Sunday, March 30, 2008

Quarter Kitchen ~ San Diego ~ 4

I spent this past weekend in San Diego and dined at the (somewhat new) Quarter Kitchen at the Ivy Hotel located in the trendy Gas Lamp District. I'd heard good things and it was highly recommended by The Hard Rock. Normally I stay away from "fine dining" in hotel restaurants, but since amazing food wasn't the focus of the evening (we were more concerned with finding a dance club), I thought why not? Well ... unfortunately, we found a multitude of reasons ... as to why not.

I'd like to preface this review by telling you I am always very grateful for any meal, no matter the quality, and I do recognize how VERY VERY lucky I am to have the opportunity to eat in a restaurant at all. I enjoy reviewing restaurants as a past time because food-art/fine cuisine is a true passion of mine, but in the larger scheme of things, I am so fortunate just to be blessed with 3 meals a day. That being said, it's time to put on my critic's hat.

First impressions are not always incorrect. Around 5pm on Friday my friend Tami and I call to make a reservation at Quarter Kitchen for later that night, hoping we can be squeezed in by 10pm. They are able to take us at 8:30, or 9:00, or 9:30, and even at 10pm when we finally arrive. (Somehow, we lost track of time in Nordstrom's ... crazy I know.) Clearly they are not booked despite the fact every other place we drive by is teeming with people. An empty restaurant is not a good sign but we ignore this since our stomachs are on empty.

We walk into a grand space with heaven high ceilings and a modern vibe that makes you feel chic and cool just to be dining there. Our waiter is nice but not knowledgeable about basic menu questions. I order a glass of Sauvignon Blanc which is excellent and she has a Riesling, also very good. The wine, FYI, is the highlight of the entire experience. An amuse bouche arrives ... watery potato leek soup drizzled with olive oil. This little gift from the chef was CRYING for sodium and or any flavor at all.

We order truffled, leek empanadas with queso blanco and truffle dipping sauces. I can see the black perigord truffle slices in the lukewarm, coagulated gravy-esque sauce (also needing salt) but the slightest hint of truffle flavor is difficult to make out ... quite a feat considering the flavor of truffle is so potent and unique. The empanadas seem to be made in-house but possess minimal flavor and remind me of pop-tart dough stuffed with mushy vegetables and cheese.

A caprese salad arrives next ... not horrible but nothing an amateur cook could not make at home. The VISION of heirloom and fried green tomatoes with 25 year old balsamico described on the menu, somehow does not translate to the plate. When a restaurant serves an amuse bouche, it sets a certain tone for the entire meal. At very least I'm expecting juicy, succulent tomatoes, soft rich mozzarella with a slight tang, and memorable balsamic. We are served average at best tomatoes, what tastes like cheap mozzarella, and wilted shreds of basil.

We share an entree,which they split for us and that is gracious service. Blackened Hamachi seared rare with Togarashi, wok fried vegetables and a spicy red miso sauce. We are not able to try anything beyond the first bite of Hamachi which is so fishy we send it back, order 2 more glasses of wine, and get the check.

Oh, we also try a side of grilled asparagus with shaved Parmesan which is fine. Normally, in a high end restaurant, a manager is sent over when guests are so clearly unsatisfied, but no one seemed too concerned. Oh well.

I believe this place has potential ... the exhibition kitchen is gorgeous. Perhaps they are just working out the kinks many new restaurants experience. We go party all night anyway and have glorious French Fries at 2am. The following morning we ate at The Bondi, an Australian Cafe with phenomenal decor and excellent food brimming with flavor. I would have gone back to the Oz inspired cafe for dinner if we'd stayed another night.

Quarter Kitchen - Ivy Hotel
600 F Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 814-2000

the bondi
333 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 342-0212

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bloom ~ 7

I've heard from more than one foodie that the neighborhood on Pico between Fairfax and Hauser is flowering into a boutique restaurant haven. I made my way down there this past Sunday to check out Bloom ... a little cafe that prides itself on seasonal, healthy fare and going green. We sat outside on the back patio which was very cool in a retro Jetson's sort of way. The bright white space is accented with orange tables and blue inset windows. Strings of lights hang from the canvas draped overhead and I bet the patio is especially charming at night.

The place was packed! We ordered 2 cafe au laits and tap water, which came chilled, sans ice, and infused with cucumber. The cups looked like plastic but were made from corn. Neat! This was by far the best tap water experience I've had in a restaurant. For brunch, I decided on the poached eggs on raisin walnut bread.

The food took awhile to arrive but was well worth the wait. My eggs were perfectly soft and the combination of savory tomato coulis and goat cheese spread over the soft sweet raisin bread created heaven right there in my mouth. I loved that they were so forward thinking with the flavor combinations. My boyfriend acutally cringed at the thought of goat cheese, tomatoes, egg and raisin bread all together, but once I convinced him to try a bite ... he ate half my breakfast.

He ordered the 222, which was good, but not as amazing as my dish. The 2 buttermilk pancakes were fluffy and flavored ever so lightly with orange. The eggs were ordered over medium but came out WAY OVER EASY so we sent them back. The second time around, they arrived perfectly soft boiled, but by this time he was full. The star players in the 222 were the sausage and syrup. The meat was well spiced, juicy and when dipped in the warm maple syrup with orange essence ... I knew that I'd found another thing to be addicted to in LA. Oh and BTW, the prices at Bloom are VERY reasonable, especially for such quality food.

Bloom Cafe
5544 Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Phone: (323) 934-6900
Cross Street: Sierra Bonita Avenue
Hours: Daily 8am-5pm

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Vanilla Green Tea Cupcake Recipe

I've finally been invited to venture into the world of my boyfriend's family. We've been together for just over a year while I've met his siblings in passing, last week I was invited to my his sister's birthday and had to impress! She loves vanilla and green tea so I made these cupcakes with Matcha green tea frosting. It turned out to be a great combination and you could really taste the tea! For the vanilla cake I tried this recipe that I found on 52 Cupcakes

Changes I Made:
Low-fat milk instead of whole and they were pretty good but after one day became dry.
Added 1/2 tsp nutmeg to the dry mix
Used salted butter because I'm always happier with the result

Billy's Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcakes from Billy's Bakery in NYC

Makes about 30 cupcakes
1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix on low speed until combined. Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour.
2. In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.
3. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about two-thirds full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes.

4. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat process with remaining batter. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost tops of each cupcake. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Matcha Green Tea Frosting

3/4 cup butter, salted (room temp)
1 tablespoon Matcha powder
7-8 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

In bowl of electric mixer, using paddle, cream butter and Matcha until combined and the mixture is a tea green color. Add half of powder sugar, milk and vanilla to bowl. Mix on low, then move to medium speed. Slowly add remaining powdered sugar until frosting reaches desired consistency. Beat frosting on high until fluffy. Frosting should be quite thick but smooth enough to pipe onto cupcakes. Making frosting this thick will prevent you from having to refrigerate cupcakes.

Use pastry bag fitted with round pastry tip, about 1/2" in diameter to pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. I decorated with pearl dragees. Store in air tight container.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Coupa Cafe ~ 7.5

It's important to give restaurants a second and possibly third chance, just as it is with people. I tried Coupa Cafe twice when they first opened in Beverly Hills and wasn't impressed. Early this week, boyfriend and I were lamenting over how Beverly Hills needs a few better breakfast spots. Since he'd never been, we walked into Coupa Cafe and were so deliciously satisfied by the time we left, we returned the next morning!

They have these addicting Arepas and phenomenal coffee from Venezuela. Arepas (for those who don't know, I didn't) are a very popular Venezuelan snack food, especially for the late night party crowd. We go for pizza, or possibly "street meat" (aka hot dogs on a cart) at 2am. Venezuelans eat Arepas. They are little corn cakes that remind me of a Pita/English Muffin hybrid. When sliced in half, they are very thin, a little crispy, and you can fill them with anything you'd like. They become a perfect little sandwich, about the size of our Egg McMuffins, but much tastier!
On visit #2, Derrek ordered the Breakfast Special Arepa, eggs with bacon and Gouda, as well as one with turkey, goat cheese and spinach.

I customized mine with egg whites, sun dried tomatoes, and light Gouda cheese (trying to be healthy). All three were wonderful, but the Breakfast Special is great if you're hungover!

Now let's talk coffee. Among my favorite places in BH to get my morning ritual Cafe au Lait are Frittelli's, Ingrid's, and Le Provence. COUPA CAFE is now my coffee obsession of the moment. I always knew my heart would be stolen my someone or something in South America ... I guess it's the latter :). I asked if they had a mild coffee and our waiter suggested the Caracas. Not only did my Au Lait arrive looking red carpet ready, but also had velvet-like mircofoam, the tell tail sign of a fine barista. The coffee was rich, decadent, and smooth, as promised. Coupa Cafe also has free WiFi, beer and wine, a cute outdoor patio area and a warm fireplace inside. Their flagship cafe is in Palo Alto, Ca.

Coupa Cafe
419 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210-4819
Phone: (310) 385-0420

Cross Street: Brighton Way
Hours: Daily 7:30am-11pm
Happy Hour M-F, 5-7pm, 2 for 1

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

FWDGF Vegetable Soup Recipe

The first thing you're supposed to do using French Women Don't Get Fat (FWDGF) is keep a three week food journal, eating normally, to discover what foods are the "offenders" as Guiliano calls them. Well, I'm not the most patient person and I have a pretty good idea of what foods are offending my waistline so ... on to the next step. For 2 days you eat either Magical Leek Broth or Mimosa Soup. Sadly, Mimosa Soup contains no orange juice or champagne. It is however, more hearty than the leek soup so I opted for the Mimosa. As usual, I made the recipe my own and luckily it turned out to be delicious! Let me note, I will not be eating only soup for 2 days straight because, well, I don't want to. I'll replace 2 meals a day with this soup for 4 days or so. Here's the recipe a la FoodFlirt90210:

4-6 cloves fresh garlic
2 tsp grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
1/2 pound carrots
1 bunch celery
1 medium turnip ( Try them you'll like them!)
4 large leeks
1/2 cup chopped flat Italian parsley
1 large box low-sodium vegetable broth
2 tbs Turmeric
2 tsp Paprika
1 tbs Ancho Chili Powder (any mild chili powder will do)
1 small head cauliflower
1/2 head green cabbage

Peel and chop garlic. Saute in large soup pot with grapeseed oil until golden brown. Turn off heat.
Clean and coarsely chop all vegetables.

Just an FYI, you only use the light green and white part of the leek for this recipe. Make sure to wash them really well as they tend to hold a bit of dirt inside.

Place all vegetables in pot with garlic except for cauliflower and cabbage. Pour broth over veggies then add water until covered.

Bring to a boil over high heat then add spices using wooden spoon to combine. Simmer, uncovered for 40 minutes.

Add cauliflower and cabbage and cook for another 15 minutes.

Serve soup hot with a dollop of plain yogurt on top. Salt to taste if necessary. This huge pot o' soup should last 2-5 days.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A French Woman's Breakfast

I love French Women Don't Get Fat (FWDGF) because there's not a specific meal plan I have to stick to. Rather, Guiliano offers many recipes and general guidelines for what she calls "recasting" your eating habits over a 3 month period.

Today I made a lovely, petite breakfast with plain FAGE 0% fat yogurt, toasted flax seed, brown sugar, cinnamon, and grapes. I also drank a small cafe au lait with skim milk; normally I order a medium . I'm making small but doable changes just like the book says! YAY :) FWDGF recommends eating 2 daily servings (about 1/2 cup each) of plain all natural yogurt since it's satisfying and really good for you.

I sliced up some green grapes then combined 1 cup yogurt with 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon golden flax seed. Top the yogurt off with the grapes for a delicious, easy breakfast with protein!

I set the table for one and sat there eating my breakfast, not watching TV ... just enjoying my first meal of the day. It felt a little weird, but it's nice taking a moment to eat and pay attention to what your eating. Far better than rushing out the door, banana and protein bar in hand, not tasting a morsel as it goes down.

I've Been Overly Flirtatious ...

It is possible to be overly flirtatious with food? Well, my "skinny jeans" seem to think so. I'm afraid I've been flirting with a few too many foods, too many times a day. Oops! Oh well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Enter "French Women Don't Get Fat," by Mireille Guiliano. This book came out in 2005 and reads like a novel, but it's actually a book on how to lose weight in a very reasonable, doable way ... the French way. Now, French people are the original foodies (Italians may disagree) and thus, would never shun great food or live on protein bars and frozen meals. GROSS! So, I've decided to revisit this excellent little book, which focuses on conscious eating, the opposite of mindless eating, which has become ever so popular in America.

In short, you start out with a 2 day diet of homemade soup, then follow with three months of wonderful, albeit healthy, mainly homemade meals. You must agree to eat your meals sitting down at a table, not watching TV or talking on the phone. When you eat you focus on just that, eating. You taste the flavors and enjoy each bite. You take your time and eat slowly. You notice the first signs of being full and push the plate away, even if you're not a member of "the clean plate club." You also decide which foods are most likely the culprit for your weight gain. For me ... wine and sweets, so for three months, I'll keep those two items to a minimum, meaning weekends only.

I began this "lose five pounds" process 3 days ago and I have to say, it's AMAZING how a small amount of really wholesome food can be so satisfying. I was out to lunch the other day, ordered a chopped veggie salad, dressing on the side, and made the conscious decision to eat 1/3 of it and then decide if I was full, which I was. Normally I would have dove right in, munching away, paying more attention to my boyfriend than my meal. This time, I tried to enjoy each nuance, each ingredient and guess what? The meal was so wonderfully satisfying, I didn't think about food again until dinner! If you're a food lover who wants to shed a few pounds, this is the easiest diet plan around.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


I finally meandered over to Silver Lake to experience the much talked about coffee boutique, LAMILL (pronounced lah-mill). This is not, let me repeat NOT, your average, cater to the masses, grab your daily cup o' Joe and go coffee shop. No ladies and gentlemen, LAMILL takes the art of coffee to a pristine new level. Their caffeinated concoctions have been carefully calculated, formulated and are ever so thoughtfully constructed right before your eyes. This is a place to visit when you want to indulge in a divine brunch and linger over ridiculously decadent coffee that you’ll crave for the rest of the week. If I lived in Silver Lake, this spot would become part of my lazy Sunday morning ritual.

At first I was curious … why didn’t this opulent coffee palace open somewhere chichi like Beverly Hills? Why boho-chic Silver Lake? This seems to be an ongoing blog debate. My 2 cents? I think it’s the distinctive artsy types, the gastronomic gurus, the “French palate” patrons who will truly recognize and appreciate the quirky artistry occurring daily at LAMILL … and those people are found in neighborhoods like Silver Lake. In BH, people would have given this fantastic establishment plenty of business without scoffing at the $5 latte, but I live in Beverly Hills and let me tell you, a restaurant does not have to serve high quality food to be a success in the 90210 area code. (Not always, but often, BH diners are far more concerned with who is eating at the restaurant than with how the food actually tastes i.e. the Farm of Beverly Hills, Il Pastaio, and Mr. Chow.) Silver Lake is unusual as is LAMILL and I think they compliment each other.

When you walk in, there’s a tempting pastry case filled with scones, muffins, croissants, etc. Before we even sat down my boyfriend ordered a canele to be sent to the table. The two room restaurant was bustling with people high on platinum caffeine. The eccentric décor almost out shines the coffee … almost.

Color scheme: gold brass, deep teal, robin egg blue, grey black and blood red. Picture custom French wall paper depicting mythological scenes and vintage chairs covered in exotic, vinyl animal skin such as ostrich and crocodile. It’s anything but boring and somehow sets the right mood for coffee chemistry. Sitting at our window-side table for two, we perused the bible of a beverage menu and munched on the incredible canele. The outside was terrifically crunchy with a soft, creamy center similar to vanilla bread pudding.

We wanted to try the coffee spheres, but were told they were still in the creation phase and not yet available. (I felt like I was in Willy Wonka’s Coffee Factory.) As alluring as the “Jelly Doughnut Coffee Drink” sounded, we both ordered our usual, café au lait with skim milk, just to test this $5 version against the hundreds we’ve had elsewhere. Derrek wanted to add house made chocolate sauce and real whipped cream to his au lait. Uh oh! Order something not listed on the menu? Confusion ensued. Our very patient, sweet waitress summoned a guy in charge of coffee creation and he kindly explained that their drinks are made from precise recipes with exact ratios of milk to coffee etc. (BTW there was no attitude while explaining why they are so particular about the drinks … each person was gracious and sincere.) Much to my surprise, he finally agreed to bring the chocolate sauce and whipped cream on the side. Both were devastatingly delicious and the chocolate sauce was far closer to a velvety ganache.

To achieve the perfect 50/50 ratio that makes up a café au lait (half drip coffee, half steamed milk) the coffee creator poured both the coffee and milk simultaneously, into the cup, table side. Necessary? Nope. Elaborate, indulgent, and fun? Absolutely! My café au lait was smooth and creamy with no trace of burnt beans whatsoever. At LAMILL, the coffee is not pre-made. Each cup is brewed as it is ordered. Can you say FRESH? My only qualm was that by the time everything was poured, admired, and sugared, the beverage had lost that piping hot quality.

Knowing the menu was created by the esteemed Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence, I was equally excited for the food. I ordered baked eggs that arrive with a sinfully generous amount of fresh crab meat on top, accompanied by perfectly crisp, perfectly buttered, toast. (Perfection is the predominant theme if you’ve not noticed.) The dish was sprinkled with chives which I assumed were just a garnish, but they added a piquant flavor profile to my already heavenly breakfast.

Derrek opted for scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, asparagus, and chives … a sumptuous display of simplicity at it’s finest. I floated out of LAMILL feeling blissful and content, with a sheer appreciation for the effort put forth to create a superior coffee+food experience in Los Angeles. (I did return weeks later. The “kinda like crème brulee” banana dessert was average at best but the liquid center lollipops are luscious).

La Marzocco espresso machine
$11,000 Clover coffee machine that brews single cups to order
Siphon tableside coffee service (popular in Japan)
Food as exquisite as the coffee
Similarities to Starbucks: ZERO … thankfully
Serves room temperature water (more easily absorbed)

1636 Silver Lake Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Closed Monday

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Naraya ~ 7

I'd driven by this tucked-away Thai place a hundred times, down S. Robertson on my way to the 10 freeway. Late one night I was craving a new, close-to-home (BH) Thai experience so I meandered into Naraya and was pleasantly surprised. The tiny space possessed a casual, Zen elegance and the food was both unique and good. I soon returned with my camera to write a blog … here are my findings. Their fancy cocktails are inexpensive anyway but they offer happy hour everyday from 4-7pm. Half price starters and drinks! We missed magic hour but indulged nonetheless in a Water Melon Martini (2 actually) and a Blue Mojito. There’s not a completely full bar but they serve wine, beer and made our drinks with Han, and Asian vodka that I liked. My melon-tini was smooth and the mojito perfectly minty but not overly sweet.

We began our adventure with the Naraya Radish Crowns. The texture was intriguing; both crunchy and soft. The sweet, nutty flavor was a smart contrast with the crispy garlic garnish. Each crown perched on one pristine spinach leaf, and surrounded a cabbage slaw dressed with creamy chili sauce.

We devoured a second appetizer (and over ate just to give our fellow foodies a better blog report.) Golden Pouches arrived, artistically presented on circular banana leaves. The crispy wontons enveloped succulent rock shrimp and were tied together with ribbons of green onion … pure pleasure for the mouth.

One of their specialties, Duck Salad, truly lived up to its simple name. Elsewhere when I’ve ordered duck salad, there has been a miniscule portion of duck. At first glance, we were worried but then discovered a plentiful amount of smoky, peppery duck layered beneath mixed greens, which were perfectly coated with chili-lime dressing. Candied walnuts (menu reads pistachios) mingled with grape tomatoes and I enjoyed le canard (the duck) in almost every bite!

Last, we tried steamed Chilean Sea Bass. Now, maybe it was and maybe it wasn't of true Chilean ilk, but I haven’t seen Chilean Bass for $18.00 in a long, long time. In any case, Chilean Sea Bass is really just Patagonian toothfish, but that name didn’t go over well commercially. (It’s known as Mero in Japan and Merluza Negra in South America.) The white fish was tender, but slightly undercooked and we were pulling bones. The emerald city of vegetables built around the fish however, was a delicate garden of freshness. Chinese celery, Japanese shitakes and baby bok choy were perfectly cooked with a touch of fresh ginger; simple but satisfying.

I look forward to another meal at Naraya. The menu is creative and priced fairly for the quality of food, ranging from $4-$21 for Australian Lamb Chop with Thai panang curry sauce, kaffir lime leaf, and green tea rice. The service is excellent and very personal. On my first visit, I inquired about their Pad Thai and was told they use real tamarind which is expensive and most restaurants replace it with sugar and peanut sauce. My server actually brought out some tamarind to show me. Maybe that’s why their Pad Thai a little more expensive … you get what you pay for. I love restaurants like this; Small, family run, with a focus on high quality food and friendly customer service. Naraya also offers great lunch specials.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A creative fusion of traditional Thai food and modern flavors, served in a casual, but stylish atmosphere. See my rating for Naraya on my blog, Foodflirt90210.


1128 S. Robertson Blvd. LA, Ca 90035