As I have mentioned, I am a teacher in the LAUSD and this year the budget cuts cost me dearly. I lost the auxiliary class I have taught for the last nine years, and though this class added the stress of an extra preparation, it also padded my wallet, which made it a little easier for me to inure myself to teaching four one-and-a-half-hour classes each day with only two scheduled breaks, twenty and thirty minutes each. Gates and locks define the boundaries of the campus and these gates and locks are not to be opened until the school day ends, so this means that for the last nine years, I have been almost literally chained to my desk.
Not once in nine years have I ever “met a friend for lunch” or gone off campus to “grab a bite.” Since there is really no time to do anything but teach my classes, answer student questions, and make small talk in the bathroom line, I practically live in my little isolated realm. I have packed my little island with the essential modern conveniences like a fridge stocked with berries, Greek yogurt, organic peanut butter, whole grain bread, cheese, water, juice; a kettle to boil water for my coffee and oatmeal; and my iPhone so I can enjoy the promise of at least some contact with the outside world during those two luxurious breaks I get. A colleague of mine once asked whether I was hiding a Murphy bed in my book closet.
One of my favorite restaurants isn't close to where we live. Adana is forty-five minutes away in Glendale.
The light and airy dining room suggests a banquet hall in an elegant European boutique hotel. There are white tablecloths on all the tables, pastel landscape murals on the walls and delicate wrought iron framing the windows facing busy San Fernando Road.
I would enjoy the food at Adana at any price, but with large entrees costing from $6.50 to $10.95, there's a special pleasure in being served an affordable, well-prepared meal.
Even though there are 15 kababs on the menu, I mostly stick with the dark meat chicken kabob, the pork chops and baby back ribs. A friend who joins me on the trek likes the lamb chops kabob. They are all delicious.
Waiting for our entrees, we have an Armenian coffee, share a large plate of tabouli and catch up about family, work and movies.
I don't know who invented the concept of Happy Hour and I really don't care. I'm sure it isn't necessarily a good thing that it's my favorite time of day, but I just can't think about those two words together without smiling. They conjure up images of meeting friends at the day's end but before the night closes in to share your latest news and perhaps a few troubles over a quick glass of something heady and a few indulgent nibbles. Since I live via my own "Cinderella Theory" – that nothing good happens after Midnight outside the home – I like to start when the night is young and trouble isn't even a glimpse on the horizon. It's also the time when most restaurants are fairly empty and the music is low enough you can actually hear your companions. Plus, you get your drinks and food at half price. A win-win-win.
My latest Happy find took a bit of work, but was well worth the search. We had an event at the Pantages Theater and were going to take the Metro to Hollywood to avoid the post-work traffic snarl. While this area is filled with bars, it was harder to find a decent pre-screening drink than I anticipated. Sure there was going to be a post-party but eating at 9:30pm is just not an option for us. We are Early Bird people all the way, preparing for our old age three decades in advance. I was initially intrigued by both Wood & Vine (they had the best wine list) and Blue Palms Brewhouse (can you say Truffle Burger?) because they wouldn't require much walking; however, neither of them opened until 6pm. A problem. I guess Wood & Vine has a Happy Hour but it's from 10pm-2am. Not gonna happen due to the rule stated above.
How does ink come out of pens? Well I can’t answer that, but I know how ink comes out of squid.LA's hot spot, Michael Voltaggio’s INK restaurant in Hollywood, opened its doors September 2011. Reservations were accepted a week before opening day and within hours, a full month’s worth of reservations were made for eager diners. I managed to snag a reservation for myself and three other friends. “Sharing is caring” they say, but I think it just makes ordering the full menu more tangible!
My friends and I arrived at INK for our 8:30PM reservation, and walked into a modern minimalistic dining room full of ink blotches on the floor. Yes, I did step over one on my way to the restroom; I have my moments. Nestled in the back is the kitchen, and a full view of Michael Votaggio and his kitchen army. Opposite the kitchen is the bar with Mixologist Devon Espinosa behind the counter. Upon being seated, we perused the drink menu which was full of unique flavors. Ginger, lavender, and fresh grated cinnamon graced the tops of drinks as they were brought out to us. INK also has a nice wine list; I opted for a nice cava that I thought would pair well with most dishes on the menu.
What is wrong with me? Why do I drive past intriguing places and keep on driving? Or, why do I keep going to the same places because I know them, they are familiar and safe? My friend, another foodie, Andrea, had made a plan with me last night to try a Japanese restaurant. Then, she kept reading reviews online that scared her straight. This new Japanese usually costs $100 per person. She called me ahead of time to warn me and then told me she really likes this other place on Sawtelle. So now we really have two choices.
When I hopped in her car, she navigated her way around the city in such a way as to end up directly in front of the alternative restaurant and not the original terribly expensive restaurant. I still don’t know whether she did that on purpose, but I was hungry and said, lets just go in there. I had seen it before and it called to me. When she mentioned a place on Sawtelle I just thought it was Hide Sushi and I do already go there all the time.
My mom makes the greatest hamburger in the world. I don’t know how she does it — it’s not the cut of the meat or the way she marinades it (she doesn’t) or the fact that it’s organic (which it is) or that it has some fancy cheese on it (though it usually does). It’s just the greatest hamburger you’ve ever had. Which is why I’m always hesitant to try the great, new burger stand around the corner — especially, when it’s a gourmet burger stand. Don’t get me wrong. The idea of maple grilled onions and blue cheese and truffle oil on a hamburger is certainly appealing to me, but somehow those gourmet burgers — even the ones from Father’s Office — just never taste as good as my mom’s plain, old patty melts.
But how could I not try Umami burger? Everyone’s been talking about it and even the name is sort of intriguing. Umami: the fifth taste. What the hell is the fifth taste? My friend Ben Chinn and I had to find out.
Hungry! Need. Food. Now. There are times when eating becomes the thing I have to do before anything else. Knowing of close-to-home restaurants is of paramount importance to me. Luckily, there’s a plethora of places in my Atwater Village-Silver Lake neighborhood to choose from. Gingergrass is one. I know that I can drive over and if it’s early enough, get a table and have food in front of me within forty minutes. If it’s later and the place is full, I can call an order in and pick it up. There’s value in both of these.
The sign in front of Gingergrass, and the menu itself, has these words: “Fresh Vietnamese Cuisine,” and in my experience this is absolutely true. I’ve been eating at Gingergrass for years now and have never had a bad meal. The food always tastes fresh and clean. The dishes are full of interesting, bright flavors. The menu is varied enough to never get boring. Executive Chef Mikel Mark Kim knows his way around a Vietnamese menu while also using local, sustainable, organic, and free-range ingredients: very good things that up the quality and flavor of his food.
Living in Southern California, we enjoy rich ethnic diversity. Those of us who explore culture through cuisine are very happy about that. Located in West Los Angeles, Yabu, which has a devoted following and is a good example of a neighborhood Japanese restaurant. Because Yabu has a much larger, sister restaurant in West Hollywood, when you call to make a reservation, you will be asked to confirm that you want to eat at the Pico restaurant.
There are lots of chain restaurants with Japanese names, but Yabu's kitchen prepares authentic Japanese comfort food. Serving lunch (Mon.-Sat.) and dinner (Mon.-Sun.), the restaurant is perfect to drop in for a quick bite at the sushi bar or with family and friends to hang out at one of the tables tucked into the corners of the room. Order cups of hot green tea, ice cold bottles of Japanese beers or hot (or cold) sake and try out new dishes as you enjoy easy conversation and good food.
- A Pleasant Surprise
Having almost given up on the Italian cucina here in Los Angeles, I was very pleased to enjoy the offerings of this ristorante. It was a whim that brought me there and also an offer from Blackboard Eats. After all Pane e Vino has been around for the past 20 years, no small accomplishment in a metropolis of shifting loyalties and chefs’ inabilities to produce and present authentic cuisine. Not their fault really, for if a restaurant wants to stay in business in this city, then they have to cater to many of their patrons uneducated knowledge of what real Italian food is all about and offer Americanized versions.
So back to why I rarely venture out to eat in restaurants, be they Italian, French, English or Mexican, cuisine that can be so exciting and different and a pleasure. I am a purist and like to eat food as it would be prepared in the countries of origin using as much local produce as possible, and not drowning everything in sauces. I found out why that happens – because the ingredients/meat/chicken/fish have no taste coming from force fed animals, farmed fish and other things that I won’t mention!!!
Last night One for the Table got a sneak peek into what promises to be Culver City’s newest hot spot—A-Frame—the brainchild of restaurateur David Reiss and rockstar chef Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ fame. Like most of Choi’s ventures, the menu reads like a sugar-crazed kid’s take on gourmet cuisine. Blazin’ Jay’s kettle corn, sprinkled with furikake and mixed with Corn Pops, is a total guilty pleasure. And don’t get me started on the milk chocolate dipped churros or the fried apple pie with cheddar ice cream.
My favorites, of course, veer on the lighter side. The crab cakes garnished with shiso leaves are plump and simple and the peel ‘n eat shrimp is fresh and juicy, with just the right amount of citrus and salt. And don’t neglect the Korean-style pickled side dishes, which, in true Choi fashion, veer from the traditional, featuring pears and endives alongside more expected vegetables, like radishes. And I have to admit the baby back ribs are worth getting your hands messy over and so is the totally indulgent carne asada torta (which should only be attempted if you have a serious appetite, and are maybe a little stoned).