Hash House A Go-Go on Sahara, Las Vegas NV

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Hash House A Go-Go on Sahara

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Bottomless Coffee

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Butterscotch Pecan Flapjack

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Andy’s sage fried chicken benedict with fresh spinach, hardwood smoked bacon, market tomato, griddled mozzarella, chipotle cream and scrambled eggs

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Buttermilk Biscuit with Peach Preserves

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Hot oatmeal w/ milk & mixed fresh fruit

Having visited the Linq location during its Imperial Palace days and also partaking in early morning breakfast at The Rio during last year’s Winter Olympics a visit to West Sahara’s Hash House A Go-Go was mostly for the amusement of a well traveled guest from out of town, and with absurd portions the rule and smiling service entirely amused by my old friend’s antics one would be hard pressed to name a more appropriate experience to show what the San Diego import is all about.

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Undoubtedly more “Vegasy” than its Midwestern roots or So. Cal. origins would suggest, it was just after 8:15 that we entered the sizable spot and opting to switch to a four-top after originally being seated at a two-seater it would not be long before coffee was filled for the first of several times, an enormous menu next navigated with the resultant order entailing four items – one a daily special, and the rest restaurant signatures all arriving at once to quickly flood the table.

Ever bubbly in service, with subtle pop tunes and country floating overhead, it was with great amusement that my pal bantered the server about her Energizer Bunny personality as I began to tuck in and although the oatmeal was nothing particularly special the fresh fruit and berry-streaked plate details did not go unnoticed, a little extra effort elevating an old standard while the buttermilk biscuit with housemade peach preserves remains one of the best in the city – a soft and savory center beneath a top baked golden brown.

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Moving on to things more interesting, it was next in the Man vs. Food favorite of Sage Fried Chicken beneath smoky pepper cream that the meal progressed and although the heap of griddled mashed potatoes was far too much to be enjoyed in its entirety every bit of the juicy chicken, fluffy scrambled eggs, and crisp bacon was devoured by the time the meal came to an end.

Finishing the morning with a hubcap-sized pancake, equally soaked in buttermilk as the biscuit but receiving a substantial upgrade from toasted pecans and butterscotch chips, it was beneath a lacquer of butter, light whip, and brought-from-home maple syrup that a first bite was taken, and although the edges proved a bit dull when lacking all the accoutrements, the center of the flapjack was as good as any griddled novelty in Sin City, particularly at a mere $10.

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FOUR STARS:  Chastised by some for portions felt to be irresponsible, and reportedly varying in quality depending on kitchen staff and time of day, all three of my visits to HHaGG as well as San Diego’s Tractor Room spin-off have been memorable for not only the food but the service – a Midwestern vibe for a Midwesterner at heart, no matter what state the drivers license says.

RECOMMENDED:  Flapjacks, Buttermilk Biscuits.

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AVOID:  Obviously going for ‘over-the-top’ I personally found the Fried Chicken benedict to be a bit overly complicated when compared to the Pounded Pork Loin version or the Chicken and Waffles, largely a result of the substantial heap of potatoes but also due to unnecessary mozzarella where a bit more acid from the tomato would have seemingly been far better placed.

TIP:  Completely full with a 20+ minute line snaking out the door by 9:30 those looking to dine at the Sahara location would be best served to arrive early or at off hours on weekends, the casino locations at The Plaza, Rio, and Quad generally less crowded and a Henderson location soon to join the fray and perhaps thin the crowd more.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.hashhouseagogo.com/vegas/

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Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Food, Hash House A Go Go, Hash House A Go Go Sahara, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, Pork

Carnevino [4,] Las Vegas NV

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Carnevino

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Cheese Bombolini

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Rosemary Focaccia with Lardo and Butter

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Stracciatella – Beets, citrus, Sicilian pistachios

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House-Made Pastrami – Duck egg, cracked pepper

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Grilled Octopus – Pickled vegetables and limoncello

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Prosciutto di Parma ‘Riserva’ – Apples, Puffed Bread

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Carne Cruda – Chopped to order steak tartare with raw mushrooms, fennel

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Affettati Misti – Mortadella, Lomo, Coppa, Fennel Salami, Head Cheese, Jingle Bell and Piquillo Peppers

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Gnocchi – Gorgonzola, arugula and figs

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Beef Cheek Ravioli – White truffles, brown butter

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2” 240+ Day Dry Aged Riserva Strip

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90-Day Bone in Ribeye

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Veal Chop – 20oz Bone in

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Charred Brussels Sprouts with gremolata

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Fried Eggplant with tomato & ricotta

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Mascarpone & Guanciale Mashed Potatoes

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Spinach with garlic & hot peppers

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Cesare’s ‘Tuscan Fries’

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Chocolate & Peanut Butter Torte – Peanut brittle, salted caramel

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Vanilla Cheesecake – Pomegranate, roast apples

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Caramel Panna Cotta – Vanilla poached pears, candied pecans

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Vanilla Semifreddo – Citrus, caramel sauce

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Double Espresso over Ice

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Attempting to craft a memorable Las Vegas weekend for an old friend who has been everywhere and eaten almost everything it was to Nicole Brisson and the staff at Carnevino that my mind turned when looking for something ‘unique,’ and two weeks following a tour of the aging facility on Dean Martin with the Chef and her team a group of six sat down in the grand dining room for an $1100 meal crafted by Chef Brisson and head server, Shep, the man who’d arranged the tour and easily one of the city’s best front of house staff.

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High ceilinged and energetic as ever, with Batali’s eclectic mix of rock playing just-loud-enough overhead, it was in two bottles of affordable wine that the group partook (after cracking some jokes about the general absurdity of the list) and placing ourselves in the hands of the restaurant a four-course feast unfolded, the opening volley of creamy gougeres proving as good as ever while lardo and butter gilded many rosemary rolls.

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Moving onward to antipasta, as the White Stripes churned overhead, a six-pack of plates began the meal proper and with stretchy stracciatella, tender tartare, and prosciutto as well as house made charcuterie all shining strongly none of them could trump Mario’s signature charred octopus splashed in spice and acid, nor the off-menu reference standard pastrami served with two sunny side duck eggs – a plate that left us mopping the plate clean and requesting more bread.

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Next offered a pair of primi, the $80 white truffle supplement added to signature beef-cheek ravioli proving a pricey and unimpressive upcharge that was additionally unrequested, it was additionally interesting that the tender gnocchi saw only one slice of fig offered with one plate while a trio graced the other – a skimpy portion either way, considering the cost of the four pastas alone trumped $180 inclusive of tax and tip.

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Moving onward to the main event, a trio of meats that were hand selected by Shep and the Chef, suffice it to say that the grill is where Carnevino again showed its ‘stuff’ and with several calling the olive-oil drizzled Veal Chop the best they’d ever tasted it was straight to the steaks that other’s attention turned – the sizable 90+ day dry-aged ribeye every bit deserving its signature status while a 2” Strip, aged nearly 9 months, was supple and aromatic – the top notes of truffle melting to flavors of beef and butter and ending with a blue cheese linger unlike any other steak on the market.

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Impressed somewhat by sides, mostly by the potatoes and eggplant but less so by spinach that was lost amidst bold spice and garlic, it was with a double espresso refresher that the palate was transitioned to dessert and although the signature bombolini were not served this time around there was a different favorite for everyone at the table amongst the four items served – the crispy chocolate and peanut butter torte as good as ever while both the winter citrus semifreddo and delicate cheesecake were exercises in refinement, each presenting bold flavors amidst light textures and perfectly suited to end a meal so heavily invested in meat.

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FOUR STARS: Not quite as impressive as my last two visits to Carnevino, largely as a result of the exceedingly disappointing and pricey pastas, the restaurant still stands as one of the most unique experiences in Las Vegas and although the Riserva is indeed a pricey piece of meat, the care and effort involved cannot be overstated as everything from sourcing and selection to aging and presentation is unquestionably world class.

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RECOMMENDED: Riserva Steaks, House-Made Pastrami, Grilled Octopus.

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AVOID: White Truffles in late January, Spinach Side Dish.

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TIP: Those interested in seeing the aging facility would be best served to contact the restaurant directly as public visits are generally not offered, though for those willing to invest the effort I can certainly say it is a learning opportunity like no other.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.carnevino.com/home.cfm

Carnevino on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Carnevino, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Italian, Las Vegas, Nevada, Octopus, Pork, Tasting Menu, Truffle

Saint Martha, Los Angeles CA

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Saint Martha

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Mussel and Foie Butter Bruscetta

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Juniper cured salmon with smoked goat cheese, pickle and everything bagel churro

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Hamachi crudo with yuzu vinaigrette, avocado and seaweed Doritos

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Crab and smoked uni cream “okonomiyagi”

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Chicken liver mousse with mushroom, hazelnut praline, pickled blueberries and toast

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Brassicas with brewer’s yeast broth, mushroom and egg

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Roasted winter squash with treviso, white chocolate mole, pomegranate and mint

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Snapper with sunchoke, morcilla, fennel confit and meyer lemon oil

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Diver Scallop with vanilla-parsnip puree, bloomsdale and bacon persillade

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Chicken thigh with cauliflower, artichoke, chicken skin granola and brown butter hollandaise

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Braised Pork belly with black garlic porridge, almost 5 minute egg and a bunch of onions

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Pecan wood smoked brisket with lettuce, carrot, daikon and chili-hoisin

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Carrot kamut cake with carrot sorbet, coconut jerk leather, pumpkin seed brittle and crème fraiche crémeux

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Peanut butter ganache, roasted grape ice cream, griddled pound cake and chocolate feuilletine

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Fig Cake, peanuts, popcorn, caramel ice cream, marmalade

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Candied Peanuts

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Soju

Located in K-Town, and according to some the heir apparent to dearly departed Red Medicine, it was just after 7:30 that six friends sat down amidst the cozy confines of Saint Martha and with Chef Nick Erven channeling the patron saint of cooks and servants as rock tracks added to the ambient noise the only thing more lively than the room was the cuisine itself, a fourteen course feast capped by amuses and mignardises in which not a single course lacked or lagged.

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Largely taking an approach that saw several items requested in duplicate so that each trio of diners had plenty to share, it was just moments after seating that orders were crafted and sipping on ginger-cucumber infused soju the first bite of the evening was a good sign of things to come – the subtle sapor of foie beneath a tender mussel again celebrating the luxury ingredient’s re-legalization while also proving a pleasant entry to a duo of raw fishes, the tender salmon clearly riffing on a New York Deli favorite while light citrus enlivened crudo that found balance in creamy avocado alongside briny seaweed crisps.

Treated next to two of the menu’s more funky options it should seem obvious to anyone familiar that a Japanese pancake fried with uni beneath a hefty helping of freshly picked crab was an embarrassment of riches, and although each creamy bite beneath golden exterior was indeed delicious it is perhaps all the more telling of the skills in the kitchen that a quenelle of chicken liver bathed in umami-laden veloute was even better, the blueberries offsetting the iron while additional toast was offered for spreading.

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Entirely happy to move into vegetables after the heft of the pate it was two large bowls that arrived next at the table and although the brassicas fell somewhat short of Saison’s signature dish the use of egg and yeast provided a bold flavor profile that proved a surprisingly adept counterpart to the soon-arriving squash matched to smoky cocoa as bites of pomegranate wrestled with bitter radicchio and mint in an elegant top note.

Opting for two fish before finishing with three meats one would be hard pressed to decide whether the skin-on snapper or tender scallops presented more flavor per bite, but as excellent as each plate was it would be equally challenging to claim either rivaled the experience offered by either sous-vide chicken thighs amidst granola and creamy hollandaise or the succulent pork belly matched to deep fried eggs and jet-black porridge that could undoubtedly be smelled – and envied – a few tables away.

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Nodding to Korea by way of Texas with Brisket far better than that at Barrel & Ashes served alongside lettuce cups and spicy hoisin it was with plates wiped clean that a dessert order was placed and opting again for the ‘two of each’ approach the only ‘problem’ was teaching oneself how to share – the newly offered fig cake harkening savory sticky toffee pudding while the oft raved carrot cake and PB&J both rivaled the creativity of Los Angeles’ best kitchens with flavors and textures galore – a best bite of the former at once creamy and crunchy as well as salty and sweet with a vegetal finish that lingered on until the end of the night.

http://www.saintmartharestaurant.com/

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Posted in California, Crab, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Los Angeles, Pork, Saint Martha, Vacation

B Sweet Dessert Bar, Los Angeles CA

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B Sweet Dessert Bar

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Sunday Sin-namon Roll

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Salted Caramel Bread Pudding

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Cornbread Bread Pudding – Thrifty Vanilla Ice Cream

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Already three-deep in sweets after breakfast at Gjusta, snacks at Primo’s, and brunch at Flores it was simply a matter of curiosity and convenience that drew me through the doors of B Sweet and although not particularly hungry a selection of bread puddings proved absolutely irresistible, the grab n’ go packaging particularly convenient for a Packers vs. Seahawks mid-game snack.

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Originally a catering concept founded by Barb Batiste, with a focus on old-school cakes and pastries mastered during stints at California hotels as well cafes, the Sawtelle Dessert Bar is the first Brick and Mortar iteration of Chef Batiste’s concepts and already shipping frozen puddings to retailers such as Target the concept seems ripe to expand with a rotating menu of weekly in-house offerings alongside old classics from which a few samples were tasted before selecting a trio – two ‘be good’ sized bread puddings, and a daily special that unfortunately proved to be nothing particularly special at all.

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Eschewing enormous cookies, cheese cakes, ready-to-eat cookie dough, and Barb’s famous Chocolate Chip Banana Bread it was instead with a small-ish cinnamon roll that the tasting began and although nicely gilded with butter and top grade cinnamon amidst rich frosting the bun itself was unfortunately dry with a flavor no better than Bisquick – a trend thankfully reversed in the pair of puddings to follow.

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Opting to indulge in one ‘standard’ and one ‘special,’ each priced at $4, it was with a $1 Thrifty  Ice Cream upgrade that I partook in steamy, custard infused cornbread and eating something corn pudding at first with the melting vanilla quickly giving the cup an almost cream corn-like texture it would be hard to imagine a better marriage of the two, each bite a little sweet and just a touch saline with exquisite transition to the tried n’ true Salty Caramel that followed – just one rich bite enjoyed in store, but the rest remaining warm in the package for further enjoyment just a few hours later.

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www.mybsweet.com

Posted in B Sweet, B Sweet Dessert Bar, Bread Pudding, California, Cornbread, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Los Angeles, Vacation

Flores & The Ladies’ Gunboat Society, Los Angeles CA

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Flores & The Ladies’ Gunboat Society

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Bottomless Coffee from Intelligentsia

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Buttermilk Biscuit, Apple Butter, Crème Fraiche Butter

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Gingerbread Donuts, Vanilla Pear Caramel Sauce

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Country Fried Chicken, Grilled Broccoli, Grits, Sunny Up Egg, Pepper Gravy

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Shrimp & Grits, Brussel Sprouts, Bacon, Poached Eggs, Hollandaise

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Tres Leches French Toast, Dulce de Leche, Pomegranate

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More than a little impressed by a prior brunch at Hart & the Hunter it was blatantly ignoring the state of flux in the kitchen at Flores & The Ladies’ Gunboat Society that a midday reservation was made, and although service was a perfunctory exercise at best, any turmoil or behind the scenes chef change was unperceivable as relates to the food – each of five plates ranging from good to exquisite, and almost every bit as good as what was experienced from Dunsmoor and his team at Palihotel on Melrose.

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Located on Sawtelle, in the midst of a restaurant row from which ‘modern Southern American’ sticks out like a sore thumb, it was just moments after opening that our duo sat down at a tight two-top on the cusp of the patio and with coffee quickly filled the first time but refills almost entirely for lack it was after a quick debate that selections were made, a five course meal stretched over just over an hour during which the restaurant would never see more than 1/8 capacity – all the more confusing as to exactly why the service was so sluggish.

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Specifically requesting the courses come out one-by-one it was mere moments after placing an order that a pair of fluffy biscuits with sidecars of apple puree alongside smooth, sour butter arrived and although not quite as impressive as the cheddar masterpieces at H&tH it would be hard to call them anything less than reference standard, the following plate of piping hot donuts upping the ante with an up-front spice profile, next-to-zero greasiness, and a pot of vanilla infused caramel featuring a floral sort of sweetness seemingly derived only from the essence of pears.

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Moving onward to a duo of savories it should go without saying that any ‘southern’ restaurant serving fried chicken is bound to see me place an order and although a bit lost under a smothering of pepper gravy the times when the briny bird managed to peak through showed good reason to revisit for the weekly fried chicken dinner, the lightly charred broccoli standing up far better to the toppings while creamy polenta formed the sort of base that left one scraping the bowl clean when imbued with the yolk an egg over-easy.

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Again hoping for a reprise of the quality on display at Hart and the Hunter it was in a bowl of snappy prawns amidst crispy sprouts, poached eggs, and creamy Hollandaise that the savories fully hit their mark and just smoky enough from the addition of smoked bacon it was a surprisingly smooth transition to the ‘save the best for last’ moment that followed as three slices of lightly charred French Toast found balance in a rich custard interior topped with seeds of pomegranate atop a slick of salty caramel – each bite as good as the last and undoubtedly the best sweet bites encountered thus far in this calendar year.

www.floreslosangeles.com

Flores on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Breakfast, California, Coffee, Dessert, Flores, Flores & The Ladies’ Gunboat Society, Food, French Toast, Intelligentsia, Los Angeles, Pork, The Ladies’ Gunboat Society, Vacation

Primo’s Donuts, Los Angeles CA

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Primo’s Donuts

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Maple Longjohn

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Buttermilk Bar

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Maple Old Fashioned

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Cinnamon Butterfly Twist

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Vanilla Glazed Devil’s Food

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Cherry Glazed Cake

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Proudly representing Westdale since 1956, and named by some sources as the best donuts in Los Angeles, it was just after 9:30am that parking behind Primo’s Donuts was allocated and making way into the tiny storefront to find several hot options emerging from the kitchen just as I arrived it seemed as though luck was shining bright, a lack of Apple Fritters a bit disappointing, though the six items ordered almost universally impressive at the bargain basement price of $5.56.

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Family owned and operated since long before I was born, and serving both cake and yeast raised options to inhabitants of West LA seven days a week since opening their doors, Primo’s is the work of Ralph and Celia Primo who purchased the store during a trip west many years ago and still operated by the same couple a first bite of the still-warm Long John tells one all they need to know as a fluffy interior beneath syrup flavored frosting speaks of old time recipes and none of the fancy artisan upselling so frequently seen today.

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Not a place for cronuts or crullers, subsequent tastes found the light cocoa notes of Devil’s Food amidst a soft crumb well paired to crisp vanilla glaze while an equally wispy butterfly showed plenty of cinnamon to tantalize the tongue. Moving onward to a soft cake variant, unfortunately a bit too oily despite tangy cherry glaze, it was quick that the course would correct – the sour cream old fashioned topped with more sticky maple showing off subtle sours while the buttermilk bar was absolutely reference standard with sweet glaze and ample sours in delicate balance, each bit compelling one more and almost good enough to send me back inside for a couple more if only brunch weren’t so soon to follow.

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http://www.primosdonuts.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, California, Dessert, Food, Los Angeles, Primo's, Primo's Donuts, Vacation

Gjusta, Los Angeles CA

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Gjusta

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Cold Brew over Ice

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Butter Croissant

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Quiche Lorraine

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Buttermilk Biscuit, Butter, Apricot Jam

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Baklava Croissant

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Cinnamon Crumb Brioche Doughnut

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Chocolate Babka

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Banana Cream Pie

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Blueberry Chess Pie

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Having visited Gjelina far too long ago, but generally impressed by the experience and food, it was after an early morning half-marathon run through the hills of Sherman Oaks that I made the 25 minute drive to Venice, and meeting a friend just after 9am as the jack-of-all-trades standing-room-only space slowly crept towards capacity suffice it to say that Travis Lett has another hit on his hands.

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Long and narrow, with space to browse along one wall and several stations as well as cases featuring everything from fresh bread and pastry to smoked fish and bagels, the service-style at Gjusta is best described as ‘free-form’ and with several helpful clerks happy to answer questions and gather provisions it was a large order that was crafted – eight items plus a cold-brew from Stumptown tallying just under $55 after tax and a small tip.

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Nearly assaulted by a ‘bro’ who seemed to think that my annoyance with his stepping on my foot in an attempt to secure a spot at the food bar was unwarranted it was after avoiding crisis that the goods were unboxed, and beginning savory with a shattering bite of croissant the first impression was strong, a followup quiche, rich with cheese and fluffy eggs, equally impressive before delving into a six-pack of sweets.

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Admittedly not ‘cheap,’ but also using top grade butter, organic milk as well as eggs, and locally sourced produce as Chef Lett bounced from station to station overseeing a team of at least two-dozen it was in a buttermilk biscuit that teeth next sank and with ample tanginess balanced by sweet jam and smooth butter the only way it might have been better was warm, a similar statement applicable to the soft ball of brioche rolled in cinnamon sugar, a virtually oilless masterpiece that very well may have been baked as opposed to fried.

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Working up to laminated pastry before culminating in pie, there has been much written about Gjusta’s Baklava Croissant and biting through the golden shell to find notes of honey and plenty of nuts it was a pleasure to find out that rumors of the city’s best non-traditional croissant are true, yet moving on to another laminated pastry, a sizable Chocolate Babka, it warrants mention that the later was perhaps even better – both items featuring a feather-light crumb below the crunch and the sort of nuanced sweetness likely to appeal to those preferring a less sugary breakfast, but equally satisfying to those happy to indulge.

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Having already mentioned the all-too-necessary ‘breakfast-dessert(s),’ it remains impressive just how different various Banana Cream Pies can be, and again avoiding the temptation to overwhelm with sweetness the version at Gjusta instead wows with densely packed bananas, relying almost exclusively on their own intrinsic flavors, beneath a veil of hand whipped cream – the lightly toasted all-butter crust well suited for its duties both here and in the case of a creamy chess pie that used blueberries amidst all the milk and butter to temper light notes of vinegar with outstanding results.

http://losangeles.menupages.com/restaurants/gjusta/

Posted in Breakfast, California, Coffee, Croissant, Dessert, Food, Gjusta, Los Angeles, Vacation, Venice

Patina, Los Angeles CA

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Patina

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Miso Panna Cotta with Yuzu Foam, Kumquat with Olive Tapanade, Scallop Crudo with Lemon Crème Friche and Grapefruit

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Olive, Baguette, Epi with Salted Butter

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Capellini Pasta – Osetra Caviar, Celtuce, Citrus Vinaigrette, Fines Herbes

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63C Duck Egg – Tea Smoked Duck Breast, Potato Puree, Maitake Mushroom, Earl Grey Broth

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Seared Foie Gras – Raisin, Toasted Brioche, Peanut Sauce au Chocolat Blanc

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Butter Poached Lobster – Bone Marrow Mousse, Shimeji Mushroom, Salsify, Lobster Nage

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John Dory – Parsley Coulis, Cauliflower Couscous, Caviar-Champagne Veloute

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Rabbit Degustation – Bacon Wrapped Loin, Shoulder Lasagna, Pickled Turnip, Charred Brussels Sprouts, Riesling Sauce

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Beef Tenderloin – Shishito Pepper, Horseradish Mustard, Bernaise Potato Compression, Bordelaise

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Artisinal Cheese Selection with Condiments and Fruit Bread, Baguette

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Lime Posset – Peanut Nougatine, Ginger Chiffon, Thai Chili Foam, Kafir Lime Ice Cream

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Warm Fig Compote – Hazelnut Financier, Lavender Chiboust, Honey Ice Cream

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Madeline, Macaroon, Sesame Seed Chocolate Ganache

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Double Espresso over Ice

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Long residing on the Los Angeles culinary ‘to-do’ list it was mostly at the recommendation of a friend that reservations were made for three at 8:30pm and entering the Walt Disney Concert Hall attached space precisely on time it was with warm smiles and exemplary service that our party was greeted before being led to a center-room table – it was also the last of any exemplary service to be found throughout an evening where food shined, but shoddy service and extremely slow pacing extended eight proper courses to four hours that felt even longer than that.

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Currently toqued by Paul Lee, formerly of Le Cirque Las Vegas, and recently transitioned to tasting menu only format, Patina remains the Relais & Chateaux crown jewel of Joachim Splichal’s restaurant group and opting for an ‘all-in’ approach for the first visit it was much to the disappointment of the table that we were informed immediately after seating that they were sold-out of duck…a walkout quickly contemplated, but eventually deciding to stay and experience a $150 tasting menu from which nearly every item shined.

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Utilizing a style of service that relies heavily on back-servers while captains kowtowed to a table of regulars to our left the meal began awkwardly when sommelier service was refused to my friend – no pairings available and ‘recommendations from the sommelier’ made by way of our waiter – and no sooner did this occur than a trio of canapés arrived without a single word of description, a young man eventually flagged down to tell us exactly what we were eating…a recurring event until complaints were uttered to a man defining himself as the dining room manager.

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Continually marred by service gaffs it was shortly after a first round of warm, excellent bread found its way to the table, the meal began with a twirl of pasta and seemingly pulled directly from the menu at Le Cirque the tender noodles were tender and springy while briny bubbles of caviar burst under a bright vinaigrette, a followup course of sous vide egg over potatoes with smoky notes and buttered mushrooms making a quick turn to umami that worked surprisingly well.

Trumpeting the return of foie gras, much like the rest of The Golden State, course three featured a caramelize slice of tender liver perched on a piece of brioche beneath the comforting flavors of raisins and cocoa, and again opting to focus on the intrinsic sweetness of the plate’s central protein a subsequent plate of butter poached lobster proved impeccably textured surrounded by a rich butter reduction grounded in mushrooms and root vegetables.

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Generally underwhelmed by John Dory, as many chefs seem to overcook the meaty fish, Chef Lee’s skills were again highlighted in course five as the flesh proved flaky and moist atop a pile of cut cauliflower bathed in brightly flavored broth and with no one friend opting to finish with beef while two of us instead chose the rabbit the kitchen’s skills again shined, the funky lasagna particularly memorable and perhaps the best bite of the night.

Presented next with a proper cheese cart, and for once taking time to truly explain the food being served, it was with a large selection of options spanning Portuguese Sheep’s milk to Epoisses, and an unforgivingly aggressive blue it was surprisingly without palate cleanser that dessert arrived and making a quick taste transition with the assistance of a double espresso over ice it was in something resembling deconstructed sticky toffee pudding that I invested while friends chose the lime posset – something we’d originally been told could not be substituted on the tasting menu due to ‘portion,’ but a pleasant surprise with citrus and spice walking a fine line as ginger perfumed the palate.

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Ending in mignardises, our table the last in the room, it was undoubtedly the sesame covered chocolate that stole the show, and presented with the bill at just over $200 per person inclusive of tax and tip it was with mixed emotions that we made our way to the empty streets – the clock now reading “AM” after a meal memorable for the food and friends involved, but far from perfect due to service more befitting a quick-casual chain than a place Relais & Chateaux or Michelin ranked.

http://www.patinagroup.com/patina/

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Posted in Bread Basket, California, Coffee, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Lobster, Los Angeles, Madeline, Patina, Pork, Tasting Menu, Vacation

LudoBird, Los Angeles CA

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LudoBird

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Buttermilk Provencal – The Original with Bearnaise

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Housemade Chips

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Ludo Sweet and Salty Ice Cream Sandwich

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Having last eaten arena food at Staples Center on January 20th, 2007 when the Kings retired #20 to the rafters – an unmemorable plate of sushi in Club Level Seats – it seemed only appropriate to end a nearly 8 year streak as the team prepared to hang Rob Blake’s Number 4, a quick perusal while wandering the lowering ring after a visit to TeamLA quickly finding me in line at Ludo Lefebvre’s Ludobird – the fast-food style service perfunctory, at best, but the three strips of chicken somehow managing to justify the $11.50 tab.

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Well culled in menu, with most items based on those offered at the Celebrity Chef’s roaming food truck, it was clearly a trainee that took my order and after twice asking his manager which buttons to press in order to process my order a crisp $20 was exchanged for a ticket – the numbers called out at the other end of the counter where several patrons waited, the entire process taking place in just under ten minutes after which a standing-room-only table was allocated next to a nearby bar.

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Admittedly disappointed that highly praised lavender biscuits were not available, but happy to partake in hand sliced chips aggressively spiced and salted with hardly a hint of oil, it was onward to the signature bird that the tasting quickly progressed and with each strip intensely crisp over well brined bird the sidecar of sauce was almost unnecessary – the ‘almost’ qualification no slight, however, as the creamy béarnaise was better than that served at most restaurants and an instant upgrade to almost anything it touched, particularly the aforementioned fried spuds.

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Obviously not one to forgo dessert, particularly not one so whimsical as a true “ice cream sandwich,” it was finally in one of Ludo’s signature Sweet and Salty compositions that the meal would end and although forced to consume the melting amalgam faster than I’d have preferred due to the toasty, warm bun the juxtaposition of heat and cold was a treat in-and-of itself while the tried n’ true caramel notes were every bit as good as those experienced at Sweet Rose or Salt & Straw – and certainly a whole lot better than one would expect from a concourse elsewhere in the NHL.

http://www.ludolefebvre.com/restaurants/ludobird/

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Posted in California, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Los Angeles, LudoBird, Vacation

Terrine, Los Angeles CA

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Terrine

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Assiette de Charcuteries – Pork Rillettes, Terrine de Campagne, Duck and Pistachio Terrine, Truffled Chicken Liver, Keilbasa, House Pickles, Olives, Bread

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Caramelized Onion Pizza – House Cured Anchovies, Olives

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Biscuits – Apple Butter

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Fish and Chips – Tartar Sauce

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Spicy Fried Chicken and Grits – Scallions, Maple

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House Smoked Brisket Hash – Sunny Egg, Horseradish, Burnt Lilies Sauce

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Herb Spatzle – Crème Fraiche, Pecorino, Farm Yolk

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Foie Gras Terrine – Port Poached Fig, Baguette

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Pain Perdu – Vanilla Battered French Toast, Sea Salt Caramel Frosting, Maple

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Baumkuchen – Warm Citrus Marmalade, Citrus Leaf Frozen Yogurt

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Apple and Pear Galette – Apple Jus, Honey-Rosemary Ice Cream

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Birthday Cake – Chocolate, Sea Salt Caramel, Toffee

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Recently opened by Stephane Bombet of Faith & Flower, and toqued by Kris Morningstar, it was at the suggestion of a food-writer acquaintance that brunch at Terrine was penciled into the Los Angeles agenda and easily allocating four friends to join in the experience it can only be said that a leisurely three-hour meal on the open air patio was every bit as good as the rumors – a dozen plates of almost universally impressive cuisine served in a series of five courses with only a server who wasn’t as clever as she thought she was and sub-par bread service holding the meal back from ‘destination dining’ status.

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Every bit a beautiful space, one part French Brasserie and the other half San Francisco al fresco, it was just after 11:30 that our quintet converged on an outdoor table at the cusp of a more formal dining room and soon greeted by a young woman full of ‘everything is good’ superlatives, but little actual knowledge of the kitchen’s culinary techniques, it was after much debate that an order was crafted – the house-made charcuterie arriving on a board more than generous enough for sharing with both terrines truly exemplary and the rest quite competent, though outsourced bread featured too chewy a crumb to be enjoyed for more than just a palate cleansing bite.

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Opting next for a six-slice pizza topped in anchovies, olives, and cheese suffice it to say that the substantially charred crust presented a significant upgrade on the aforementioned baguette and also opting for two orders of biscuits paired to housemade apple butter the same held true for these – each flaky bite loaded with notes of buttermilk while the butter and jam were so good that they were each held over only to be added to a bit of baguette later, an instant upgrade to say the least.

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At this point suffering an unexplained delay, but with no lull in the conversation, it was perhaps thirty minutes before a duo of chicken and grits alongside soft-breaded, flaky fish with golden fries arrived and with the former offering a beautiful balance of sweet and savory, crisp and creamy the only problem was the uncharacteristically small portion – particularly as many of us…or at least myself…would have preferred not to share.

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To this point fairly impressed it was with a wink and a smile about foie gras’ recent legalization that the table was offered an off-menu special of creamy terrine, and with a cost of $20 the sizable slab alongside poached prunes proved more than worth the expense, particularly as compared to the paltry portion at Pistola the night before – and all the moreso when served alongside plates of breakfasty spatzle draped in egg and crème fraiche, as well as custardy French Toast topped in salty caramel in a pool of pure maple syrup.

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Only at this point informed that desserts, too, were an option it was during another pronounced delay that Mr. Bombet stopped by to say hello, and familiar with two of my dining partners, but friendly with all, the restaurateur proved a perfect host – open to concerns about the bread and a wealth of information about the Los Angeles dining scene – until a trio of sweet endings arrived, each completely unlike the others and all displaying a deft hand in the pastry department with the rustic galette and candle-carrying ice cream cake most impressive to myself while others ooh’d and aah’d about the more elegant and light Baumkuchen with bright, citrus ice cream.

http://www.terrinela.com/

Terrine on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Breakfast, California, Coffee, Dessert, Foie, Food, French Toast, Ice Cream, Los Angeles, Pizza, Pork, Terrine, Truffle, Vacation

Republic of Pie, Los Angeles CA

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Republic of Pie

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Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding

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Pecan Pie with Whipped Cream

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Blueberry Pie

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Stepping out of EAT with bread pudding in hand it was just a few short steps later that I approached the counter at Republic of Pie, and with the sprawling space nearly four times larger than the nearby breakfast venue the vibe was decidedly different – a few people dotting tables throughout the back two rooms where outdoor light bathed tables from a skylight, and a few up front lounging on antique furniture made all the more comfortable by years of wear.

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Open at 8am, with nearly two dozen pies ranging from sweet to savory alongside several additional fresh-baked treats, it was with wide eyes that the scene was surveyed and after asking a few questions regarding the Japanese Cold Brew as well as the non-pie pastries a trio was selected – a some for now, some for later approach largely consumed on a comfy couch while browsing the restaurant’s free WiFi.

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Opting for two selections to be warmed up, no microwaves but instead under a salamander, it was with the bread pudding that the tasting began, and served as a sort of layercake with banana bread sandwiching freshly sliced bananas and plenty of melted dark chocolate the results were no less than stunning – each bite moist and rich, so much so that the thick slab was almost too much for a single sitting, particularly when taken next to a pecan pie that rivals the best of what is found throughout the
South, a thin layer of sweet filling beneath a mountain of candied nuts made all the better by a toasty top-note added by the broiler while a 50-cent accoutrement of house-whipped cream proved entirely unnecessary, though immensely satisfying on both the pudding and the pie.

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Saving part of the pudding, as well as that from Eat, for an after-brunch snack it was also a thick slice of Republic of Pie’s Blueberry that joined the midday ‘meal’ and although eaten at room temperature neither the buttery crust nor the densely packed bursting berries were anything less than exemplary, each bite making me wish I’d have ordered a few more slices while already planning a return visit during the next trip to LA.

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http://republicofpie.com/

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Posted in Bread Pudding, Breakfast, California, Dessert, Food, Los Angeles, Republic of Pie, Vacation

EAT, Los Angeles CA

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EAT

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Coffee

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Killing Me Softly – Three Layers of Brioche Stuffed with Fresh Raspberries and Nutella, topped with Vanilla and Raspberry Sauce

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Banana Nut Caramel Pancake

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Banana Bread Pudding with Whipped Cream, Crème Anglaise, Caramel Sauce

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Deciding to once again pass on a Langer’s due to a lack of interest from friends it was back to North Hollywood that breakfast plans would lead and having heard good things about Eat from trusted palates it was just after the restaurant’s 8am opening that I arrived, the small space filling to capacity by 8:30 and remaining that way at least until I abandoned my parking space just minutes prior to eleven.

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Small in size but diverse in menu, with several takes on traditional breakfast items such as eggs, griddles, sandwiches, and sides, Eat occupies a narrow space on Magnolia Boulevard and with an outdoor patio expanding seating to perhaps four-dozen while three short-order cooks and two waiters worked with near-constant motion it can only be said that the feel of the small restaurant is frenetic, yet at the same time never did anyone seem at want for anything – coffee refilled as though by an invisible hand and dishes arriving at a record pace with a surprising eye for plating.

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Starting off with a single pancake, offered at $5.50 with sliced bananas, house-made caramel, as well as roasted pecans, one would be hard pressed to find any fault in the supple buttermilk batter griddled golden brown, and yet as good as the flapjack was it simply could not compare to a tower of crispy custard-laden brioche sandwiched around fresh berries and a slathering of nutella, the addition of house-made vanilla and raspberry sauces making the artificial maple syrup offered with both plates entirely unnecessary, much as the caramel and butter did for the pancake.

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Unable to depart without sampling the bread pudding, but weary of stomach space given substantial dining plans to follow, it was with an order boxed to-go that I made my exit and opting to indulge in the rewarmed square just a few hours later it too would prove a ‘must order’ as the bananas and moist, eggy bread met at a nearly one-to-one ratio beneath a trio of toppings; the vanilla angaise and sticky caramel again making an appearance while hand-whipped cream ever so slightly tempered the sweetness.

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http://eatnoho.com

Eat on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Pudding, Breakfast, California, Coffee, Dessert, eat., Food, French Toast, Los Angeles, Pancakes, Vacation

Pistola, Los Angeles CA

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Pistola

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Ciabatta, Sesame, Bread Stick, Whole Wheat with Salted Butter

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Fegatini – Foie Gras Crostini, Vin Santo, Pear Mostarda, Tuscan Toast, Sea Salt, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Roasted Kabocha Squash – Local Burrata, Pomegranate, Scallions, Blood Orange

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Half Chicken Scarpariiello

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Linguini – Manila Clams, Leeks, Mollica

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Potato Gnocchi – Wild Mushrooms, Marsala

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Bucatini Alla Carbonara – Guanciale, Onion, Black Pepper, Egg Yolk, Pecorino

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Chocolate Tagliatelle – Braised Duck, Rosemary, Fegato, Aceto Balsamico

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Squid Ink Agnolotti – Lobster, Shrump, Scallop, Sea Urchin

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Funghi Misti – Black Truffle Butter , Thyme

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Creamy Polenta – Parmigiano Reggiano

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Cannoli – Sweet Ricotta, Candied Orange, Sicilian Pistachio, Chocolate Chips

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Green Apple Crostata – Figs, Almonds, Honey

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Tortino – Chocolate Cake, Peanut Butter Crema, Marshmallow

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Filling the old AOC space on 3rd Street with a see-and-be-seen scene and cuisine from Vic Casanova Pistola has been white-hot ever since opening its doors, and with a menu fairly familiar to those experienced with East Coast (or Las Vegas) Italian Steakhouses an 8:30pm reservation with two friends found the restaurant absolutely slammed – the bar three-deep and exceedingly loud while the more subdued upstairs was a mix of overpowering cologne, unnecessary music, a couple making out in plain view of thirty others, and a private room with open air access allowing 50F air to flow over everyone in the adjacent room.

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Admittedly off-put by the setting, to the point where I’d considered walking out until the fellow who’d bathed in Gucci Guilty asked to be relocated because he was too cold, it was to equally off putting service that our trio was treated throughout the course of the meal and with plates slopped down by back servers, an espresso spilled after being almost ‘spiked’ on the table without apology, and the wrong Bucatini being served after an inexplicable 48-minute delay between second and third courses suffice it to say that even compared to Las Vegas this is not a place to go for those looking for a refined meal, the case of a highly skilled kitchen done a significant disservice by the front of house to say the least.

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Moving onto the food, expectedly high priced given the location and hype, it was with a duo of appetizers alongside disturbingly dry bread that the meal commenced and with a thin smear of recently legalized foie gras atop crispy bread kicking things off it would be difficult not to quibble the $18, no matter how good, when compared to what was enjoyed at Terrine the day after for a couple dollars more, while the cold Kabocha beneath creamy, stretchy cheese was one of the better preparations tasted in recent memory – the splash of acid and sweet exclamation points of pomegranate juxtaposing crisp scallions offering a substantial upgrade on a dish far too often seen throughout Southern California.

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Opting to overdo it on pastas, priced at $20-$25 and all made in house, it was with a trio arriving no more than ten minutes after appetizers were cleared that the meal carried on and although the Linguini was exceedingly well done with al dente noodles matched to mussels and leeks it simply could not compare to pillow-soft gnocchi in a rich ragu, nor tender black agnolotti somehow managing the highwire act of being both sweet and briny, the flavors of uni melding to snappy lobster and buttery scallops with just the right amount of ‘sea.’

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At this point inexplicably delayed, only to have the wrong pasta and no sides arrive alongside excellent roast chicken and overcooked tagliatelle that unfortunately saw the fowl get lost in the metallic taste of liver mixed with balsamic, it was to a ‘rushed’ order of carbonara that we were eventually treated but with noodles far too al dente while the entire flavor profile leaned far too saline one only wished we’d have simply passed on the $23 mistake instead – a similar sentiment applicable to the overly ‘truffled’ mushrooms, though the creamy polenta was toothsome and rich with topnotes of cheese kept in check by plenty of cream.

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A bit underwhelmed at this point, but unwilling to forgo dessert, it from a concise list of three plated choices along with gelato, sorbet, and cookies that we were left to decide and figuring another $9 each was irrelevant at this point a ‘one of each’ approach was taken – the pinky-sized Cannolis certainly not worth $3 a piece though both the moist chocolate cake and fig-laden crostata were admittedly quite delicious and elegant – the haphazard spillage of coffee notwithstanding.

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http://www.pistola-la.com/

Pistola on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, California, Coffee, Dessert, Foie, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Italian, Los Angeles, Pistola, Pork, Truffle, Vacation

Porridge & Puffs at Field Trip, Los Angeles CA

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Porridge & Puffs

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Verve Cold Brew

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Cabbage Slaw + Rau Ram, Peanuts

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Purple Haze + Cosmic Carrots, Curry Aioli, Pomegranate

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Naked Puffs

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Short Rib – Kokuho Heirloom Rice, Braised Beef Short Ribs, Lacto Fermented Mustard Greens, Pickled Egg, Pickled Pears, Herbs

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Pork! Pork! Pork! – Black Rice, Ham Hock Stock, Crispy Ham, Loin Roulade with Shiso + Mushrooms, Turmeric Pickled Onions, Crispy Shallots, Herbs

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Chicken + Mushrooms – Kokuho Heirloom Rice, Chicken + Mushrooms Braised in Black Pepper Molasses, Soft Egg, Roasted Carrots, Pickled Celery, Crispy Shallots, Herbs

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Diver Scallop in XO Sauce – Kokuho Heirloom Rice, Prickly Ash-Makrut Butter, Herbs

Cold Teff Oatmeal + Rye – Teff, Oatmeal, Millet, Amaranth, Rye Stout, Roasted Champagne Grapes, Rosemary, Hazelnuts, Cream

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Autumn Velvet + Winter Melon – Roasted Kabocho, Blue Hubbard, Butternut Squashes with Numbing Spice Braised Winter Melon, Mochi, Herbs

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Brown Butter Mochi + Miso Caramel

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Essentially a permanent dinner-time pop-up inside Field Trip, with an entrance off Selma Avenue at the corner of Morningside Court despite the 1555 Vine Street Address, it was literally seconds after reading Jonathan Gold’s review that an adjustment in schedule was made to the Los Angeles agenda in order to afford a visit to Porridge & Puffs and although the irony of visiting three ampersand joints in a row is not lost on someone who finds the whole trend hilarious it can only be said that the team in the kitchen isn’t just here to make a quick buck from the hipster trust-fund kids, these ladies and gentlemen are serious about their sourcing, preparation, and craft.

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Transitioning substantially from the morning and afternoon menu to a well-culled selection of vegetables, puffs, and porridges as well as purees beginning at 5:30 it was just as the doors opened that we entered the small space and first sitting at a table but later moving to the bar in order to watch the kitchen while ordering two counter-exclusive ‘flights’ it would not be long before a complimentary starter of snappy and savory slaw arrived and, fast on its heels, a plate of heirloom carrots with seemingly impossible natural sweetness enhanced by brown butter and pomegranate seeds that found its foil in vegan curry aioli that was both up-front and delicate, the sort of thing rarely achieved in even a fine dining establishment charging double the menu price.

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A bit concerned by the porridge preparation as the made-to-order flights unfortunately necessitated some bowls resting idly while others were cooked and blended it was just after 6:05pm that the sextet of bowls arrived and paired to a trio of golden puffs – free on Fridays – the only ‘problem’ that arose was deciding where to start – a decision made a bit easier when the Chef suggested we start with a silky risotto rich with butter and topped with lightly seared scallops, my dining companion’s favorite taste of the night while the best was yet to come for myself.

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Moving next to creamy squash puree with marshmallow-soft mocha and winter melon tinged with numbing spice adding all sorts of textures and sensations it was on to the teff that the tasting progressed and although the cold creaminess was interesting compared to the rest a hefty amount of booze and acid simply did not mix well with the rest of the options, a few bites proving enough before moving on to the second trio where both the short rib and chicken were impressive in their balance of light sweetness with pickling flavors while the pork!pork!pork! was s savory slap to the tastebuds with so much salinity and umami that it was almost too much, the mushrooms and turmeric thankfully adding just enough earthiness to keep the broth grounded, though it was still best when sopped up with the puffs.

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Finishing up the evening with Verve’s Cold Brew poured over ice, served next to chewy strips of mochi seared in a pan with brown butter and topped with a sweetened miso glaze, it was with a modest bill of $31 per person after tax and tip that we made our exit and with the dining room now more than 3/4 full I only hope the concept continues to thrive so I can return during a new season to see what the team thinks up next.

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http://www.fieldtripla.com/porridge/

Field Trip at The Farmer's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Posted in California, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Los Angeles, Pork, Porridge & Puffs, Porridge & Puffs at Field Trip, Vacation, Verve Coffee

Salt & Straw, Los Angeles CA

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Salt & Straw

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Happy Birthday Elvis – Banana pudding ice cream, Marionberry Jam from Oregon Hill Farms along with homemade peanut butter-bacon butterfingers

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Salted, Malted, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

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Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache

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Black Olive Brittle & Goat Cheese

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Located on Larchmont and imported from Portland it was largely a lack of time that prevented a visit to Salt & Straw during a late-2014 trip to Los Angeles but unwilling to repeat the mistake this time around it was just after lunch at Barrel & Ashes that I approached the equally ampersanded spot and with smiling service from the moment of entry to the very last bite it was a pleasure to find rumors of lessened quality entirely false as each of the LA Signatures, as well as the seasonal specials, shined.

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Reportedly marred by increased prices and a lower quality base by those obsessed with all things Portlandia, but featuring the same satin texture and innovative flavors to my own Salt & Straw-experienced tongue it was with no less than six samples that my experience began and with both the Stumptown Coffee & Compartes Love Nuts and Santa Ynez Valley Walnut Oil proving quite exemplary the eventual choice of four flavors to fill a $10 ‘flight’ was a difficult one to say the least.

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Opting to invest in options spreading the palate it was with savories progressing to intensely sweet that the tasting evolved and with the characteristic salinity of olives juxtaposing lightly funky goat cheese subtle transitioning to Almond Brittle and Salted Ganache the opening duo was almost as elegant as a plated cheese course, the follow-up of crispy cookie dough in a light vanilla base an abrupt transition to sweetness just barely reined in by the malt while “Happy Birthday Elvis” proved to be one of the most complex and delicious Ice Creams I’ve had to date – the base indistinguishable from its namesake Southern dessert with diverse textures and flavors ranging from tart berries to the briny sapor of bacon adding all sorts of intrigue until I was scraping the bowl clean.

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http://saltandstraw.com/

Salt & Straw on Urbanspoon

Posted in California, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Los Angeles, Pork, Salt & Straw, Salt and Straw, Vacation

Barrel & Ashes, Los Angeles CA

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Barrel & Ashes

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Smoked Chicken Wings with Garden Vegetables and Blue Cheese

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Spicy Pork Rinds with Malt Vinegar Mayonnaise

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Hoe Cake with Maple Butter

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Half Rack of Salmon Creek Farms Spare Ribs

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Brisket Sandwich with Swiss

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Pulled Pork Sandwich with Coleslaw and Vinegar Sauce

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The Best Damn Chick’n Sandwich Ya Ever Had – Pimento Cheese, Jalapeno Coleslaw on Milk Roll

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Open Faced Santa Maria Tri Tip with romaine, Pico de Gallo, Rosemary Aioli on Sourdough

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Banana Pudding with Toasted Meringue and Nilla Wafers

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Turtle Ice Cream Cake with Pecans, Salted Caramel, Chocolate

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Apple Cobbler with Malted Vanilla Ice Cream

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Lemon Pudding Cake with Heavily Whipped Cream

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Toqued by a former Michelin 3* Chef and several Thomas Keller alumni one would be hard-pressed to name a more prestigious Barbeque joint than red-hot Barrel & Ashes, and with early reviews mixed, some including claims of ‘money grab’ or ‘waste of talent’ a visit with four others at lunch certainly lived up the rumors – both good and bad.

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Located in Studio City, and decorated in an almost paint-by-numbers way obviously intended to reference more established smokehouses down south, our party’s arrival at Barrel & Ashes began with five-persons being shoehorned into a four-top despite having reservations and greeted by a truncated menu lacking brisket aside from last-night’s leftovers reappropriated to a sandwich suffice it to say things were off to a bad start – the disinterested-hipster ‘everything is good’ service also not entirely befitting a theme of “Southern Hospitality” in any way, shape, or form.

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Eventually moved to a shared, 8-seat high-top where service would subsequently improve it was with questions answered regarding both portions and preparation that the order progressed and eventually settling on eight savories to be shared it was not long before the first course arrived, the pork rinds trending a bit oily and oversalted while both the smoky, richly spiced wings and lightly sauced ribs showed signs of promise for the ‘cue…a still-sizzling, toothsome hoecake saturated with what very well may have been a stick of butter rounding out the quartet.

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Subjected to sandwiches as much of the nightly smoked meats are not offered at lunch, though some can be had as part of a platter, the second course of food progressed through four more selections with the chicken sandwich moist and pleasant, though falling far short of its billing while the tri-tip was a bit more chewy than I’d have preferred – the brined brisket faring a bit better beneath the unnecessary cheese while the pulled pork was Carolina quality, a must order for those fancying that sort of barbeque.

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Greeted at this point by the pastry chef, manager, and afternoon’s chef de partie, all offering compliments regarding our order, it was with a somewhat awkward exchange that the table was offered a complimentary selection of each of the restaurant’s desserts and while thankful for the gesture I still question the motivations considering the fact that only the banana pudding was supposedly available for lunch – a damned shame, really, as the mason-jar presentation was not really all that impressive compared to the refreshingly tart baked pudding, molten hot cobbler, or outstanding ice-cream cake that managed the tough task of offering a new and delicious take on something tried and true.

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http://barrelandashes.com/

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Posted in Barrel & Ashes, California, Cornbread, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Los Angeles, Pork, Vacation

Steampunk CoffeeBar & Kitchen, Valley Village CA

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Steampunk CoffeeBar & Kitchen

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Cinnamon Crumble Coffee Cake

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The Stack – Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Bacon, Egg, Belgian Waffle with Cayenne Maple Aioli served with sautéed Kale and Onions

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French Toast – Thick Cut Sweet Bread, Oven-Baked, with Blackberry Jam and Goat Cheese Glaze

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Located in Valley Village, and decked out with the work of local artists beneath the gleam of natural lighting from overhead skylights, Steampunk Coffee Bar is one of those places that always sparked curiosity, and without much to do between breakfast and lunch it was just after 9am that I entered to find smiling servers, gearworks amidst wood, and a small menu of reinterpreted brunch classics.

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Far less trendy than the name would suggest, with patrons ranging from a small tech-group brainstorming in the corner to an elderly man and his dog, it was to mellow tunes that the mid-morning meal was set and opting to go with items designated as ‘signatures’ as well as a personal favorites the three courses that followed were, at best, a mixed bag.

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Marred by artificial maple syrup despite price-to-portion ratios that could have easily afforded the real thing, it was shortly following a smallish wedge of unmemorable coffee cake that the proper part of the meal began and although one is forced to admit that the kale is as good as the rumors neither the under-crisped chicken nor the flaccid waffle were particularly remarkable in the least – a sweet/savory ‘signature’ done better at dozens of other spots and thus not really warranting the John Hancock designation at all.

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Wandering the web via Free Wi-Fi during a requested wait between plates it was just shy of 10:15 when the French Toast arrived, and this time entirely eschewing syrup to instead focus on nuance suffice it to say that although a bit dry in the middle the thick slice of Hawaiian bread shined – each bite a toasty juxtaposition of yeast and sugar beneath a lacquer of jam and subtly funky cream.

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http://www.steampunkla.com/

SteamPunk Coffeebar + Kitchen​ on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, California, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Los Angeles, Pork, Steampunk, Steampunk Coffee Bar, Steampunk CoffeeBar & Kitchen, Vacation, Valley Village, Waffles

Bea Bea’s, Burbank CA

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Bea Bea’s

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Coffee

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Uh-Oh Oreo Pancakes – Oreo, Marshmallow, Walnut on Buttermilk Pancakes

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Peaches & Crunch French Toast – Hawaiian Bread French Toast dipped in Corn Flakes and Almonds, topped with Caramelized Peaches and Whipped Cream with Sweet Cinnamon Honey Butter

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Pain Perdu – Apples & Walnuts topped on an egg-dipped Croissant, Baked ‘beyond perfection’

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Located in a Burbank Shopping plaza, humorously adjacent to Jenny Craig, the slogan of “Breakfast is Everything” immediately sold me on Bea Bea’s as the first stop after arriving in town and with 21-types of Pancakes and 19-styles of French Toast the only real questions were which sounded best and how much appetite I wanted to invest in the experience.

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A bustling space, with diners of all ages and ethnicities quickly filling seats to capacity just one hour after the 7am opening, the décor at Bea Bea’s can best be described as ‘stripped-down’ and although creature comforts are few and far between the service is the sort to which most breakfast and brunch spots should aspire to be – friendly, efficient, full of recommendations, and quick to fill a cup…time and time again.

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Unable to trim the abundant options to fewer than three, even after full descriptions and suggestions from the staff, it was eventually in two rounds of food that the meal took place and with each plate carrying a $10.95 charge and take-home boxes already in hand the tasting kicked off with a duo; the “Uh-Oh Oreo” Pancakes proving doughy and underwhelming as toppings were relegated to only the top cake while two thick wedges of custard-soaked yet crunchy French Toast fared far better beneath steamy stonefruit and whipped cream – a combination making the artificial maple syrup entirely unnecessary as house-blended cinnamon-honey better slowly melted into a tan, fragrant stream.

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Saving the pure maple syrup from home as an accoutrement to the 25-minute prep-time finale it was almost like clockwork that the third plate arrived, and billed as the restaurant’s signature suffice it to say that the words on the menu present only the slightest of mistakes as buttery croissants arrived melded to fresh apples, walnuts, eggs, and custard forming something that harkens both bread pudding and Original Pancake House’s Famous Apple Pancake…all of it perfect, and not one bit ‘beyond.’

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http://beabeas.net/

Bea Bea's on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bea Bea's, Breakfast, Burbank, California, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Los Angeles, Pancakes, Vacation

Inyo Asian Variety Restaurant, Las Vegas NV

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Inyo Asian Variety Restaurant

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Oolong Tea

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Oshinko – Assorted Japanese Pickles, Nori, Kimchee

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Salmon Belly Tartare – Caviar, Chives, Dashi Soy with crispy Lotus Root

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Suomono – Cucumber and Seaweed with Vinegar Sauce

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Hirame Carpaccio with citrus nam pla

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Hiya Yakko Tofu – Chilled Tofu with Lemon Ginger Ponzu

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Yaki Hama – Miso Butter Baked Clams

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Buta No Kakuni – 5-hour Braised Pork Belly and Whole Daikon

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Inyo Chicken Wings – Twice Fried Trio of Japanese Tebasaki, Thai Chile Nam Pla, Korean Gochugaru

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Japanese Tebasaki Wings – Sweet Ginger Soy and Black Pepper

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Thai Chile Nam Pla Wings – Chile, Lemongrass, Fresh Herbs

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Korean Gochugaru Wings – Korean Chile Flake and Sesame Seeds

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Kushi Skewers – Binchotan Charcoal Grilled Okra, Mushroom, Japanese Eggplant, Tomato Bacon, Chicken Skin, Pork Cheek

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Saikoro Steak – Cubed Steak with Grated Daikon and Garlic

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Crab Fried Rice – Snow Crab, Maitake Mushroom, Egg

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Castella Cake – Green Tea Ice Cream, Black Honey, Mochi

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Shiso Berries – Lychee Sorbet and Pocky Stick

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Newly inhabiting the short-lived Buldogi Café space, and featuring the kitchen talents of Little Buddha/Blue Ribbon veteran Gregg Fortunato while owner Peter Chen runs the front of house, it was just after 7:00pm that a friend and I sat down to dinner at Inyo Asian Variety and allowing the chef to serve us omakase it was nearly three hours later that we emerged – a total of fifteen plates featuring nearly two-dozen impressive items enjoyed at a grand total of $116 before tax and tip.

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Wide ranging in scope, with a menu still in flux, the overall concept behind Inyo is best described as ‘tapas’ and without a single item ringing in at more than $9.95, with several less than five bucks, it seems almost impossible that the quality of produce, protein, and technique is as impressive as a first look would indicate – the chef clearly using the knowledge gleaned in fine dining environs to select local producers and sources allowing the cuisine to shine while offering a veritable bargain to those finding their way through Inyo’s front door.

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Starting off with one of several styles of tea, repeatedly filled throughout the evening by Mr. Chen who proved to be a perfect host, it was in a selection of pickles ranging from Japan to Korea that the meal began and quickly transitioning to  a quartet of cold plates one would be hard pressed to decide which of the options was most impressive, the shredded tartare melting on the tongue with fried lotus chips offered for texture while both the thinly sliced Hirame and silken tofu were enlivened by acid as opposed to getting lost in it, a similar statement applicable to crispy Suomono served to cleanse the palate between fish.

Transitioning next to warm tapas it was unfortunate that a few of the smaller clams served as part of Yaki Hama were a bit dried out when compared to larger specimens, but moving on to a course of braised pork belly paired to a large cut of daikon cooked nearly as tender the small gaff was almost immediately forgotten, a follow-up sampling of each of the restaurant’s three styles of wings proving an abrupt textural change-of-pace with crispy skin overlying juicy flesh and spice profiles that challenged my Midwestern palate with the heated Gochugaru while dialing it back and slapping the tastebuds with umami and sweetness in the Japanese Tebasaki style quartet.

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At this point opting to show off his skills with the Binchotan charcoal grill it was to six skewers that the table was treated and paired with three different salts, the best flecked with Toagarashi, it would again be a challenge to name a ‘best of,’ though all things being equal none were quite as impressive as the items served at Raku just a few weeks prior – even though they did tally a significantly lower charge.

Entering the home stretch with a low bowl filled with tender cubed steak topped by crispy garlic alongside what is perhaps the best $6.95 one can spend on Spring Mountain in the form of a large bowl of glistening fried rice teaming with picked crab beneath a crown of fried egg it was suddenly here that we found ourselves the only patrons left in the place and although desserts would prove light and elegant, if not particularly ‘memorable,’ the overall experience is one I’ll not wait long to revisit – a skilled chef and passionate owner already showing promise to do big things.

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FOUR STARS:  Already impressive in their first week of service, while operating with a skeleton crew, suffice it to say that with a few menu tweaks Inyo truly could be Chinatown’s “Next Big Thing,” a phrase often trumpeted for far less qualified kitchens dotted up and down Spring Mountain as well as Las Vegas Blvd South that charge upwards of twice the price.

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RECOMMENDED:  Crab Fried Rice, Buta No Kakuni, Salmon Belly Tartare

AVOID: Yaki Hama

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TIP:  BYOB with no corkage until they receive their pending liquor license; now open at 5pm until at least 1am Tuesday through Sunday, 2am on Friday and Saturday.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.inyolv.com/

Inyo Asian Variety Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Posted in Crab, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Inyo, Inyo Asian Variety, Inyo Asian Variety Restaurant, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork, Sushi, Tasting Menu

Urban Turban, Las Vegas NV

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Urban Turban

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Papadum with mint and mango chutney

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Samosa Chat – Deep Fried Filo Packets filled with Spiced Potato Mash Filling drizzled with Yogurt and Green Chutney

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Dry Fruit Whole Wheat Bread – Flat bread stuffed with Cashews, Almonds, Raisins, and brushed with butter

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Lamb Kheema Pav – Traditional Masala Lamb with Toasted Buns

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Paneer Tikka – Oven Grilled Tandoori Sauce Marinated Cottage Cheese Cubes

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Pav Bhaji – Mixed Sauce of Mashed Vegetables garnished with Butter and Cilantro with Toasted Buns

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Bombay Butter Chicken with Butter Naan and Basmati Rice – Tandoori Chicken cooked in Tomato blended Sauces with Chilies, Honey, Cashew, Cream

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Bombay Lamb Masala with Butter Naan and Basmati Rice – Tender cooked Lamb Bites cooked in famous curry sauces

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Five Herb Noodles – Wok Tossed Egg Noodles

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Paan Shot – Betel Leaf thickened with Milk

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Chocolate Samosa – Crispy Filo Pastry filled with dark chocolate

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Admittedly entering New Zealand one-off Urban Turban with mixed feelings based on the tardiness of a tablemate and previous experiences with below average Indian cuisine outside of hot spots in BC or DC it was just after 5:15 when the owner/operator stopped by the table at Urban Turban to explain the concept of ‘tapas’ and having already perused the menu through the assistance of Yelp pictures, as the restaurant apparently cannot update a simple website, a large order was soon crafted – our server not really offering much aside from the occasional water refill and dropping-off of plates.

Located in a small plaza off Paradise, just a minute from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino by car, Urban Turban is the sort of place one wants to like on entering, and with largely benign décor aside from the whimsical rickshaw sitting beside the hostess podium the focus seems to be on the food moreso than the scene – a wide view of a gleaming kitchen flanked by chalkboards revealing a number of Chef’s working diligently on plates whose results would unfortunately prove average, at best.

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Starting off with appetizers before progressing to proper plates and curries it was with a trio of free Papadum that the meal began and with the flavor mostly that of oil it was thankfully the mango chutney that made the crisp pastry far more interesting, though the green ‘mint’ version was flavored much like bile – overly heated, viciously acidic, and not particularly something one should strive for in any sort of cuisine.

Next served a quintet of plates that quickly covered the table it was with some confusion that I looked upon a menu item described as “Dry Fruit Whole Wheat Bread” and with neither fruit nor nuts evident I attest to this moment we were simply served the wrong thing, though the server assured us this was indeed the correct item.

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Largely ignoring the lack of fruit and instead using the ‘whole wheat’ Naan to scoop up the first bites of a duo of Pav, suffice it to say that unless one is vegetarian the Lamb version shows far superior to a more traditional take that serves as little more than muddled vegetable mush meant to be served on bread and turning attention to an impressive Paneer Tikka presentation with tangy cubes amidst earthy aromatics it was a thankful circumstance that the Samosa Chat was only lightly drizzled with green chutney, thus allowing one to augment the largely flavorless pocket with the red version instead.

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Investing the rest of our appetites in bottomless curries that featured excellent basmati rice and par-for-the-course buttered Naan alongside bowls containing less than two ounces of protein each, it can only be said that at prices ranging $10-$17 the better bet is to visit one of the many local Indian buffets if one is merely looking for a ‘fill up’ and partaking lightly in the dirty tastingLamb Masala as well as overly sweet Buttered Chicken a bit of credit is due to the owner for suggesting the seemingly out-of-place noodles – a show stopper of well-tuned aromatics that at least gives one hope that the kitchen could improve the rest of the recipes as time goes on.

Ordering three Paan Shots that again saw the kitchen offer up something balanced and refined it was largely the lack of traditional Indian desserts that led to the final selection of Chocolate Samosas, but having experienced a similarly underwhelming dessert at Nosh & Swig just a few months prior it can only be said that this one was slightly better – the house made ice cream and melted chocolate at least helping to offset the same oily taste that had marred the papadum, though the $7.95 price tag seemed rather excessive for something so underwhelming and small.

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TWO STARS:  Suggested as ‘urban tapas,’ and thus seeming to purport a modern take on tradition, Urban Turban really only seems to shine when sticking to simpler plates and with ingredients that really seem no better than the typical Indian Buffet in an environment that does little to wow there seems very little reason to return, let alone support another restaurant import when places like Mint seem to be satisfying locals just fine.

RECOMMENDED:  Paneer Tikka, Lamb Kheema Pav, Five Herb Noodles

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AVOID:  Green Chutney, Bombay Lamb Masala, Pav Bhaj

TIP:  Having not been to any of the Vegas Indian buffets but noting their prices to range $12-$20 depending on date and time it seems worth noting that the total bill was $42 per person after tax and a modest tip, not exactly a deal considering the quality of the food or the ingredients contained.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.utlasvegas.com/

Urban Turban on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Urban Turban