Thursday, May 5, 2011


Choose the Star Trek seating if you can
I've been waiting a LONG time for a new restaurant and bar to open at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Not that I have anything against their old staples, Pentimento and the Plaza Cafe. Both are decent for what they offer. But since the museum's beautiful expansion --  with it's Contemporary Art wing -- BCAM, the beautiful window-filled Resnick Pavilion, and it's vintage outdoor Urban Light Exhibit, it was time for LACMA to offer a venue where you can not only enjoy creative dishes and colorful libations, but sit surrounded by inspiring energy that only comes when you merge the food world with the art world.

Things that make you go hmmm
There are two components to this experience -- RAY's, the hip restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, and it's devilish little counterpart the Stark Bar. The two are located next to each other and when I noticed how happening the Stark Bar was for a Wednesday night, I opted for this patio party instead.  Also, since both have similar hip, "artsy" decor, I felt as though I'd probably be having a similar experience. My dining companion and I walked into the roped around patio that offered a decent amount of seating with lounge-like tables and bar seating if you prefer. We opted for two high-back cushy seats on one end of the patio  and as luck would have it, live performance art was happening ten feet from us in the center courtyard. Just beyond, the view of 202 Vintage streetlamps glowing in the night.  View + actors dressed in dirty capes dancing primitively in the middle of night all for the name of art = added bonus in my book. Granted, the actors were holding very large sticks and after hundreds of incredibly slow rotations, they began to shed their capes for loincloths, but I knew that as long as the food and cocktails were good, I'd be just fine. 

2 of the many beverage options
There are a number of menus at Stark Bar. There's the massive cocktail menu "book" which lists various concoctions in the $10-14 range. There's a separate wine and beer list with extensive offerings of each.  Then there's the Bar Bites menu full of small plates options and flatbreads. And if you are really hungry, there's Ray's menu (the next door counterpart) which Stark servers will gladly allow you to order from. My dining companion opted for a glass of Riesling which was exactly what our server had assured -- mildly sweet and balanced. And while my head was spinning a little from all the cocktail offerings, I finally settled on the Ray's Swizzle. You really can't go wrong with a signature drink, especially one that guarantees fresh lime and orange juice, muddled blackberries, pineapple syrup, and rum. And it was as delicious as it sounds. Completely refreshing without being too sweet. After a few sips the tribal loinclothers were starting to put me into a zen trance. BUT wait -- there was food to be ordered!

Yes my friend, there is goat on that pizza
We decided to hit up both the Bar Bites menu and Ray's. Since their unique flatbreads were calling my name, I chose the Goat Flatbread with slow-roasted shoulder, goat cheese, chili sesame sauce, red onions, and cilantro. From the Ray's menu, we opted for the Gnocchi with Pea Tendrils, Walnuts, and Pecorino. We held onto both menus in case we felt like ordering more. But when the two came out simultaneously, we were pleasantly surprised to see fairly large portions -- certainly enough for two. We tasted the gnocchi first. The tendrils were fresh and the gnocchi had a delicious slight crisp on the outside and a warm soft center. The contrasting textures in each bite were addictive. I think these would have even broken the concentration of the most skilled loin-clothed actor of the group. I then glanced over at the perfectly-sized flatbread with fluffy crust, chock full of toppings, sitting on a nice wood board. As I bit into a slice, I wondered why I'd never had Goat Shoulder, especially on a pizza! It was slightly smoky and tasty. It was meaty but not dense. It was...really good. It meshed well with the flavor profile of the pizza -- the creamy goat cheese, the kick from the chili sesame sauce, the cool from the cilantro, and a little bit of sharp from the red onion. The crust was also cooked to my liking -- not too crispy with a little bit of chew. As a fan of flatbreads and pizza, I was happy to try something that wasn't just unique conceptually but actually worked!

As I continued to sip my swizzle, pop another crispy gnocchi, and watch the actors move through the night air, Stark Bar reaffirmed my belief that it's in these moments you can sit back and take it in -- life is artful, life is good. 

For more info visit: Stark Bar

Friday, April 1, 2011


This ain't no Eggo waffle
I used to avoid breakfast. Yeah, yeah, most important meal of the day. Blah, blah, it's "brain food" to keep you going. But I just didn't have time for it. I felt like my mornings were too busy for it. And on the weekends the trend is usually brunch, an often costly affair of over-priced eggs benedict that leave me wondering why I didn't just invest that into a pork belly sandwich for lunch. I did however start a love affair with waffles (more so as a late night snack) and as the waffle and I became dear friends, I decided that maybe I should re-introduce breakfast into my life. And surely like any great meal, I discovered that breakfast can actually be quite wonderful. Sometimes sweet, sometimes salty. Sometimes meaty, and let's not forget eggy. It's a food that in it's best, heartiest preparation, can be extremely satisfying. And what's also satisfying is not having to break your wallet to partake in some of the best that LA has to offer. Here's a crop of yummy spots that can even convince a naysayer like me that breakfast MIGHT just be the most important meal of the day -- or at least a heck of a lot better than that bowl of Wheaties.  So if you're looking for your replacement breakfast of champions, look no further.

1) SimpleThings - Remember these guys? My favorite pie peeps that I dedicated an entire post to? Well, they're at it again with an incredible "weekends only" breakfast menu (served from 9am -2pm and priced under $10). Move over soggy english-muffined  eggs benedict and hello artisanal sausage benedict served over brioche with caramelized onions, poached eggs, and sage hollandaise for $8.50! I rest my case.

2) Shaky Alibi - opened in 2010 on Beverly Blvd. this hand-crafted waffle bar serves up the tastiest Liege waffles around. And since you can't find many authentic waffle shops (if any!), owner R.J. Milano knows how to create a perfect niche and draw in regular customers. With a variety of options for toppings, you can go sweet one day and savory the next. The two that I can't stop dreaming about? Traditional Waffle w/ Crunchy Speculoos ( a Belgium spread made up of ground graham crackers) and Fresh Strawberries ($7.50) & The Savory Waffle with Black Forest Ham, Gruyere and a Poached Egg ($11). 

3) Milk - while this wonderful corner ice cream shop serves some of the best shakes and sundaes in town, it's their breakfast sandwich that's at the top of my list. You won't find their breakfast menu on their site or main in-house board but on Saturdays and Sundays they serve a mean egg sandwich with bacon on ciabatta for about $8 bucks that will not only satisfy your breakfast hunger pangs but also lunch.

4) Susina Bakery - I've been frequenting this scrumptious bakery for a few years now, exquisite cakes, delectable cookies, and a wonderfully friendly owner. I'd usually grab one of their heated ham and cheese croissants or a tasty polenta raspberry scone and be satisfied. But now they've made their breakfast options even better by adding a full menu that includes incredibly tasty french toast and omelettes. Like everything at this bakery, it's done well and they still manage to keep their dishes under $10. 

5) M Cafe - decadent breakfast not your thing? Want something hearty but healthy? Look no further than this terrific macrobiotic cafe that serves a vegetarian breakfast that will sure to satisfy even the meat lover. Whether it's the scrambled tofu with tempeh bacon and sweet potato hash or the whole grain blueberry pancakes with soy butter and organic syrup (both reasonably priced at $9.25) you might not hug a tree after but you'll definitely feel like you did your belly good.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


This little rabbit will stay with us forever
This isn't a review of the restaurant, Animal on Fairfax. The restaurant has been open for quite some time and everything you've already heard about it is true. It's inventive, it's tasty, it's fresh, it's unusual, it's comforting, it forces you to take chances, and with that, it offers many satisfying rewards. Plain and simple -- it's freakin
good. This is more about a reunion and a start to a week that made me realize that food unites, food identifies us, and food creates memories. 

My cousin and his friend were going to be in Los Angeles for a few days and we planned to spend some time together. It was their first time here, so I thought it would be important to make sure their first meal in LA was memorable.  I'm a foodie and so that's always a concern of mine. But as I got closer to the evening of our dinner plan, I got worried that maybe I had over thought this. Maybe options of boar and brains would be just plain odd to them and maybe my excited ramblings about Anthony Bourdain's latest adventure would put them to sleep. Look, I don't always talk about food but when one of you're dining companions is someone you've just met and the other is someone you grew up with, and knew incredibly well as a child, but were getting to know all over again as an adult, you try to find things in common. I try sometimes with food and hope it works out. 

As we met up outside the restaurant, my dining companions seemed a little quiet. I began to ramble off the history of the Fairfax district, the story of Canters Deli, and the exciting new changes that were making the area into a more "hip" neighborhood. Geez, did I sound like a tour guide? We then checked in with our hostess and were given a great table. Our waiters were extremely hospitable and gave us plenty of time to review the night's menu (it's always changing). This particular night consisted of oxtail, marrow, among other unsettlingly adventurous choices. Everyone stared at the list of small plate options. I think we were all a little afraid to go first. But then my cousin looked up and smiled, "This looks great. I'm up for anything."  And while one of our dining companions pleaded that we pass on the marrow, we hit the ground running and took some chances -- Hamachi Tostada, Oxtail Poutine, Rabbit Loin, Pork Belly Sliders and Rock Cod. As the ordering began and the dishes came out -- the ice was broken. We were taking turns cutting into the Hamachi and discussing it's flavor and consistency. We were dipping our fries into the thick, delicious Oxtail gravy and tapping into one of my dining companion's memories of poutine in Canada. And so it continued. Sharing, savoring, and revealing our experiences --whether around the world, in our own backyard, growing up, or things we wanted to try someday. As we cut up the Rabbit Loin we all took a bite and then paused. None of us could deny how amazing it was. And since it was all our first time trying it -- we knew that we would never forget that night from here on out. 

As the rest of the week continued, even amidst the sightseeing and hiking and cruising the Sunset strip, we found ourselves returning to the conversation of food. Sharing recipes, strange Thanksgiving experiences, and even fondly remembering the times that my cousin and I were served Greek home-cooking from our late Yia Yia -- undeniably some of the best food we've ever had and food, sadly, that we will never taste again from her. My cousin even admitted to me that at one time he wanted to be a chef. I had never known this. Perhaps he hasn't told many people. But it was a perfect time to reveal this around the comforts of culinary talk between family and friends. During that week, I got used to this kind of talk. It was nice to be surrounded by it. But as we know, all good things -- even a good meal -- come to an end. In just a few days, cousins were reunited, new friends were made, and all of us, together, had ventured into new edible discoveries. It's now a week later. I look back fondly. The rabbit. The conversation. The reconnecting. The perfect night. The revealing week. 

This is what food memories are made of. 

To create your own food memories visit: Animal Restaurant

Friday, March 4, 2011


Pizza Girls are cool
I'm an East Coaster. And as an East Coaster, I pretty much grew up on pizza (Greek food, too, but that's for another Friday). A good slice is like a good beer. Perhaps that's why the two go so well together. And whether it's a slice from Sacco Pizza in New York's Hells Kitchen or an oregano-filled house slice from Spiritus Pizza on Cape Cod, I knew it was guaranteed to be cheap, simple and extremely satisfying. So, you can see my predicament when I moved to Los Angeles in search of the "great slice".  There are certainly MANY impostors offering NEW YORK STYLE PIZZA,  NORTH END STYLE PIZZA, CHICAGO DEEP DISH and so on. But after ten years on the LA dining circuit, I realized something very important. LA actually has it's own style of pizza. And it's quite good, too. I like to call it the individual size frou-frou pizza. And I swear this is only coming from my heart. But it's the kind of pizza you eat with a fork and knife. It's the kind of pizza you have toppings like Roasted Shitakes and Creme Fraiche. It's the kind of pizza you CAN'T get by the slice nor would you want to because it's nice to have a little round one right in front of you all to yourself. Trust me. And after you check out these top bites -- you pizza diehards might just give LA a break, and perhaps even a pat on the back.

1) Pitfire Pizza - This Los Angeles-based chain makes "rustic, fire singed pizzas" in a wood-fired kiln. They try to incorporate organic and local ingredients whenever possible and have rotating seasonal specials like Pumpkin Pizza that will have returning every week. Their crust is impeccable -- not too chewy/not too crisp -- and their toppings are always plentiful. They not only make a great pizza but the atmosphere of their restaurants is always casual and hip -- their Culver City location even has a live DJ spinning on weekends! Personal favorite: The Burrata Pie (Burrata Cheese, Sauce, Carmelized Onion, Hazelnuts, Arugula, Pesto Drizzle)

2) Olio Pizzeria - While this pizzeria located on 3rd Street only recently opened in 2010, it has already proven itself to be at the top of its game. Owner Bradford Kent set up a pretty massive wood-fired oven in this small restaurant and his pizzas thank him for it. Also a believer in using local ingredients, their toppings are always fresh and flavorful. What is especially flavorful is their sauce which shines on the smoky nature of their pies.
Personal favorite: Margherita (Crushed tomatoes, fresh local mozzarella, fresh basil and Tuscan olive oil)

3) Pizzeria Mozza - You've all heard the stories. Three month wait to get in. Celebrities at every corner. The most amazing pizza you'll ever have. Well...for the most part, it's all true. Yes, even years after being open, Mozza is still just as hard to get into as it first was. You have to plan ahead. And sometimes with pizza that's tricky, because it seems more like a spontaneous dinner choice. But once you're in, you're in for a treat. Upon several visits I did witness celebrity sightings -- the most memorable being Sir Paul McCartney. Yes, even Paul likes pizza. And I must say that even with all the hype -- the pizza is true to its reviews. It's damn good. The crust and sauce are both enjoyable and the array of unique toppings offer someone for everyone. Overall -- good pizza, great experience.
Personal favorites: Squash Blossoms w/ Tomato & Burrata

4) Terroni - Located on Beverly Blvd. this hip Italian restaurant has a LOT going for it. Fellini films play on a side wall, the bar is hopping, and the pasta is terrific. But when I finally got a chance to try their pizza I was even more impressed. Terroni gives you a fairly good-sized pizza (certainly beyond individual) and their rustic sauce makes you feel like you're in Sicily. Best part is -- if you aren't up for being fabulous at the restaurant, you can easily order your pizzas to go and still have an amazing pizza in your pajamas. Odd note -- they don't cut their pizzas. They say that in Italy you'd never get a cut pizza so they refuse to do it. Which means you are on your own with your little knife.
Personal favorite: Quattro Staggioni ( 1/4 prosciutto, 1/4 mushrooms, 1/4 eggplant, 1/4 zucchini, olives, cheese, sauce)

5) Oak Fire Pizza - The 5th slot was tough. I've certainly had some pizzas that were comparable to Terroni but I've added Oak Fire, located on LaCienega, as Number 5 because of it's affordable and tasty pizza happy hour. That's right, from 4-7pm 7 days a week you can get any of their thin crust pizzas for $10 bucks. The $4 beers are an added bonus. And while the pizza is super thin -- and i mean crust like a cracker -- the flavor of their pizzas left me wanting more.
Personal favorite: Wild Mushroom w/ Truffle Oil

Friday, February 25, 2011


Burger building is a work of art
Around the same time that the cupcake trend started to heat up in Los Angeles, a savory, meatier trend was also popping up -- the BURGER. Now, you may say that burgers have always been popular! Dad grills them every summer Saturday! My girlfriend George Foreman's them right in the kitchen! Heck, even Grandma loves to get a juicy one from her favorite drive-through! But the burgers we're talking about here kids are a rather chic take on old-school goodness, while still keeping that beloved old-school goodness intact. Whether it's grinding their own meat, using grass-fed, hormone-free beef, or creating the most unique flavors you'll ever find between the world's softest hamburger buns -- I present to you my favorites. The unforgettable, the tasty, and the oh-so-filling.

1) Umami Burger - what was once a small burger joint on La Brea touting "fine dining fast food" has now become a mini-burger empire with four locations and a fifth on the way. It's Japanese name means "fifth taste" -- a term used to describe the fifth flavor experience we have on our palates that isn't quite pinpointed as sweet, salty, sour, or bitter. It's this unique flavor experience that owner Adam Fleischman, without a doubt, knows how to tap into. With house-ground beef, perfect golden buns and an array of exciting toppings such as truffle glaze, slow-roasted tomatoes, port-caramelized onions and pimento aioli -- these burgers live up to their reputation. Personal favorites: Umami Signature Burger, Truffle Burger, Earth Burger (whether you're a vegetarian or not it's incredible!) 

A nice window seat view
2) The Golden State - located across from Canter's on Fairfax, this always busy exposed brick cafe meets sports bar serves up a tasty seasonal beer-on-tap menu as well as a mean burger. While their menu offers a variety of sandwiches and a delicious bratwurst, it's their meaty goodness, called The Burger, that can compete with the big boys. Made with Harris Ranch beef, glazed applewood-smoked bacon, arugula, cheddar, and homemade ailoi, this burger will make your taste buds happy. Dip some of their fries into their Curry Ketchup and you'll call this your second home.

Saigon with fresh cilantro and sea salt fries
3) Kalbi Burger - situated in a shopping plaza on Wilshire at Wilton in Koreatown, this burger joint may look no frills but one bite of their juicy large patties infused with Asian flavors and you realize that amazing food doesn't always need a glossy exterior or a hefty price tag. Which is impressive considering that for $5.95 you get a Certified 100% Angus Beef hormone-free burger with fresh, sustainable ingredients. What's even more exciting is their array of toppings from pickled carrots & radish to kimchi. Personal Favorite: Saigon Burger  

Looks like I'm gonna need that knife
4) 8 oz. Burger Bar - located on Melrose, this burger bar led by Chef Govind Armstrong (Top Chef Masters!!!) & Chef Jacob Wildman serves up local ingredients, house-cured bacon, and they even make their own dill pickles! All their burgers are cooked over a wood-burning grill, giving just the right amount of smoky flavor to their meats. Personal favorites: Estancia Grass-Fed Burger, Turkey Burger with sauteed mustard greens

5) The Counter - this build-your-own burger restaurant is NOT your typical Fuddruckers.  A hip little chain that can be found across the country (but mainly in California) allows you to roll up your sleeves and construct your burger from scratch. You can choose your burger size, whether you'd like beef, turkey, chicken, or veggie, add from over 50 toppings, and even select the type of bun. My Personal Favorite: Turkey Burger w/ Herb Goat Cheese, Organic Mixed Greens, Sprouts, Caramelized Onions, and Apricot Chutney on a Multigrain Bun

Friday, February 18, 2011


 The purple majesty
Got the post-Valentine's day sweet tooth blues? Well, there ain't nothing better to cure an empty box of chocolates than one of those moist little cakes topped with creamy, icy goodness. Now, I know the cupcake trend may have already hit its peak, but I can't help but say....I still love these little babies. So I decided to taste hundreds of cupcakes (twist my arm) and added thousands of calories to my diet (I might need to start pilates) so that I could give you my Top 5. I mean, if you're going to partake, why not bite into some of the very best. There may even be some surprises on this list.

1) The Manila Machine - Wait. A food truck? I'm picking my favorite cupcake from a food truck? And the answer is YES. While the pork belly adobo is mighty tasty from this Filipino restaurant on wheels, it's their UBE CUPCAKE that is a game changer. This purple yam cupcake topped with coconut butter cream frosting and a little toasted coconut for texture, is in one word -- phenomenal. Trying to get it is tough -- there's limited quantity and their location is constantly changing. But when you do have it in your grasp, hold on to it! It might just be the holy grail of cupcakes. 

Every time I see this sign I have to pull in
2) Frosted Cupcakery - Oh the DOZENS of cupcakes I've eaten at this charming little corner shop on Highland in Hollywood (there's also a location in Long Beach). Always amazingly fresh, their cupcakes score high in flavor and variety. And their unique "cupcakes of the month" are never a let down (I mean, Cornbread Bacon Cupcake!!). Personal favorites: Lemon w/ Cream Cheese and Chocolate w/ Coconut Buttercream. Their holiday Egg Nog Cupcake also rocks! 

3) Vanilla Bake Shop - This pretty little bakery in Santa Monica serves up some of the best "cupcake babies" in town. At 3 minis for $5 you get the opportunity to break up your sugary experience and try the rotating variety of flavors that changes daily. Personal favorites: Sweet Pumpkin with Dusted Graham Cracker and Meyer Lemon Raspberry

4) SusieCakes Bakery - While this homey little bakery in Brentwood is mainly known for their yummy cakes, they should definitely get props for their signature "frosting-filled cupcakes". Oh yes, they are delicious. Personal favorites: Chocolate Mint and Peanut Butter

5) Sprinkles - Oh come on. Did you really think I'd forget the mother of all cupcake bakeries? The one that started it ALL? Never! I can remember standing in a line that stretched down Little Santa Monica Blvd. waiting to try the "most talked about" 'cupcake experience. And I enjoyed every minute of it. I still do. Cause the lines are still long and the cupcakes are still tasty. Personal favorites: Ginger Lemon and Pumpkin

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Glow of the A-Frame
I've been dying to try A-Frame. Ever since it opened in November 2010 there's been some serious hype. And how could there not be? First off, it's a hip, new restaurant converted from an old IHOP building. You know the one. With the pointy triangular roof. Just thinking of it brought back memories of being in high school. Waiting, after a keg party on a Friday night, in the small town parking lot of that triangle-shaped IHOP for a bag of free fries from the kid my cousin was dating who worked there part-time. Oh, those were the days. And to think I'd be paying a visit to one of these retro structures in Los Angeles for a culinary experience by Chef Roy Choi. Yes. Here's where the second reason for the hype comes in. For those of you who don't know Roy Choi, here's a little Chef Choi 101. He was born in Seoul but was raised in Los Angeles. You know that food truck craze going on in LA? Well, he's the guy who really got that going. His KOGI TRUCK is a mobile landmark around these parts, serving up Korean BBQ Tacos. And they are pretty terrific. In 2010, Choi was named Best New Chef by Food and Wine Magazine and also in the spring opened his first restaurant, CHEGO, where they serve up what he calls "peasant food from the soul." In the fall, he opened A-Frame with David Reiss. I'd say Chef Choi had a pretty good 2010, wouldn't you?

So, of course I couldn't wait any longer. I decided to head to the Culver City-based A-Frame on a Saturday night around 7pm. The parking lot was packed. Luckily my dining companion and I found street parking fairly easily. We knew there would be some sort of a wait because they DO NOT take reservations. But I figured that the hype had settled a little. As I pulled open the door, there stood a wall of people, cocktails in hand, all looking Hollywood hipster gorgeous in the beautiful orange haze of light that filled the room. At that moment, I realized that my three month wait to try this place was going to take just a little longer. The smiling hostess quickly jotted down my name and told me that I might want to get a drink, "It's going to be at least an hour."  But it was ok. I was going to stick it out. The sweet mix of tunes and hopping bar scene was enough to make that hour fly by -- plus, I was starting to feel like even I looked pretty good in this dim light. Time for a drink. As recommended by the bartender, I ordered the Downtown 81 -- a tasty concoction of Rye, Benedictine, Apple, Lemon, and All Spice. A stiff little drink but certainly tasty. My dining companion opted for the Fine Print -- Aged Rum, Hibiscus, Falernum, Lime, and Orange Bitters. That, I must say, was spectacular. 

Once strangers, now friends, enjoying dinner
I was lucky to find a small corner in the waiting area to  stand and enjoy my cocktail. I grabbed the reasonably priced menu and began to pick out everything I wanted to try. I then noticed a message on the menu from the Chef. His intention was to create a place that not only reminded him of his youth, but also a place that was social, where you could eat and share. A type of modern picnic, reimagined. I could see where he was going with that. As I mentioned, the structure itself had already brought back a fond memory. Perhaps tonight was a time to rekindle more. 

We were about a half-hour into the wait when I began talking to the two girls sitting next to me. This was their first time here as well. One of them asked, "Did you know that when they seat you, you'll be paired with other people?" Oh, I responded. "You mean like a communal table?" "Sort of, but not really." Hmmm. What did she mean by that? Would my dining companion and I be separated by Yenta Roy Choi who would try to play matchmaker? Was the reimagined picnic, really reimagined speed-dating? I looked at my watch. 45 minutes in. Time for another drink. 
As I turned with my cocktail in hand, in walked Chef Roy Choi. His cool charisma made the room stop. Seriously. We all watched him checking in with the hostess station and then the kitchen and then back again. I think he could tell we'd been waiting a while based on the pile of empty cocktail glasses behind me and my newfound friends. He said hello and then kept on moving. I leaned back to my waiting companions, "so, will I at least be sitting with the person I came with?" The girls weren't sure. I took another sip. This adventure was certainly about to get more interesting.

Homey plates serve fries w/ kimchi sour cream
Over an hour in and the place was still packed. Choi passed us again. " guys are still waiting?" We smiled and nodded. We were ok, but he seemed concerned. "Hang on, I'll get you some snacks." The four of us looked at each other. Was Roy Choi worried about us? Did this Le Bernardin alum want to make sure WE were happy, even though there were hundreds of happy mouths he already fed? And within minutes.....three platters came rushing out of the kitchen -- 5-Grain Pan De Sal, Heirloom Pickles, and Hoison-chili glazed Ribs. We couldn't believe it. With all the accolades behind this innovative chef, I didn't realize "really nice guy" was on that list. We had already invested an hour and a half of wait time (with who knows how much longer to go) and he cared. He wanted us to begin the "modern picnic" while we waited. And so, my dining companion and I got to start this social dining experiment NOW...eating with our waiting companions, the people we didn't know an hour ago but would now become our friends even if just for this moment. 

I pulled some of the warm crusty 5-Grain bread and dipped it into the tastiest Plugra butter with sea salt. It was comforting. Next, I eyed the heirloom pickle plate. A very large array of pickled vegetables -- onions, carrots, etc. that were extremely flavorful, especially when dipped into the creamy tahini-like dip. A great finger-food starter and fun to share. Definitely the kind of dish you can't stop eating. Next was the Baby Back Ribs. The chili glaze added a nice little kick to these tasty ribs sprinkled with sesame. I longed for a bit more meat on the bone but the taste was enough to make me literally lick my fingers. Hey, it's a picnic right? At this point I realized that I stopped looking at my watch. I stopped updating Facebook. I stopped worrying about anything. I was just standing around in a crowded space, eating with my hands with a couple of strangers. And I was enjoying every moment of it.

A dessert big enough to share
Before we knew it, it was time. My dining companion and I were seated at a four top. The waitress told us that two other diners would be joining us. Social experiment Part 2... here we come. But I was excited for it. And so were the two diners who joined us. They too were new to the A-Frame experience and within a few minutes we dived into ordering food and learning about each other. Over tender Peruvian-style Beer Can Chicken and delicious purple Okinawan Sweet Potato Fries w/ Kimchi Sour Cream we not only enjoyed every bite of our food but also our conversation. By the end of our meal, we opted for two desserts -- the Pound-Cake Churros (to die for!) and the Thick-Ass Ice Cream Sandwich (Cinnamon Ice Cream Stuffed between Two Cherry Oatmeal Cookies). We felt like old friends. Even giving up the last bites to each other. In a time where we talk on the phone less and email more, keep things for ourselves and perhaps forget to share, Roy Choi has created a dining experience that may sound like a gimmick at first glance. But his concept and intentions are truly authentic. Within these trendy walls, is good old-fashioned heart -- not only in the memories a visit to his restaurant may conjure up but also the memories you will undoubtedly create while you dine with your newfound friends.

I wonder what they had for dinner

Note: When we received our bill, each party was given an old photograph. Not a quirky, savvy postcard advertising the name of the restaurant on the back. Nope. Just this one-of-a-kind photo. Probably taken in the 70's. Might be someone's parent or brother or sister or uncle or aunt. An unknown location. No explanation. Just a fond last impression of two more people that intersected my life at the A-Frame. 


Friday, February 11, 2011


Today is the debut of Spiky's 5 For Friday! (Applause!) As promised, each week I'll be featuring my Top 5 -- from the sauciest pizzas to the moistest cupcakes to the heartiest sandwiches. For this Friday's list, I chose the beverage that holds most dear to my heart. Whether you call it Java or Joe or Frothy Delight, it's the caffeinated necessity that most of us find we can't live without. So why not drink the best that's out there. 

1) Cafe de Leche - located in Highland Park this sweet corner coffee shop with hip decor and ample seating serves up Stumptown Coffee both in their espresso and drip coffee.  
Drink to get: Iced Organic Agave Latte 

2) Coffee Commissary - located on Fairfax just north of Melrose, this sweet little place, featuring Victrola Roasters, is tucked into a brand-new loft space. While it caters to those that rent the space, it has quickly become popular for writers, as well as those on the go.
Drink to get: Cubano con Leche or a hand-poured brew

3) Intelligentsia - located in a number of cities from New York to Chicago to right here in Los Angeles (notable venues - Silverlake & Venice) their high quality brew originates from their own roasted beans. They always serve up "in season" beans to maintain their vibrant flavor. 
Drink to get: Vanilla Latte or just a shot of their Black Cat Espresso

4) Bricks and Scones - located on Larchmont just north of the busy strip, this quiet, cozy coffee shop serves up the beloved Intelligentsia bean without the "20 minute wait" that most Intelligentsia venues require due to their popularity.  
Drink to get: Double Shot Latte (and don't forget a warm fresh blueberry scone to accompany it. It's a MUST here.)

5) Ruisseau - also known as The Coffee Guys, this small coffee cart can be found tucked deep into the gates of Park Labrea or parked on various television and film sets catering to crews. The owner, Edward Ackah-Miezah, serves up fair-trade coffee from various roasters and his coffee is as consistent as his outgoing personality. Also, his punch card program gives you a free coffee after every ten you purchase. 
Drink to get: Iced Single Shot Soy Latte

Runner up: Spring for Coffee - Downtown LA

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Ready. Set. Go. Three blocks of food trucks ahead!
Don't have time to stand in lunch rush lines just to fight over the last truffle fries with a top exec who needs his food truck fix? Find yourself pulling up to a food truck just as it's pulling away, and then realize that in order to not miss dinner AGAIN you must stare at Twitter hoping to catch the next spontaneous location tweet? Well...while the scavenger hunting of food trucks was fun for a while....the idea of food truck rallies is genius. And the trendy fashionistas on Melrose have decided to bring the block party every first Thursday of the month so you can get all your food truckin' goodness in one place. 

I didn't mean to eat seven courses. It was absolutely NOT my intention. But a funny thing happens when you start walking down a street lined with mobile kitchens representing a variety of countries and intersperse various comfort food along the way. These whirling, delicious aromas are going to draw you in. You won't be able to stop yourself. When I arrived on Melrose just as the trucks opened for business,  I vowed that this wouldn't happen to me. I'd hit a couple of trucks and I'd be gone. And first up was the DIM SUM TRUCK. 
The window to Pork Bun heaven

I was craving Pork Buns. I took the recommendation of the staff and tried the baked, as opposed to steamed. For the reasonable price of $4, I was given two good-sized pork buns, soft and sweet on the outside, tender and hearty on the inside. A very tasty way to start and equally tasty complimentary sesame ball (a little promotion for Melrose Thursdays) that left me wanting more. 
Baked Pork Buns
Duck Taco & Steamed Pork Buns
And so...more I had. Steamed pork buns, a Peking duck taco and well, a couple more sesame balls. How could food this good be coming from a truck? It was fresh, delicious and again...affordable. For about $10 bucks I had already eaten enough food to send me home. But oh wait! Is that the Buttermilk Truck up ahead??

A grin that says, "You can eat 6 more pancakes. I know you can"

Why hello Buttermilk Truck. It's been a while. The last time we rendezvoused was right here on Melrose last year. You had that cute grin. I ate french toast sticks, pancake bites and then you teased me with those Hawaiian sliders. And then for weeks I couldn't get you out of my mind. I tried to hunt you down but you were spending all your time in Santa Monica and El Segundo. Forgetting all about that sweet night we had together. At last, we are reunited. And I'll have some chicken and waffles.

Chicken & Waffles
I'm not sure what the secret ingredient is in their batter that gives such a flavorful crispy coating to the chicken but its this miracle batter that also keeps the boneless chicken tenders staying juicy. Add these with a house-made cinnamon waffle and you've got my stomach growling while I type this. I know people in this town swear by certain LA "chicken and waffle" houses but this dish from that smiling Buttermilk kid serves up some mean competition. Did I mention that it's only $7? 

Nothing priced over $5!!
I had just travelled from China to American Comfort Food in a matter of 20 minutes and was about to end my night when I saw, just 15 feet ahead of me, a truck that, since it made it's appearance on The Great Food Truck Race,  has been hard to keep on my radar. The Nom Nom Truck. A clever business venture by two female UCLA business students who wanted to take Vietnamese mainstream. And I hear the Banh Mi is the thing to get. How can I pass this up?
Pork Banh Mi

Ok, I didn't know that the Banh Mi was going to be as large as their pick-up window. But, if eating with eyes is this good, I can't even imagine what it's going to be like to bite into this baby. If you are wondering what the heck a Banh Mi sandwich is, here's a little Banh Mi 101 while I chew: You take a baguette with a nice crusty outside, stuff it with fresh cilantro, sweet and tangy marinated carrots and daikon radish, add your BBQ pork (or if you prefer, lemongrass chicken), thinly sliced cucumbers, jalapenos (if you like kick) and mayo. The amount of time it took you to read that, it took me to wolf down this massive size sandwich. It was sweet, salty, spicy, pickled and tasty. It was the kind of thing you could carry around with you and gnaw on all day. I don't remember the last time I only spent $5 for a sandwich, nevermind one this amazing. I patted my stomach. Even though I felt like I had a Banh Mi baby inside me, I smiled. I heart Nom Nom. I can now leave this food truck rally completely satisfied. SNIFF SNIFF. No, I can't. SNIFF SNIFF. Is that? It couldn't be. SNIFF SNIFF SNIFF. India? Is that you on the corner of Melrose & Stanley? Ugh...maybe just one samosa.

A little masala on Melrose
Sweet Potato Dosa
Coconut Bananas
And there she was -- the Dosa Truck. I attempted to avoid the menu. "I'll just have one samosa." But the sweet woman in the order window looked at me like she knew there was no way I could only eat ONE SAMOSA with the smell of those dosas cooking up. "Oh...well....maybe also a Sita'sSita's Special, a sweet potato dosa (crepe) with masala sauce. It too was extremely flavorful and a nice palate pleaser after the "heat" of the fiery appetizer. While I couldn't wait to dig into my coconut banana dessert, once I did, I found it not to be as enjoyable as the other items. I love coconut and I love bananas. But the dish lacked a little flavor and its milky nature kept the texture flat. It didn't matter though. I had flavor pops all over my taste buds and if I had ANY room left I would have ordered the Masala Fries. I mean, COME ON PEOPLE! MASALA FRIES! Again, pure genius. 

As I stepped away from the truck, I eyed the destruction I had left in my path. All the trucks I had stopped at. All the food I had eaten. It really must have been divine intervention that kept me from not leaving Melrose in a stretcher. Of course, not from inedible food but from some of the most delicious kitchens riding the streets of LA everyday. I waved goodbye to the tasty block that treated me so well and pulled out my keys. I felt a tap on my shoulder, "Would you like to try a sesame ball?" I stared at the perfect golden ball of goodness in front of me, "Oh, ok...maybe just one." 


Monday, January 31, 2011


Even the napkin wraps are adorable
There are lots of restaurants on 3rd Street in Los Angeles. Between Fairfax and La Cienega alone, you could probably count at least twenty-five. They all range in price scale but most have a similar pretentious quality to them. Don't get me wrong, I love 3rd Street and there's some great cuisine there.  It's just hard to find a place that feels like a "neighborhood joint" -- you know, the type of place where everyone knows your name -- or at least the owner. 

I've been meaning to write about simplethings (yes, they spell it all in one word) since they opened in November 2010. Even before it opened, it was under my watchful eye, since I am a savory pie addict. Yup, that's right. At least I can admit it. Chicken Pot Pie. Steak Pot Pie. Put anything you want into a gravy and then encase it into a pastry and I might just love you for life. As long as you don't screw it up. And, the folks at simplethings certainly did not. They've taken this foodie and turned my pie-eating into a weekly habit. It's an addiction. It's so bad that if there was a rehab for pie-eating, I might have to check in and leave this blog for a while.   

Chicken Curry Pot Pie
I first visited this simple pie shop on the evening of their grand opening. They didn't expect to sell out of all their savory pies earlier that day, and so I was left hungry and disappointed. But that feeling lasted only minutes, when co-owner Andy Paxson offered me two complimentary mini sweet pies as an apology. From that point on I knew that this was a guy who cared about his shop and his customers. He was sincere. He wanted me to come back. It mattered that this one customer was disappointed after an entire day of success. THIS my friends, is how you run a business. And when he placed a Banoffee Pie and a Chocolate Peanut Butter into the cutest brown box with it's very own stamped message that read, "You Make Good Decisions", I knew I'd keep my promise and come back. 

And so I did. On my second visit, I ordered two of the more unique savory pies -- Chicken Curry and BBQ Pulled Pork. But there are many others to choose from -- Steak and Lager, Free-Range Chicken, Portabella Mushroom, and even a Mini Pot Pie Sampler if you just can't choose. All the pies are served with balsamic greens. If you're not a pie person, there's also an extensive sandwich menu because, even though my review is pie-focused, this is also a sandwich shop. And the sandwiches truly sound as mouth-watering as the aroma of my pies about to come out of the oven! From an Avocado Melt to Thanksgiving to Brisket & Cheese and even Prime Rib, the options could keep you lunching here for days. 
BBQ Pulled Pork Pie

As I popped the top off my Bubble-Up soda (old-fashioned sodas and beer-bottled teas served ice-box style), I sat and took in the hip and cheerful lemon-colored seat cushions and overhead light fixtures. They even have bright yellow mugs to serve their Intelligentsia coffee in. I liked the yellow even though it was subliminally telling me to order one of their Lemon Bar Pies. But before I could even allow my palate to jump to sweet, the savory came out. And I couldn't believe my eyes. The hefty pies placed in front of me and my dining companion looked not only hearty but also...pretty. The crust was beautifully braided, there was a drizzle of sauce on the plate, and the greens that accompanied the pies looked vibrant and fresh. I tasted the Chicken Curry first and in one scoop, was impressed by the bold flavor tucked into this home-made pastry. This was curry just the way I like it. More seasoned than spicy. And the chicken was so tender that it tasted like it was born in the sauce. Kudos to Executive Chef, Carrie Cusack, for taking something simple and giving it a complexity that still brings comfort. 
One of two "sweet" pie cases

I thought for a moment that maybe this was just the lucky pie. That maybe this pie was superb but the others would just be ok. Well, I was wrong. As I cracked into the crust of the BBQ Pulled Pork Pie, I knew that the addiction had begun. A pork this tender in a cozy baked pie shouldn't be legal. I was afraid that I was eating this pie so quickly that I wouldn't allow my taste buds to admire all the wonderful things happening. But, even though the pie had disappeared from my plate quicker than you could say LIFE IS SHORT, the flavors lingered. There was a nice balance of heat and sweetness coming from the BBQ  sauce. Something that you could continue to dip into with your remaining crust. 

I couldn't leave without going sweet so I ordered a Mini Coconut Cream. I will say, that while I haven't tried all the little sweeties yet, this one, so far, is my favorite. Close tie for second --  the Peach and Blueberry Pies. As I dug into this little puff of creamy goodness, two chilled glasses and a large glass water bottle was placed on our table. I looked up and it was Andy. He was happy I came back. And he was even more happy that I was enjoying the pies. 

Paying it forward
It's been weeks since my initial visit and while the food has stayed just as amazing as my first bite, the simple, friendly service has recently raised the bar. I now have my very own Gift & Rewards Card -- and you can too. Every time you purchase something at simplethings, ten percent of that bill is added to your rewards card and whenever you want, you can use those bucks on more pies. It's just another simple idea that keeps the customers happy. maybe the combo of my rewards card and those delicious pies will keep feeding into my addiction. Maybe that's their plan. To tap into my longing for small town coziness. To feed me the most comforting food so that I'll want to come there every chilly night. To tell those still searching for the simplethings in life, that they're just around the corner. Perhaps. But, as my recent stamped message in my to-go box put it oh so simply.... 

life is short. enjoy the simplethings.

And I will do just that.

For info and menu visit: SIMPLETHINGS