Los Angeles

- A Pleasant Surprise

ImageHaving 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!!!

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littlebeastmenuI really needed a night out. Life has been conspiring against us lately, but it could be worse. Tired of being homebound and cooking three meals a day, I was desperate for a a little culinary magic. When a friend called with an invite to the opening night of Little Beast, I jumped at the chance like a drowning person needing a life raft.

This new restaurant was one of her clients, so I figured it had to be good. She's a produce broker and has never steered me wrong. All I knew about the place was that the chef, Sean Lowenthal, was, until he opened this place, the sous chef at Chateau Marmont for a couple of years. It was good enough for me.

Their goal in converting the old Larkin space, a quaint, early 1900s Craftsman house, was to create a dining spot in Eagle Rock to rival the foodie joints found in the more tony neighborhoods to their west like Silverlake and Los Feliz. Their mantra: seasonal, modern, progressive. I don't really know what that means when it comes to food, but after sampling the menu, I know that whatever you call it, Little Beast has raised the bar on this section of Colorado.  

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caneleoutside.jpgA canelé is a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France. A small pastry with a soft custard center and a dark caramelized crust. They are eaten for breakfast, as a snack, and for dessert. Canelé is also a favorite neighborhood restaurant. Just a few walkable blocks from home. Robert and I were there on a recent Friday night. We have often wondered how the recession is affecting restaurants. It didn’t seem to be having much of an affect on Canelé this particular night. The restaurant was full and people were still waiting for tables when we left around 9:15 or so.

It’s great to see this place doing so well. The food has been called French-California-Mediterranean. And it is, but some of the menu items are classic French. Those are the ones I like the most. Like the bouef Bourguignon with buttered noodles I had on my first visit, and the pissaladiere with herb salad. They also have sides like pommes Anna, a very old-fashioned potato dish of layered potatoes and butter; starters like leeks vinaigrette, and brandade, a salt cod dish originating in the Languedoc and Provence regions of France.

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foundry-on-melrose.jpgI hold restaurant grudges. Big time. If they take french fries off the menu and replace them with sweet potato fries (ahem, Melrose Bar & Grill), if I get sick from the seaweed salad (ahem, Reel Food Daily), if the take out portions are unreasonably small and unbelievably expensive (ahem, Nook), mark my words, I will never come back. EVER. But what happened the first time I went to the Foundry, might not have been entirely their fault.

I was starving and jet-lagged and I was with my then new, "not-quite-boyfriend" with whom things were getting increasingly awkward. We ordered vodka sodas while we waited for our table that wasn't quite ready, plopped ourselves into bar stools and took a much-needed sip of . . . tonic. I hate tonic. I'm actually allergic to tonic, but no one ever believes me when I say that. It was an honest enough mistake and was quickly corrected. But when we finally sat down, I noticed there were only four things on the menu. Four. Something with duck confit, some kind of lamb situation, veal and chicken. They were out of chicken. So Mr. Wrong left some money on the table, politely explained that I'd just gotten off a plane and we needed something a little less . . . fussy.

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chilin1Part of a growing trend to serve Chinese food with locavoire sourcing and an attention to healthy choices, Chi Lin off the Sunset Strip (9201 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood CA 90069, 310/278-2068) pays homage to the spirit of Chinese cuisine with upscale versions of classic dishes like Peking Duck, soup with steamed dumplings, tangerine beef, tofu with pork and stir fried clams.

Tucked away just off Sunset Boulevard next to the much larger restaurant, Rivabella, the entrance to Chi Lin is marked by a bordello red neon sign suggesting forbidden treats and dangers are inside.

Chi Lin is a restaurant for special occasions. The dining room is perfect for a romantic liaison with a new friend or to celebrate the love of your life on an important anniversary. A hostess in a clinging black leather dress, cut mid-thigh, will lead you to your table in an intimate dining room.

Rows of lights hang down from the ceiling, their dim rays illuminating not so much the room as the essence of the space. The mirrored walls reflect the ceiling lights to infinity. Tables and booths allow for comfortable seating. The waitstaff is attentive. The menu accommodates omnivores, pescetarians and vegetarians.

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