Sunday, September 28, 2008


This is my one hundred and first post.

Birthday Party at The Park. Happy, Happy Day, A!

The Park
1400 Sunset Blvd
at the corner of Douglas
in Echo Park.
Tel: 213/482.920

We met friends for dinner to celebrate A's birthday Saturday night at The Park. Shame on us for not eating there sooner. It is literally 2 blocks from our front door, damn delicious and inexpensive. Shame. The good news is, now we can rectify our misdeeds often.

I like the interior. There is not glitz, no glam, just some paint and a few candles. And their lovely mascot, this gas lamp standing in the corner by the booster seats and highchairs.

The simplicity of the decor perfectly reminds you of the trees in the park down the street. Echo Park.

There are a lot of great choices on the menu. There are vegetarian options, vegan options, and plenty of everything else. The price is excellent for the quality. Appetizers are $8-9, pastas are about $12, and entrees between $12 and $16. Huzzah!

I am loving the tap water trend. Los Angeles has very decent tap water. But I am fancy enough to enjoy restaurants that dress it up a little. Thoughtfully, simply, elegant.

We started by sharing the Szechuan fried calamari salad, served atop butter lettuce. This is delicious. The sauce is light, the calamari are cooked to the prefect degree of tenderness. We ate this up fast.

We all passed around our appetizers, and everyone got a taste. Below are the mini-cornmeal pancakes topped with fresh corn, seared shrimps and chipotle butter, and some Mexican crema. Wow. These are a definite must-do next time we stop by. The pancakes themselves are wonderful, light and fluffy but with substance. And the shrimp/crema mixture on top added a little luxury...very very good.

The birthday girl ordered the heirloom tomato galette. Inside is fontina and mozzerella cheeses, atop are heirloom tomatoes with a red wine vinaigrette and some chili oil for kick. This had nice flavors, but I thought the filling was thicker and stodgier than I would have liked to taste. I'd prefer the inside of the galette a little lighter. Good though, still very good.

Onto the entrees...D ordered the linguine and clams in white wine sauce. I like something this hearty and simple in a neighborhood restaurant. Everything does not have to be revinvented to be worthy. I sampled liberally from this plate.

J ordered a burger. I was kinda dying for a bite, but a burger is so personal. You know, you get your hands and face really in there, if it is a worthy burger. J was enjoying this immensely. I did sneak more than a couple of fries from his plate. Good fries. Great aoili. Very garlicky, but you could also clearly taste some lemon, too.

Below is something that was from the specials menu. I have no recollection what it was, well it was fish. But it sounded great when it was described. I see some spinach or kale, some rice and carrots...healthy.

A different J's pulled pork. A chipotle Kurubota pulled pork with sweet corn pudding and Napa cabbage slaw. She was enjoying this..she ate every bite so it must have been good. I might try this next time.

They have a classic Ceasar on the menu. Fluffy, looked good. Didn't taste.

I ate the grilled polenta and portobella mushroom, with romesco sauce and creamed kale. This dish is a winner. I am assuming it slipped being vegan by the cream in the kale, but they kept the kale pretty light. This was hearty and generous in size, Italian comfort food.

The other L ordered the salmon from the menu. I have read raves about this from the innerwebs. It is crusted in sesame seeds, served with a soy-mirin butter, gingered asian green and radish avocado sushi. Festive!

The Park is the quintessential little neighborhood restaurant. They take limited reservations because they always try to leave room for walk ins from the 'hood. It was packed from the time we got there til the time we left. There were several large parties, and everything and everyone was well cared for the entire time. Our service was perfect, no food went back to the kitchen, and they tirelessly opened bottle after bottle of our BYOB with no corkage. I am impressed.

Park on Urbanspoon

I *am*... in a world... of bacon.

Bacon cinnamon roll.

Baconized version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory...

Above photos curtesy of Al Dente blog.

Bacon air freshener.

Bacon art.

Above two photos courtesy of Mr.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Church & State: Week One

Church & State
1850 Industrial St.
Los Angeles.

I am going to give Steve Arroyo's new offering an A for effort during their first week, for creating something in atmosphere, decor and location that so perfectly suits me I plan to be there weekly. Located in the Biscuit Company Lofts, across the street from a busy convenience store and The Royal Clayton's, the Arroyo's choice of address is the perfect combination of slightly renegade (a marginal neighborhood in downtown, close to the produce markets and the strip clubs) and safe (downtown is burgeoning, Royal Clayton's is across the way, and the lofts are starting to fill up).

The dining room was packed last night, all night, from the time we got there at 8 pm til the time we left around 11. Surprisingly, this is kid friendly. Arroyo was there with his own offspring, and several tables had toddlers of various ages. There is an outdoor dining area, and the door opens onto an expansive sidewalk, perfect for kids to blow off some energy doing cartwheels or walk a crying baby. I love this, like I love 3 year old girls with brown curls and shiny red galoshes.

Church & State has a very New York vibe. Most likely the age of the building helps. But the way they dealt with the interior helps as well. They left a lot of the industrial touches, exposed beams, pipes, the usual. They hung strands of lights, used subway tiling, and kept the colors dark and moody which is beautifully offset by the expansive windows.

I adore the choice in artwork scattered throughout the restaurant.

I even love that bathrooms for both genders feature these OG trashcans. Don't ask me how I know this. I know things.

Now, onto the food. We sat at the bar. They had a table for us, maybe briefly for 5 minutes they had a table for us. People just continued to pour in the door. But another great thing about Church & State is that they managed to steal an amazing bartender from Cafe Luna on La Brea. Several people in our party knew her from visits there. She is pretty awesome. Actually, both bartenders were accommodating and entertaining. The bar seemed to me to have capacity to seat about 10 people.

I like the price range here. Nothing would stop someone of average means from eating here on a semi-regular basis.

The wine list is heavily French, which I am still not good at ordering. But I am very good at drinking almost anything, and was extremely happy with this lip smacking Chateauneuf du pape 2006 Chateau-Fortia. I even went in search of this the next day at Rosso's (Montrose/Glendale's premiere wine shop) 2nd anniversary party.

Onto the food...

My friend C has a wild and wacky ordering style. He just starts calling out random things from the menu, "let's try a couple of these, let's try a couple of those" and so on and so forth. We started, I think, with a couple frisee au lardons, one of my all-time faves. It was nice enough. I would have liked more pork, and a little more tang to the dressing.

Next arrives beef tartare. I prefer a little less egg in the egg/beef ratio. I would have liked the kitchen to have used a smaller egg. But the beef was good quality, tasted fresh and they kept the presentation simple. I liked the accompaniments of cornichons and whole grain mustard. The whole grain mustard was almost all mustard grains, with very little mustardy stuff to carry the grains. I loved the texture, spread on a little bread with tartare on top.

D ordered one of his favorite soups, French Onion. What we liked about it: the perfect amount of cheese. Sometimes a soup is overcheesed, but this was perfect. It was a delicious Gruyere, just a little smelly. So nice. We also loved that the bread was cut into the shape of large croutons. You probably know that sometimes the bread is one or two slices of a baguette, and one has to wrestle with this in the middle of the hot cheesy soup. The smaller pieces of bread made it easier to eat, which would have been a plus in a soup that tasted better. This was the saltiest soup I have ever eaten. They could solidify it and hang it as a salt lick in the Fallow Deer Reserve. Once you got past the cheese and bread and into the broth, this was uneatable.

T ordered the clams. These were rather nice, and when I go again (I pledge to try again in a couple of months, maybe week 10) I will order these because they were a succeed this time. Simple steamed clams, not too much broth and some nice grilled bread.

Dear Restaurateurs,
Grill your bread,
Love L.

For an entree, D ordered the scallops. Quel Surprise! Little frissee on the side, no sauce to speak of. Meh.

C ordered steak frites. The steak was fine, but the fries were just ok. I cannot wax poetic about the fries because they weren't great. Fries can almost always be great. If you are going to have anything, have great fries. Everyone has great fries. To have mediocre fries is just veird. And the steak sauce was, again, nauseatingly salty. WHAT up, back in the kitchen, people? Someone burn their taste buds while tasting something hot? That's the only plausible excuse for this much salt in two courses.

All in all, it was a fun evening. We had great service and a great atmosphere. We were extremely well tended to. I just wish we were well fed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

STK: Steaks and Scenery

STK...not your daddy's steakhouse.
755 North La Cienega Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Phone: (310) 659-3535

The buzz on the internet about STK is very mixed. Some people herald STK for its steaks, cocktails and atmosphere. Some pundits complain about the scene and diners who are there solely to watch over their dinner companion's shoulders. I can make no bones about what STK is trying to do. They clearly want and have cultivated an environment appealing to Los Angelenos who visit the La Cienega corridor to people watch, name drop and show off designer bags and high end cars. The interior is above and beyond theatrical. The bar, above, is a stunning display of booze, smokey mirrors and candles creating a halo effect on anything and everyone.

The dining room, here as seen from the bar, is literally a stage. One must walk up a small flight of stairs to a mezzanine level dining room. The barrier between the dining area to the bar is low and just well lit enough that you can see the silhouette of everyone's face...the effect is quite dramatic and really beautiful. In another town, I think STK would be less criticized for creating this environment for these kinds of people. But Los Angelenos on the outskirts of the business of either entertainment or social climbing are in a hurry to identify any place that panders to that clientele. I am not a huge fan of that scene, but it is fun to indulge in now and again, and I found STK stimulating and glamourous.

Above is another view of the back wall from our table, stage right. I like the horn sculpture. It speaks quietly to the provenance of the protein of the day. And onto the food...

To start, we are served housemade bread in a smallish cast iron pan. The little puffs of hot bread are delicious, slightly glazed with butter, and have threads of an herbed garlic something running through the middle. To the left side of the bread is a basil infused oil for dipping.

To the right of the bread, is housemade butter. Very sweet and creamy, just soft enough.

Our party of four shared two salads. The above was a simple arugula, lightly dressed with heirloom tomatoes, cucumber slices and housemade croutons. Very nice.

Above is the mac n' cheese. This was a very basic mac n' cheese with a crunchy browned crust. I love that they used old school macaroni instead of some new fancy pasta shape. No, really old school. Like 1970's at Aunt Minnie's house. See below.

I have read STK being criticized slightly for their less than innovative side dishes. It's a steakhouse, not a foodie celebrity chef restaurant, and I found the side dishes delicious. No, not innovative. Delicious. The above is a shot of their sweet corn pudding, again served in a cast iron dish. This was light and fluffy when hot, almost souffle-esque. My tongue could feel out the cornmeal floating in the pudding, accompanied by corn kernels. This developed a thicker sludgy consistency upon cooling that did not diminish its appeal in any way.

Every single person at our four-top ordered the bone-in filet mignon. I recently ordered a steak medium at a much revered steakhouse and it came back too done, so I went for medium-rare, and it was pretty perfect. My steak was juicy, incredibly flavorful, due in part to the bone-in. Say it. Say "bone-in".

Everyone was entranced with their steaks. The sauces were also well received. I ordered a creamy horseradish sauce, which was more fluid than most creamy horseradish sauces. It actually made for the prefect dipping sauce, as only a little clung to the meat as opposed to a giant squidgy mayonnaisey blob, which can sometimes overpower the meat. I rarely finish a steak. Typically I bring big chunks home to share out with the hounds. But I ate every damn bite. Every bite.

As a final assessment, I add that the food is nothing ground breaking. It tasted good, there are lots of choices in terms of size of protein, exotic and mundane accompaniments, side dishes, sauces and appetizers. The service was actually perfect. Neither too intrusive nor too absent. I would gladly eat here again, although it will not purposefully be on my list of must-do agains.

STK on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

5x5 Chef's Collaborative at La Terza

Monday night September 22nd was the final 5x5 Chef's Collaborative Dinner for 2008, located this time at La Terza. I have been wanting to go to one all summer, but my busy jet set glamorous work has kept me from committing. I probably wouldn't have made it to this one, being that we just returned from Vegas, except that the hostess had a copy of my credit card # with promises to charge me in full for a no-show. I am fairly glad I made it. The food was outstanding. The service was just this side of suckage, but the food was worth suffering indifferent service, a mild two day hangover and being seated at a table in the back like a bad step child. Enough about that...onto the food.

Our table wasn't ready when we got there, so we stood around the bar area, people watching and sipping some nice fairly inexpensive prosecco. I love these glasses.

They offered us a seat al fresco, which I was excited about. I love to sit outside in the early fall and symbolically kiss summer goodbye...But the table was so tiny and the next table was so close it just felt a little claustrophobic. We opted to be seated inside, and ironically, the table inside made the table outside look like A-list seating. Nevertheless, at our D-list table in the back corner upstairs, they first brought out the following course:

From Gino Angelini, reading left to right, was a baby artichoke heart in casserole. A lovely little artichoke in what tasted like high quality olive oil. NOT marinated in anything vinegary though. Simple but nice. Middle, octopus with fava bean puree and squid ink gelatin, nice but not super flavorful. To the right and D's favorite of the trio, scrambled eggs with summer truffle on toast. All in all, this course was pleasant but nothing to write home about.

About 15 minutes later the second course arrived and this was one of my favorites. By Walter Manzke, this is a hamachi crudo with cherry tomatoes, radish shaving, herbs, blood orange oil and an heirloom tomato sorbetto. Personally, I found the acidity of the tomatoes and the tang of the oil to balance the hamachi beautifully. And the intensity of the heirloom sorbetto was a partito de estate in my intense and wonderful.

One good thing the waiter did for us was assist us in ordering a bottle of wine. We chose not to do the wine pairing since I had to be up at 5:30 am. He suggested this San Rocco valpolicello, which at first tasted young and too tangy. But it opened up beautifully, after breathing, into something a hair fruit forward but with a lovely slightly dry finish. Perfect for nearly everything we were served. Next!

The scallops were another winning dish. Courtesy of guest chef Alain Giraud of Anisette, this made my mouth happy. They were roasted perfectly, a nice bite around the roasted edges and soft-ish in the center, atop a silky Montbazillac and pistachio emulsion...the emulsion was heavenly. D sopped up every last drop with a crust of bread and might have licked the dish, had our remote corner of the dining room not suddenly become co-occupied by some friendly and loquacious fellow food bloggers. We had to up the ante in terms of acceptable table manners. No licking of plates, no throwing food, etc.

After a seemingly interminable 30 minutes (tick tock tick tock, I have to be in FULLERTON at 7) out parades this delight. Not a great photo, but wow. Sweet corn agnolotti with cockles (what IS the difference between cockles and clams, I ask? Aaron from Food Destination,, at the table next door finds out for me on his iPhone that there is indeed a difference. He claims to be able to taste it, I cannot make any such claim. The dish also featured guaniciale (unsmoked Italian bacon made from pork cheek, nom), and matsukake mushrooms. This dish was conceived by David LeFevre of Water Grill, no surprise there. I love his food.

Immediately after the agnolotti/cockle/pork cheek nirvana, out rushed the above. Grilled Big Eye tuna with fresh cranberry beans, squid, basil and munak ranch tomatoes. I loved the earthiness of this dish, but it wasn't D's favorite. Who cares! It was wonderful. The basil oil/emulsion sauce stuff was pungent and tasted delicious in my mouth with the cranberry beans. Succeed! Thank you, Michael Cimarusti. I think we all know who you are.

After another 15 minutes between courses I thought to hell with the early am, busboy, please locate my waiter and ask him for another glass of prosecco, thank you very much. Loves it. Another 15 minutes later with my prosecco half gone we give in and ask for the check. 30 minutes in between courses is a bit much and by now it is 11:30. AFTER we pay the check they bring us the above lamb course. I love lamb and was sad this little lamb course suffered the wrath of a sleepy consultant and her ADD husband. There was a small chunk of lamb shank that melted in my mouth, and a mini tenderloin-esque lamb loin. Next to these was a small tower of eggplant-potato parmesan all drizzled with lamb jus. I refused to leave the table until I ate some of everything. Again, Gino Angelini, our host at La Terza.

Apparently there was a dessert course, but anyone following my blog is acquainted with my indifference to sweets. I fell asleep in the car, and took my makeup off with a washcloth that may still be on the bathroom floor.