Saturday, December 1, 2007

Ristorante Donatella ~ Rancho Mirage ~ 8

Have you ever been to Verona? The ancient city, nestled in Northern Italy, is the setting of Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet. Many lovers visit the legendary (albeit symbolic) balcony where Mr. Romeo lured Miss Juliet. I too tumbled into a great love affair while in Verona … with the fabulous food. I always assumed a revisit to Italy would be necessary to again devour pasta made with such luxurious finesse. Ristorante Donatella, in Rancho Mirage, reminded me of one of The Four Agreements … “Don’t make assumptions.” Owner, Donatella, is a native of Verona and has successfully re-created her towns cuisine on American soil, twice. Tucked away in an inconspicuous location, next to mainly retail and office space, the Italian gem sparkles with a warm inviting ambiance once inside.

The menu is extensive and reads in traditional Italian style, beginning with antipasti and moving through pasta, carne, pesce etc. My parents and I spent at least 30 minutes poring over the menu, pre-tasting with our eyes. Risotto alone is prepared in six different ways! The wine list is formed from both Italy and California with many reasonably priced options. We sipped on a bottle of Tormaresco Chardonnay from Puglia. The insalata choices seemed endless so we decided to share three of them. (Many of the salads can be ordered small or large which I liked.)The Caesar was classic, creamy, and crisp, resonating with garlic and parmigiano cheese.

They raise the bar with their “house salad;” chopped red leaf, fresh mozzarella, pepperoncinis, olives, cherry tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, and proscuitto. This was a mansion of a salad to me!

My favorite though, was the Contadina with shredded cabbage, radicchio, endive, gorgonzola and walnuts. The crisp, lacy texture created by the lettuce medley combined with the potent, creamy cheese made my palate sing. Though we opted for the small size, these salads were more than enough to share!

We each ordered our own entrees, but next time I would order one or two pasta dishes, one meat, and one fish and share family style since the portions are large.

I indulged in the fettuccine zucchini gamberi, but replaced the fettuccini with pappardelle. The wide ribbons of satiny pasta, perfectly al dente, dallied in a light white wine sauce along with long rectangular slices of wholesome zucchini and a copious amount of plush pink shrimp.

My dad went the way of meat and ordered veal scaloppini in a rich, velvety tomato sauce dotted with porcini mushrooms and served with penne. While the pasta and sauce were quite good, the veal itself was a bit dry and lackluster.

My mom had the fish special, Sand Dabs swimming in a shallow lagoon of luscious white wine butter sauce. The fish was so deliciously delicate, that it vanished in your mouth almost instantly. Emerald green spinach sautéed in garlic and olive oil was the perfect simple accompaniment. Unfortunately, we were too satisfied (aka full) to pamper ourselves with dessert, so we’ll just have to make a return visit to Ristorante Donatella. Thankfully, it’s but a 2 hour drive from my home in Los Angeles; a far more manageably trek than returning to Verona on a regular basis and every bit as authentic.

Ristorante Donatella
71511 Hwy. 111 Ste. A-B
Rancho Mirage, Ca 92270

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Little Next Door ~ Food 6 Desserts 10

My mom was in town this past weekend and I took her to Little Next Door, the spawn of its popular parent restaurant, The Little Door. I went when they first opened and was very disappointed with both food and service but the ambiance is great! I am obsessed with the imperial violet blue and royal gold color scheme. I really wanted to like this place so I figured one more trip couldn't hurt.

They now offer table service, whereas last time you ordered at the counter before sitting down. We ordered 2 cafe au lait from a friendly Frenchman. They arrived piping hot, rich, and smooth in large bone colored bowls which felt comfortable and satisfying. I could tell there was a good barista in the house because due to the perfect microfoam on top. We didn’t order wine, but this little cafe is heaven for those who love a good wine by the glass selection. 5 whites and 6 reds are offered all between $5.00 -$10.00 per glass. Tres Bien!!

While we waited for our food to arrive, which did take awhile, the warm, nutty smell of browned butter wafted throughout the space. If that doesn’t make you hungry nothing will.

At the waiter’s suggestion, I ordered the grilled salmon sandwich on brioche bread. It was layered with a variety of spicy mixed greens and thin slices of salmon. One word … DRY. The bread was delicious but the sandwich itself lacked flavor and inspiration.

My mom ordered the Pesto Chicken Sandwich with grilled zucchini and summer squash. This sandwich had more flavor thanks to the pesto and was not as dry due to the grilled veggies, but the chicken could have used some time in a marinade. The baguette it was served on was good, but far too much bread for the petite amount of chicken and vegetables inside.

We also ordered one Harissa Egg to share. It Harissa is a hot red pepper paste used in North African cooking. It tasted like a deviled egg with a zesty bite. Yum!

One of my favorite pastry chefs in LA, Michael Brock, recently moved from Boule to Little Next Door. I’d told him how disenchanted I was with their pastry on my first visit but I trusted things had gotten better with him at the helm and I was right! I asked him to bring us his favorite sugary offerings … we’ll start with my favorite. A vanilla panna cotta layered with grapefruit gelee and topped with grapefruit supremes.

“OH MY GOD! This is the best dessert I’ve ever put in my mouth.” Those were my exact words. The tangy tartness of the cool grapefruit gelee combined with the rich, soft, sweetness of the velvet-like panna cotta. We ate the entire cup. We couldn't stop. There were four other treats to try but this one lured us in, mouthful by heavenly mouthful.

In second place were the caramel sea salt truffles. Delectable dark chocolate filled with savory sweet caramel; Excellent. At this point we could not manage one more bite. Our waiter was very understanding and brought us to-go boxes for the remaining 3 pastries. These were devoured the following morning at home with coffee.

The vanilla beignet was light, fluffy and the creamy custard inside made me melt. I’m not a huge fan of flaky puffed pastry, but my mom liked the raisin roll and said it was buttery but not overly sweet.

Last, the apple tart. This had wonderful flavor. Cinnamon, brown sugar, butter and apples mingled in my mouth. The crust was a little difficult to cut through due to sugar that had caramelize on the bottom of the tart but we warmed it up and overall, thoroughly enjoyed each bite.

Go for the fine European atmosphere, go for the great coffee and delectable desserts.

Little Next Door
8142 W 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA
9am-6pm Daily
Phone: (323) 951-1010

Friday, September 21, 2007


There's a new Crumb in town and this bakery means business!

Opening first in New York and the Hamptons with ample praise, I was hoping this bake shop wouldn't disappoint me as so many "trendy cupcake boutiques," have lately. Located mere blocks from the "almighty," albeit overrated Sprinkles, I figured this gutsy little bakery must really be packing some fabulous frosting ... for the most part ... I was right!

They offer tons of extra-large, “fun-tastic”, candy coated cupcakes as well a large selection of frilly frosting cakes. The ladies purse cake looked very NYC with black and white butter cream frosting. Crumbs is not your modern/chic, dainty cupcake bakery. They are not afraid to pile on the frosting, top it with m&m's and bake-off large and in charge brownies.

My friend and I ordered 4 big cupcakes to take home. Like sprinkles, there's not a lot of standing room inside ... no where to sit. The "Artie Lang" (of the Howard Stern Show) is vanilla sponge cake filled with chocolate butter cream, covered in vanilla cream cheese frosting and topped with chocolate fondant icing with white and chocolate sprinkles on the sides! WOW! A lot going on, but this was the best cupcake we ordered! FINALLY, A CUPCAKE WITH MOIST, BUTTERY VANILLA CAKE AND EXCELLENT FROSTING! Leave it to New York to know what a truly yummy cupcake should be!

My next favorite was the Caramel Apple cupcake. Somewhat moist vanilla brown sugar cake with apples baked right in the batter. The frosting tasted like cream cheese vanilla butter cream swirled drizzled with caramel.

My friend got the Candy cupcake; Sweet vanilla cake frosted with a heavy dose of Crumbs signature vanilla butter cream and smothered in multi-colored m&m’s™. This was just too sweet for my taste but the cake part was super moist and buttery!

OK ... now for the bad news ... their Red Velvet, which I was told is a best seller, not great; not even good. The cream cheese frosting that is what makes Red Velvet so addicting, tasted like overly sweet vanilla butter cream and the red velvet cake, was not red nor velvety but brown and dry dry dry. Oh well … you can't win them all. They have cookies too and as a good food blogger, I had to taste one. Blah ... chocolate chip with cinnamon, it was stale for one and the flavor wasn't terrible but I won't return for the cookies ... only the cupcakes, superior to all other LA cupcakeries, besides Leda's Bakeshop which is top in my foodie opinion. Oh, Crumbs also has coffee and is cheaper than it's near by competitors.

: If you CRAVE down home, BUTTERY, lots of THICK CREAMY frosting baked goods, Crumbs is for you.
If you prefer Sprinkles ... you're buying them for a pretty gift, not sweet self consumption.

9465 S. Santa Monica Blvd
Open 8a.m. weekdays & 9a.m. weekends

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Ingrid's Cafe ~ Beverly Hills ~ 9

After an all too early 7am run yesterday, I decided to treat myself to breakfast. Tucked away on Little Santa Monica, right across the street from the Peninsula Hotel, I saw Ingrid's Cafe ... from the minute I stepped inside I was smiling. The opulent European decor transports you to somewhere far away from the hustle that is LA. Rich tapestry frames the windows, a glamorous crystal chandelier hangs from the vaulted ceiling and yet there is nothing posh or overly formal about this place. In fact, a feeling of quiet comfort prevails. Dean Martin music wafts down from the terraced, second floor balcony calming the nerves and letting the mind focus on the fabulous choices of fresh food.

My cafe au lait, which arrived in a large, elegant coffee mug, was hot, creamy, and smooth with the perfect amount if foam on top. Their attention to detail was refreshing. A tiny ceramic spoon rest accompanied the coffee. A small crystal pot of fresh apricot preserve with a single dried apricot floating in the sweet syrup was brought over for my toast. Sometimes it's those extra special little things that make a meal memorable.

I ordered the scrambled eggs with goat cheese, baguette and fresh fruit. Due to the petite prices, I was expecting a petite breakfast; wrong. My eggs were fluffy and wonderful. There were six slices of soft white and brown baguette bread surrounding the plate. Plump blackberries, juicy watermelon, and sweet cantaloupe finished off the dish perfectly.

Ingrid was there, so I asked her to suggest a favorite pastry. Too full from breakfast, I took my pear gallete to go. When I finally did indulge, the crust was tender, sweet, and buttery, with just the right amount of salt. The soft baked pears were heavenly without competing with the perfectly prepared pastry dough. My bill, in Beverly Hills, at a delectable french cafe ... came to under $12.00! I am Ingrid's newest regular, that's for certain.

They also offer a very elegant high tea from 3pm-5pm. Call an hour before so they can set up a table for your party.
Happy Hour Sunset Wine, Cheese & Pate is held from 5pm to 7pm.

Ingrid's Cafe
9861 S. Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Friday, August 17, 2007

UGO ~ 6

This newish Italian Cafe in Culver city is a quaint, few frills place to enjoy some casual Italian food and unusally good wine at GREAT a prices. We chose to sit on the patio which provided a bit more ambiance than the harsh bright lights inside. I started with a glass of the 2005 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio at $7 ($34 bottle) and my friend had the 2003 Rocca Delle Macie Chiante Classico for $6 ($27 bottle). My pinot grigio was the most pleasure filled $7 glass of white wine I've had to date. Each cool sip drifted across my lips starting off smoothly and ending on a slightly buttery note. It also possessed an array of distinct fruit flavors. DELUSCIOUS! After opting for a second glass of the too good to pass up wine, I felt pasta might serve me well.

I ordered the Fettuccine Primavera add chicken. It's listed as heart healthy on the menu and this might explain why the dish was on the dry side of the tracks. The pasta was overly al dente but the fresh tomato sauce and veggies were good. The chicken tasted like it had been boiled in hot water, sans salt, then chopped up and left out to dry. That's what I get for trying "the healthy dish." For only $9.75 though, I wasn't crushed.

My dinning buddie's Lasagna della Casa with spinach and mushrooms existed on the opposite end of the spectrum and was the ultimate comfort food. Piping hot with plenty of rich tomato sauce and cheese (which could have been more melted), it came close to "just like mama used to make." The dessert list is typically Italian. Nothing sounded good enough to ignore our overly full tummies. We passed with thoughts of trotting right next door to Vinum Populi, the trendy wine bar that's connected to UGO. You can purchase a "wine card" add some scrilla (money) to it and taste any wine you would like out of these nifty dispensers. If you choose cheaply you can taste around 7 wines for $25.00 dollars.

P.S. Ugo's pizza at our neighbors table looked amazing though we've yet to tatse it.

3865 Cardiff Ave
Culver City, CA 90232
Phone: (310) 204-1222

Monday, August 6, 2007

Happi Songs ~ 8

Craving some Asian inspired food, I decided to check out the newly opened Happi Songs last night. What used to be Rita Flora, is now a trendy Asian tavern. The decor is artsy/edgy and creates the feeling of being tucked away on a little back street in Beijing or Shanghai, eating noodles from a street stall. Don't forget to check out the crazy Asian graffiti style wall on the way to the restroom and the cool old bicycles. The small space glows with warm red lighting and a cool breeze floats inside since the restaurant's open to the street. You can also read Anime comic books while you wait for your food.

I started with a sho chu cocktail called Guy Smiley. It was a combo of fresh pressed blood orange, pear puree, and Ginza No Suzume sho chu (a distilled Japanese alcohol). The drink was very fresh but a little too sweet for me. It may have been better shaken and strained into a martini glass. Too much ice made the cocktail watery after a few minutes. Much like it's sister restaurant Cobras & Matadors, small plates are the theme here. I ordered chilled melon soup,
pecan honey glazed shrimp, and Hamachi (yellowtail) collar. The soup came drizzled with a little oil and crushed mint. A light tangerine color, it was pretty but bland and needed to be more chilled. 5 plump golden shrimp arrived next, lightly fried, brushed with a sweet honey glaze and sprinkled with crushed raw pecans. The pecans gave the dish a slightly earthy flavor and the shrimp tasted juicy and fresh but could have used a bit more seasoning.
My Hamachi collar was very simple and VERY DELICIOUS! Grilled to perfection and sprinkled with sea salt, each bite was tender and gorgeous. Chef Yi-fan Chu sent out a sample of another item which was definitely the WOW DISH of my meal. A Mirin Miso Butterfish balanced on a small square of tempura fried tofu and and soba noodles. The fish, crispy and golden on the outside, was buttery and luxurious inside. The noodles were tossed with a little sesame oil and the spicy baby watercress on top cut the richness of the dish nicely. The service was laid back friendly, and knowledgeable. I'll definitely revisit this happi little place.

HappiSongs Asian Tavern 460 South LaBrea (323)936-7622 L-D Daily
beer/wine/sake/sho chu only

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I was really looking forward to tasting something special at Vanilla, Santa Monica’s newest boutique bakeshop. Their web site is absolutely wonderful. The gallery pictures of cupcake towers and wedding cakes made me want to go sample product ASAP. Walking in, I felt like I’d stepped into a little girl’s dream playroom. The tiny space is painted the lightest powder pink with shabby chic chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It’s all very feminine and sweet, as a bakeshop should be.

The only thing they had that day was cupcakes. They looked sparkly and delicious inside the glass case. I tried to order four “Cupcake Babies,” but they’re only sold in 3’s, so I bought six along with one regular size cupcake, and one Cosmopolitan. There are three small tables to sit at inside but it felt a little cramped so I took my treats and headed home for the grand taste test. When I took them out of the box, the bottoms were all sticky with caramel. I licked my fingers and and thought yum but if I'd bought them for a party, I'd be annoyed they were all sticky for guests.
FAVORITE: Mocha Chocolate baby cupcake ~
The Mocha bean frosting was really creamy and not overly sweet. The flavor of coffee was perfectly present and the espresso bean made from chocolate on top made it truly scrumptious. The chocolate cake tasted watery. It’s a strange way to describe cake but that’s how it tasted. It was a bit dry and missing any rich chocolate flavor.

RUNNER UP: The Mom’s Birthday Cake baby cupcake ~
This won in the cake category. The yellow cake was buttery and tasted good alone or with frosting. The frosting was milk chocolate, also really good with a little blue sugar flower on top!

Vanilla Bean cupcake ~ this was chocolate cake with vanilla bean frosting covered in pale green sanding sugar. The cake was dry and bland like it was made with water and not enough chocolate or something. The frosting … I felt like I was eating butter with a little powdered sugar in it. Some might call this creamy, but I call it greasy and I couldn’t eat it. They were better once I put them in the refrigerator for awhile. I solidified the frosting.

Old Fashioned baby cupcake ~ Overly buttery vanilla bean frosting, bland chocolate cake, good whip cream center, crunch white chocolate sprinkles, fun Maraschino cherry on top.

Toasted Dark Chocolate Coconut ~ bland chocolate cake, WONDERFUL CREAM CHEESE FROSTING, a little toasted coconut on top.

Cosmopolitan: A little circle of chocolate cake, about one inch, with vanilla frosting and a modern fondant design. This was the classic LA case of something looking fabulous on the outside but being very average on the inside. Again with the same bland chocolate cake, overly buttery frosting and fondant which tastes like what it is, basically sugar and shortening. Chocolate ganache to decorate would have been a tastier option.

512 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, Ca 90401
Tues-Sat 9am-7pm
Sun 10am – 5pm

Monday, July 9, 2007


Sometimes it’s easy to feel out of touch with our fellow Angelinos. We’re either in our cars alone in thick traffic or trying to look SUPER COOL with our exclusive clique at a trendy new eatery. Whenever I want to feel all warm and cozy with humanity, I head to Runyon Canyon. I guess there’s something about being outside with dogs that make people in LA actually acknowledge each other, smile and greet a perfect stranger.

This Sunday I discovered another such place … the BH Farmer’s Market. Shoppers seemed to have left all attitudes at their mansions or in my case, apartment, and if I’m not mistaken people were truly happy enjoying the simpler things like great weather and fresh food. I started my journey at the Rockenwagner Bakery stand where I positively drooled over what to indulge in. A fresh slice of apple pie with flaky crust covered in cinnamon and sugar or a large square piece of cake known as “Bee Sting or Bienenstich.” The layer of rich creamy custard tucked between thin slices of light white cake was calling to me and topped with a crust of honey almond brittle … well I just had to try it.

First bite, good; custard very creamy and not overly sweet. Second bite; almond crust … um, OK TO DIE FOR! Where had this cake been all my life? For once I can’t quite find the words to describe how gorgeous this dessert tasted on my tongue. Think a silky vanilla crème, browned butter, caramelized honey, almond praline sort of heaven with the slightest bit of crunch.

After devouring the majority of the Bee Sting (4 bites were stolen by my boyfriend) I head off to healthier pastures and buy some big juicy beefsteak tomatoes, mushrooms still dirty from the ground, red onions, red and white carrots, white corn so perfect it looks fake, and a huge bouquet of sunflowers the color of the sexiest sunset you’ve ever seen.

BH FARMERS MARKET ~ Sundays 9am -1pm

9300 Block of Civic Center Drive

(310) 550-4796

Rockenwagner Bakery ~12835 W. Washington Blvd.

Mar Vista, California 90066

(310) 578-8171

Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-3pm; Sat-Sun 9am-4pm

Later that night I made a great tuna salad with some of the fresh veggies: ReCipE BeloW.


Slice corn off cob. Add drained tuna, corn, and all other ingredients to medium mixing bowl. Mix well with fork and enjoy alone or in a whole wheat wrap.

Friday, July 6, 2007

U.N. Burgers ~ flirting with flavor fusion

Hello and welcome to anyone who happens upon my little food blog. This is the debut of yet another way to satiate your appetite for worth-every-bite culinary experiences ... coming to you straight from the kitchens of FoodFlirt 90210, (aka my minuscule kitchen in my apt which just happens to be in the 90210 area code). Here is an original recipe that is healthy and filled with flavor!

U.N. Burgers
name explanation: The flavors in this burger hail from many different countries and mingle together magnificently ... maybe we can learn something from combining culinary cultures :) My burger likes your turmeric ... can't we all just get along?

Makes 4-6 burgers

1lb lean ground beef
1/2 c. chopped white onion
1/4 c. capers
1 tbsp turmeric (dry ground)
1 tsp crushed ginger (I use jar from Trader Joe's)
1/4 c. sweet chili sauce
1 tsp sea salt

Place tin foil on cookie sheet, set aside.
Combine above ingredients in medium size mixing bowl. Use clean hands to mix together, making sure all flavors are socializing with one another. Using a large ice cream scoop (or you can eye it) scoop equal amounts of beef mixture onto tinfoil an inch or more apart. Form each ball into a flat patty, about 3/4" thick. Preheat broiler to medium or 450. Set burgers aside, and needless to say wash those raw meat hands.

2 red bell peppers sliced
1 medium sweet onion thinly sliced

Spray medium frying pan with oil and let pan heat up. Add peppers and onions and cook on high until they have a grilled appearance, about 7-8 minutes. While veggies cook, put burgers under broiler for 5-7 minutes checking OFTEN as it's easy to over cook with a broiler!!! Flip burgers once during cooking process. IF YOU OVER COOK THESE THEY WILL BE DRY. DON'T BLAME ME.

6 whole wheat hamburger buns
1/2 cup hummus
your favorite mustard (I love Trader Joe's Hot and Sweet)
feta cheese crumbles

Once burgers are done (medium rare or how you wish) and veggies are faux grilled, toast buns ... nothing better than hot buns after all. Spread with hummus, mustard and ketchup. Place burger atop and pile on the grilled onions, bell peppers and feta. Eat it, enjoy each bite, and tell me what ya think! Serve with simple green salad or sweet potato fries sprinkled with cinnamon.