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