We had planned to spend New Year's Eve with friends and family but the flu and changes in schedules left us on our own. The New Year deserves to be celebrated, so we organized a dinner the first week of January at Il Fornaio in Santa Monica.
We enjoy coming to Il Fornaio for many reasons: their good food, affordable prices, and their Passporto program that rewards diners who come frequently during the Festa Regionale. During the first two weeks of every month, Il Fornaio presents a menu featuring the dishes and wines of a particular region in Italy. January's region is Trentino-Alto Adige, which borders Switzerland and Austria.
We met at the Santa Monica Il Fornaio, our favorite, because of the cozy setting and the friendly, attentive staff. Because the Regionale pairs food with wine, we came hungry and thirsty. Since we had a large group, we could order a good sampling of dishes.
Twenty years ago when I lived in San Diego, my ex-husband and I loved eating at Karinya Thai Cuisine. The restaurant was up the street from our home in Pacific Beach, and it was our “go to” dinner place when we entertained visiting family and friends. We usually requested to eat in the “traditional” dining room. This meant we’d have to remove our shoes before going in, and sit on the floor atop beautiful Thai triangle pillows.
The head chef (an American) had married into the Karinya Thai family. Since we were regulars, the chef always took a few moments to tell us wonderful tales of his trips to the Far East. One of the best was about the first time he visited his wife’s family in a remote village in Thailand. He was shocked at the amount of time it took to shop for groceries each day. The entire family, led by the grandmother, would get up very early and drive for hours to pick up a particular type of chili, then go a couple of hours in the opposite direction to buy some galangal, and finally another hour south to pick up fresh kaffir lime leaves. By the time the shopping was done, they had driven five or six hours to get ingredients for THAT evening’s dinner. I found it fascinating that each ingredient was so special and distinct, that it was worth all that time and trouble.
Yabu, Il Fornaio and Musha are my favorite restaurants. They have great food and they're
comfortable and affordable. I'd go to them every week if I could.
Having said that, without realizing it, I'd fallen into a rut. It took
my wife, Michelle, to shake things up and get me to try two new
R+D Kitchen is part of the Hillstone restaurant group that includes Bandera, Gulfstream, and Houston's among others. Recently opened at 1323 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, R+D took over an address that was something of a black hole. Montana Lounge and Yu Restaurant had failed. Even a successful entrenpeneur like Wolfgang Puck couldn't make the space work for him. With the Aero theater directly across the street, this should be a good location.
Good design makes such a difference. The previous tenants had sealed off the space, creating dark interiors. Walking into the restaurant, it's easy to see that R+D came up with a fresh approach. With a minimalist design, a skylight in the middle of the dining room, an L-shaped bar to one side, and windows that open out onto Montana, R+D is inviting both inside and out.
The other day, my daughter Hannah and I stopped by Surfas. It always surprises me when she wants to go there, since their prepared food is, lets just say..um..esoteric. She ordered the 72 layer biscuit with ham and cheese and drank a Bubble Up. Oh to be 13, 5’5” and weigh 98 lbs. After that, as we crossed over into the store, a fellow cradling a basket of hot baguettes narrowly missed running into me as he made his way to his station or should I say ‘kingdom’, because this guy rules!
Hannah and I watched him set up the baguettes and tend to a customer at the newly established Cheese Bar. If you haven’t been to Surfas lately, there have been some delightful additions to the whole experience.
My husband and I are lovers of the grape, so we rarely indulge in hard
alcohol, especially since it’s usually more costly and the bars in Los
Angeles don’t exactly cater to our age range. It’s hard to find a place
with a classy atmosphere that’s not blaring hip-hop and filled with
half-exposed 20-year-olds. How they find the money to buy $12 martinis
all night is a mystery to me.
Dave would be content to never leave our house and watch ESPN all night, but I work from home and every once in awhile, I need to get away from my computer and experience the real world. Being a compulsive planner, I always have a few places I’ve found from my Internet travels I’d like to indulge in. Enlisting the excitement of a friend, I recently convinced Dave to take us to the Edison Bar in downtown Los Angeles. Usually, this would be a wholly unacceptable destination on a weeknight, but because we could take the subway – which cut our travel time in half and allowed him to drink – he agreed to the excursion.
It’s 4 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, and like any well-adjusted twentysomething, I’m eating breakfast. More specifically, I’m having brioche french toast and cappuccino at the Little Next Door on 3rd with my friend Gloria. After living in LA for six months, I have determined that breakfast in the afternoon is exactly the sort of reckless behavior Sundays demand.
Typically in New York, Sundays amounted to consumption of greasy brunch complemented by mimosas and black coffee. Following brunch was an inevitable headache, followed by more consumption in the form of excessive window-shopping, followed by an indulgent nap upon what appeared to be a laundry pile, but was in fact my bed.
I go to Pasadena often because my younger daughter’s cheer team practices there. Yes, I spawned a cheerleader because my parents don’t have enough to laugh about in heaven. It’s given me a chance to explore Old Pasadena and I’ve been loving it. But the fact that “Of all the Gin Joints” so to speak, I mean that Little Flower Candy Company just happened to open a bakery in Pasadena was just dumb luck for me. The building is an art deco cubby that reveals itself as you’re zooming along what looks like a residential area. Pasadena is funny that way.
I want Christine Moore to be my mommy. She’s the owner of the Little Flower Candy Company in Pasadena. She makes those sublime caramels and wondrous oversized square marshmallows you’ve seen at places like Joan’s on 3rd and Clementine. But the reason I want her to be my mommy is because she told me she had a sleepover for her eight-year old daughter and six other little girls at her new store on Colorado Blvd.
Shakespeare once wrote, “a place for all reasons and all seasons” and those words are a great intro to Coupa Café, a lively restaurant and wine bar situated on North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. I know there are about 15 restaurants along that well-known restaurant row and at least 13 of them are Italian and another one is Chinese. So if you are looking to dine on cuisine that is different and delicious then the Venezuelan treats at Coupa Café are your best bet. A very welcoming aura pervades the spacious dining room, with the umber painted walls, friendly bar and large outside patio. Well-informed staff serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and can answer any of your questions.
The owner Camelia Coupal who hails from Venezuela is well versed in her nutrition and cuisine. She works in tandem with the modern slow food movement and promotes the use of organic and fair-trade ingredients. This has been a family business for 30 years and besides the Coupa Cafe in Beverly Hills her family have opened four Coupa Cafés - on the grounds of Stanford University, one in downtown Palo Alto and of course the parent one in Caracas.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Especially a hot one. Sometimes cereal or a muffin is all I have time for, but those are mere sustenance. They don't make getting out of bed worthwhile. I love breakfast so much, I've cultivated my cooking talents in that direction. I make a mean breakfast burrito, kick-ass chilaquiles and, when I have more time, a frightfully-good frittata. You can keep the pancakes, waffles and French toast. Savory is where it's at.
So it's rare when we actually go out to breakfast in our hometown. Long lines and high costs ($10+ for eggs and $3 for mediocre coffee?) generally keep us at home. Recently though we had the need to be over on the Westside in the AM, so I went on the search for a place that would trump what I could make in my own kitchen. No chains, no fancy brunch, just hearty, interesting food.
I found it at the Hotel Erwin's Barlo Kitchen. What made me choose this unknown establishment over all the others? Well, it was pretty simple – I wanted to try everything on the menu.
I try really hard to be a health-conscious dancer. I go to the health food markets and buy spinach and avocados and turkey breast and trail mix. But the truth is, I am a carb monster. "C stands for cookie. That's good enough for me." But for me, the real C stands for croissant, and I just couldn't find the perfect one. Until one day I was walking around the neighborhood and saw it. Tarte Tatin. In that little mini-mall on Olympic and Oakhurst. Yep; the one with the frozen yogurt place and the nail salon.
Owner Kobi Tobiano (the former pastry chef at Charles Nob Hill in San Francisco) makes everything in-house from all natural ingredients. It's perfect. Clean, cozy, and filled with croissants! Their almond croissant has become an almost daily indulgence for me--buttery and rich, made from real almonds, not that disgusting paste everyone else in town seems to be using.
If you are a freak of nature and almond croissants just aren't your thing, try to the cinnamon vanilla swirl or the fluffy, powdered sugar covered brownie (or if you are like me, maybe you should get all three). Their egg salad is light and fresh, made with homemade mayo and on fresh baked bread. Their muesli is nothing short of a work of art.