Lisa Dinsmore

In over four decades on this planet, I've eaten an uncountable amount of food – some good, some bad, most forgettable. It was something I used for ballast and to curb my hunger. Occasionally, it paired just perfectly with my wine choice – which I always spend more time thinking about – making me more aware of what I was chewing and wishful that that culinary cohesion happened more often.

animalfoiebiscuitTired of eating my usuals and looking to raise my food bar, last year I decided to try everything that came my way, to open my palate to new experiences regardless of my past encounters...and what I found was almost magical. In the right hands, food, even simple food, could be (and was) extraordinary, more than the sum of its parts. Like great wine, it caused my mind to go numb with pleasure, as my tastebuds were bombarded with culinary perfection, with flavors and textures previously unimagined.

While I didn't love every item I took a chance on, some of my newfound choices brought delicious delights I know I will never forget and changed the way I thought about food. After eating the following things, you should have seen the look on my face.

Foie Gras Biscuit with Maple Sausage Gravy at Animal in Los Angeles: Seriously, the most surprisingly delicious thing I have ever eaten. It was my first introduction to foie gras (until this past fall an item I avoided like the plague) and it was mind-boggling. My expression made our friends burst out laughing, reaching for their cameras to capture the moment. I can still taste it (in a good way). Sweet, savory, yeasty, rich, meaty goodness that just melted in my mouth. This is a "last meal" dish, I will be returning for as soon as possible.

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greaswoodsign.jpgFor the past decade, my husband and I seem to find ourselves in Scottsdale Arizona every Spring. Most years it's to celebrate the arrival of another baseball season by talking in as many pre-season games and hotdogs as we can pack in in a week. Others, it's to celebrate Mardi Gras with our Louisiana-born-and-bred friends who carry on the traditions of their home state despite the desert locale of their adopted home.

We made the trip, just for the weekend (too early for baseball), to take part in their Krewe of Helios bash. You would too if you had ever had their gumbo or red beans and rice. They throw a parade on their block where you get to catch as many beads as you can before stuffing your face. (Nudity is strictly discouraged. As our bodies attest, we are not in college anymore.) We had some time to kill before the reverie began and needed a place for a quick drink and a nibble. Since it was a gloriously sunny day, if it had a view of Pikes Peak, even better.

We wanted a glass of wine and antipasti on the Sassi patio, but they're only open for dinner. (Bummer.) When I suggested Greasewood Flat, which is right down the street and a complete 180-degree stylistic turn, my husband was a bit wary. We'd driven by the sign – which looked a little too "cowboy" to us city slickers – a few hundred times over the years and I had always wanted to go.

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ludobites8logo.jpgIt's all my friend Jo's fault. She brought me to LudoBites 3.0 at Royal T in Culver City just over 2 years ago. I had never heard of Chef Ludo before and really wasn't that into food, but I was happy to go along for the ride. This was still in the early days of the "pop-up" phenomenon – where a chef takes over a restaurant not normally open for dinner for a night or, in Ludo's case for a few weeks. At that point it/he was still a novelty, so getting a table was still possible and not left up to the whims of fate.  I learned quickly that while dining with foodies you are required to share plates (something I'm still not always a fan of) and at least try everything that is put in front of you – unless it will kill you. Ludo hooked me with my first bite of his food – a foie gras beignet – and sealed the deal forever with his crispy fried chicken. (Now thankfully available on a regular basis from his food truck. Find it. Eat it. You will never think of chicken the same way again.)

Now whenever a new version is announced, our household goes into the same tizzy as the rest of the food community in Los Angeles, wondering if we're going to get a reservation. We have to get in. It's no longer an option. For LudoBites 8.0, his wife Krissy (the organizational brains behind the Man) switched reservation systems from a computer free-for-all, keep-clicking-in-the-hopes-you-get-thru to a 24-hour, enter-at-your-own pace, lottery where you honestly had just as much of a shot in hell of getting a seat, just without the frustration, angst and sore finger. Lucky for us, we got a reservation.

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stfelixsign.jpgI 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.

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moscato-bianco-grapes.jpgYou heard me. This wine, which is made from the muscat grape in a frizzante-style (mildly bubbly) in the Piedmont region of Italy, is one you should get to know. Even though I drink a lot of wine – from sparkling to port – it's easy to forget about Moscato. Mostly because I don't often get the opportunity to drink it. I'm the only person I know who loves dessert wine, so it's hard to justify opening a bottle to drink all by myself. I have, it's just not something one should make a habit of. Usually I have to quench my cravings for this delicate, fizzy confection when I'm out to dinner. While everyone else digs into the chocolate cake or bread pudding, I satisfy my sweet tooth by sipping. All the pleasure, none of the fat.

Yes, muscat grapes make super-ripe, overtly-fruity, wildly-perfumed wines, but that's why they are so good with dessert. This family of grapes is grown all over the world and is one of the oldest recorded varietals, yet it fails to get any respect.  Sure there are bad versions out there, but that's true with every grape. What I fail to understand is the complaints that it's too sweet…even versions that are fermented dry. A criticism I find fairly hollow coming from the mouths of people who drink soda, juice and sugar-laden caramel frappuccinos. 

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