Think about dining at Upstairs 2 for your next night out with a hot date.