Monday, April 28, 2008

Providence: A Brief Review

I supped last Saturday evening at Providence with two friends and had a lovely time. The service at Providence cannot be beat. As Ruth Reichl writes in her book, Garlic and Sapphires, we dine out to be made to feel special and important. Dining is as much about the experience and company as it is about the food. And my experience was as luxurious and pampered as my company was lovely. The food, however, left something to be desired.

Now, I enjoy Water Grill and Providence in general, despite the preciousness of the presentation and the staid quality of the dining rooms. I love the flavors Michael Cimarusti and his kitchen put on the table. He combines food beautifully, in some very standard ways and sometimes in very innovative ways. The darling plates are always beautiful. It is well worth the time to ponder the dish and even to take a picture, because ultimately, in the words of a third grader, a picture does last longer.

I worked in a seafood restaurant in San Francisco for years, not the caliber of Providence or even close to it by any means. But it was also not a chain or a tourist trap on some pier or wharf or beachside cliff. It was a reputable lovely little restaurant south of Market called The Half Shell. Its first owner, Theresa Douglas (who last I heard was the culinary director for Korbel in Napa), created the most beautiful clam chowder for that restaurant, and it stayed with the business through the next three successive owners. Her chowder was in a thin and brothy base with butter, cream, clam juice, huge branches of rosemary and heaps of bacon bits. This is the standard in my mind to which all future chowders shall be held. The chowda at Providence fell short.

I have tasted this chowda several times, eating usually from my husband's dish. I knew it came with thick hunks of bacon, tender plump & luscious clams, and thin slices of new potato. An elegant soup. But broth bored me. It tasted like they put all those wonderful key ingredients in a bath of warm half and half. So much more could be done to that broth. If it were MY soup, I would have added all kinds of beautiful things much earlier to the broth and reduced it for days, much like Douglas' chowder which reached a tasty crescendo after about day three. The presentation at Providence far exceeded the simple cup & saucer at the Half Shell, but the flavor was left behind in the dust.

For an entree I decided to have the foie gras ravioli (apologies to non-foie eating animal lovers, haven't had it in literally years and couldn't resist). Again, disappointed. Primarily I ordered this because I was enticed by the double whammy of the foie gras and black truffle shavings. Unfortunately, this was not truffley in the slightest, and the only double whammy was my disappointment at the lack of trufflocity paired with the deep puddle of oil in my supper dish. Bluck.

I did taste S's lobster risotto with a lovely carrot foam...because I know what lobster tastes like I only sampled the rice and foam parts. This was both well done and lovely. The rice had that natural creaminess that comes from being cooked just right rather than being smothered in dairy. And the carrot foam added an acidity that balanced the dish nicely.

The sommelier did an excellent job choosing wine for us. He chose a half bottle of a rather tart sauvignon blanc for our starters and then a whole bottle of some other new world something for our mains. The second was headier and would have stood up strong and comfortingly to my dish had I ordered something with truffles. Very well done, in my opinion.

As I say, service was the star that evening. I will definitely go back again, as it is close to home and I am a huge fan of the bar. Anyone sitting at the bar gets lots of attention and an inside peek at how the staff hums along together during service. Everyone and everything seems happy and harmonious and this is definitely reflected at the table.

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's Not Spring in Anchorage

My friend Dave, who lives in Anchorage, took these shots outside his window on the 25th of April.

Really, is that fair when it was 90+ here in Los Angeles? I suppose so, considering whassit?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Beginnings & Happy Endings at Grace!

Happy birthday A, my dear FIL, and happy fifth anniversary to Grace restaurant! We had a short but quick, a'hem, happy ending, to celebrate A's birthday and while there we chatted up the bartender about the upcoming fifth anniversary tasting menus that start next month and will run for several months. 5 courses, $55 bones.

One of the things that makes the ambience of Grace lovely is the way it invites the Los Angeles environment into the restaurant via the huge picture windows in the bar and the many skylights in the dining room. What does one think of when one thinks of Los Angeles? Without a pause, traffic and sunshine.

While I didn't want to take exhaustive photos during a 74th birthday celebration, I did want to capture the highlights. My appetizer was excellent. Morel mushrooms on asparagus with a beautiful green garlic flan. I have been obsessing over green garlic for a couple of days, thanks to Orangette's post about spinach and green garlic soup.

(Excuse the flash, it was too dark for details flashfree by the time appies arrived.)

We ended our celebration with desserts...Grace is famous for their housemade donuts. I remember these as jelly donuts, but last night they were served as something akin to a dulce de leche donut with a lot of thick, brown, sticky sauce oozing out. I am not a dessert person and this was a little sugar heavy for me.

The most important, happiest dessert was a chocolate and coffee parfait with one perfect little candle. Thich was, I think, said flavors of ice cream layered over a crunchy/sticky chocolate cookie. Strangely the flavor was much like the flavor of the donuts. Someone is going hog wild back in the kitchen with evaporated milk. Everyone else gobbled til the plates were clean though, so clearly I am not a good judge of what is and is not good dessert wise.

Despite the sweets, I cannot wait to get back to Grace for the anniversary prix fixe. I already know who I want to go with. We have a friend who takes more food photos than I do, so I can unabashedly shoot away. And I already know what desserts I will not be eating.

Golden Gai, Cabo San Lucas

One of my favorite discoveries in Tokyo was the neighborhood called Golden Gai. Golden Gai is a series of small, narrow alleyways with many storefronts housed in close quarters, completely deserted and locked down during the day. It resides in the neighborhood of Shinjuku, known for housing the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Each of these doors houses an impossibly small drinking establishment.

At nightime the doors are unlocked and in some cases left open. Lights are turned on inside by a mysterious bartender, and in some cases music begins to play. In almost no cases is there a welcome sign over the door. And in almost no case is a new client, stranger or tourist invited in. Strangers and tourists, anyone who is not accompanied by a regular, is turned away with a bark, "Closed!", or a grunted, "Japanese only!"

What is amazing and special about these bars is not just how they offer their clients a tightly knit drinking community. These bars are tiny. Most no bigger than the kitchen in a 1000 sq ft house. And I saw several much smaller. Each bar has about 6 seats, some have less, some have more, and there are seats available nowhere except at the bar itself. The person behind the bar is usually the owner, and coming into his/her bar is like being invited into their living room for cocktail hour. The same room is owned and passed down and never or rarely sold to an outsider. In all the bars I peeked into, money, movie posters, photographs and various memorabilia covered every inch of wall space.

I did find one propieter who welcomed us into his bar, and we drank together, chatted in his wonderful English, and listened to his jaw-dropping collection of flamenco vinyl from as far back as the 1940's. His room was decorated with the signatures of famous flamenco players throughout the last few decades, and dried single stem roses punctuated the autographs in dark little nooks and cubbyholes.

Wandering the Golden Gai, I knocked on doors and was turned away many times before finding a happy stool for my bum. That made the experience all the more special.

Imagine my delight when, in Cabo San Lucas last weekend, I discovered just such a bar right next door to the ridiculously celebratory Giggling Marlin. This particular itty bitty teeny tiny bar is called Sangria. While Sangria shares many similarities with the bars of the Golden Gai, there are also stark contrasts.

Sangria is petite, it has only 6 bar stools. It serves alcohol, it plays music and it attracts many regular customers. Currency of all provenances are stuck to the walls and ceilings.

However, the door is wide open starting in late afternoon, and by open I mean open to anyone. Tourists and locals together crowd the tiny bar, and the sparse seating makes for close quarters and lively conversation. By 11 pm the outside part of the bar was four people deep, and everyone was having a great time. The bartendress handled everyone equally with an attitude of welcoming joy and efficiency. I visited this bar all three nights of my stay and have some great memories.

Lorenzillo's: Cancun & Los Cabos Since 1683

While traveling from el aeropuerto to our hotel, no less than three unrelated people suggested Lorenzillo's in the marina for the city's best lobster. I tend to be rather wary of the reccomendations of people working in the tourist industry when I am abroad. I have been sent to one too many tourist traps, and had one too many meals surrounded solely by English speaking Americans. (Truly, once in Paris was more than enough, but it has happened far more than one time.) My tendency now is to seek out references for my meals via acquaintances and cross-referencing internet resources.

Upon attempting to check into our hotel, we were told our room would not be ready til early evening. So, we borrowed the hospitality suite, changed into beach garb and set out to explore cabo San Lucas. Disembarking from a water taxi in the marina, Lorenzillo's loomed large above us. I am a firm disbeliever in fate and the, "things happen for a reason" approach to life. However, D was grumbling about hunger and I wanted some wine. We climbed the stairs to the nearly empty main dining room and sat down to a lobster feast extraordinaire.

The waiter first brought our examples of the beautiful fresh shellfish they had to offer. Giant prawns, king crab, langostino, and so on.

I started my meal with oysters on the half shell, and was more than happy to accompany them with a slightly overpriced yet always delicious yellow label Veuve Clicquot. D started his meal with a massive platter of stone crab, fresh and thoughtfully pre-cracked for easy shelling.

For mains, we both went for the lobster, natch. His was served in a light marinara with pasta. Mine was covered but not smothered in a lovely savory cilantro sauce that made my tastebuds hum blissfully. Both lobsters were steamed perfectly, not a tough bite between the two.

Although the lobster was perfection, the star on my plate was Lorenzillo's pureed spinach. I ate every bite & I might even have snuck a bite or two from someone else's plate when they weren't looking. This version of pureed spinach has a thick consistency, almost like mashed potatoes. But the flavor! This is not your runny, American steakhouse creamed spinach. Our waiter reported that the spinach includes bacon, a touch of cream and nuts. For just a second I feared I might be eating what amounts to a pile of lard with some spinach for coloring. But he assured us there was only a little bacon for flavor. And truly, I didn't give a pig's ass what was in it.

The rest of the day and into the long night I thought about that spinach. The next morning I wanted it for breakfast. In true D&L form, we went to Lorenzillo's for lunch again that day.

This time we ate a little lighter, both in calories and in wallet. I ordered a big side of the spinach and a lovely little tuna tartare. They say the tuna you eat in Cabo really is caught right off shore that day or the day previous. As a tourist on holiday, I would buy the Brooklyn Bridge if you asked nicely enough. But I do know they go fishing for tuna in those waters, and my tartare was fresh and beautiful enought to give into a plausible story.

D ordered a wonderful ceviche, just acidic enough with lots and lots of octopus.
He also tucked into a nice seafood soup, but I was too busy with my spinach to get a photo. This, however, was a view off outside dining area of Lorenzillo's, through the marina and into the sea beyond!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Note to self:

Spell check and proof read prior to publishing. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Rabid & Ready Swarofski Encrusted Dobermen

During a recent visit to Scottsdale, Arizona I found myself crushed under the wet, sloggy heaviness of a brief but intense depression. I attribute this to recently developing happy facts in my life; Daisy's health is on the mend, JP is out of the hospital, the DH's retina is refraining from detachment, and so on. Why, one might ask, would the mending of my loved ones cause me to BE depressed instead of happy? I think during the visit to Scottsdale I finally allowed myself to breathe. I felt safe amongst some of the people who love and care for me the most. And in the for some reason unforgettable lyrics of the completely insipid Faith Hill, I could finally, "just breathe". So I had a good cry and went on a rampage at Target. As I threw away the disgusting amount of environment ruining packaging that comes home with you after a spree at Target, I felt a little better. I dried my tears and went down to the pool at the Scottsdale Resort and Athletic Club.

A little later in the day, to further cheer me up, D took me to have a gander and a medicinal beverage at the Scottsdale Mondrian. Just like every other Mondrian and/or Ian Schrager property, this one is whimsical, fun, and filled to the brim with good looking young people partying their asses off. Both of the following are pictures of the Skybar, which I like much better than the Skybar in West Hollywood.

While it might not show much imagination on my part, I had a major craving for Mastro's. There are three unidentical branches of the small Mastro's chain in Scottsdale. The one we chose is called Mastro's City Hall Steakhouse: The first of a new hybrid steakhouse and sophisticated nightspot offering elegant, timeless dining experiences for the new millenia. You can find descriptions and locations for all Mastro's restaurants at the link below. (Psst: TomKat has been photographed leaving the one in Beverly Hills several times, which makes me hope they bring their own cutlery.)

As always I ordered the petit filet on the bone. With consistency, the Mastro's filet on the bone is the best steak I have ever and will ever eat. Period. The end.

All sides are served family style, and by family style they mean for the family portrayed in the 1970's drama, Eight is Enough. We finished none of our sides between the five people and there is not a dainty eater among us. Here are the delicious snap peas.

As a self-identified truffle whore, I was unable to take a pass on the truffled gnocci. This was a serving of monstrous proportions...did you hear me? MONSTROUS! I am sad we didn't finish this either. Tears fill my eyes at the thought that some portion of a beautiful truffle was used and did not pass through my digestive system.

We ended Saturday evening at a winebar modeled like a speakeasy. With a sign above the door stating simply, "The Truth Is Within", Kazimierz World Wine Bar has plush if not ample seating, friendly staff, a stunning interior that I will christen SouthWestoroccan, and a 136 page wine list that I did not even begin to delve into. I will do so at a later date. Do you hear me Scottsdale? I will return to conquer that wine list! Lock up the children and batten down the hatches!

The following day, after attempting comic tennis in the swirling desert winds, DF gave us the tour of old town Scottsdale and some of his favorite and notable spots. Eating lunch at the Italian Grotto was a treat. Aside from the open walls looking out onto the desert landscape, it feels just like any New York/Long Island brick walled, black leather boothed Italian restaurant owned by a made man with a bar tender so lovingly snarky you have to smile. The clams portofino were outrageously delicious. Frank Sinatra singing in the background was so cliche it was classic.

D being D meant that he ended up with tomato sauce spilled all the way down the front of his tee shirt and we spent the better part of the afternoon shopping for a replacement. When in the wild west, one wants to look like a wild western cowboy, therefore we shopped here.

And wonders may never cease, since we shopped for quite some time in a store with very expensive shoes and I found nothing of interest. It may have been a first.

We ended our afternoon walk at a random overly contemporary restaurant bar with the notable and noted Swarofski encrusted doberman pinscher statues encased in plexiglass. These are randomly cool.

We ended our evening and our trip with C at a Mexican restaurant so lovely I cannot remember its name. Delivering strong well constructed margaritas and light fare with lots of vegetables and freshly made tortillas, I will gladly eat there again anytime. Adios, Scottsdale.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Eggs in Aspic, o Ouefs en Gelees

Audiobooks are a recent joy in my life. Right now I am listening to Julie on Julia, the journey of one woman experiencing a third life crisis who cooks her way through the classic American tome of French cooking, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The most recent chapter, which I listened to Thursday, describes Julie's adventures cooking oeufs en gelee, or poached eggs in aspic.

Julie did not measure this a successful recipe. However I, for some reason, find my psyche obsessed with the idea of making aspic from bones. Next, softly poaching an egg and layering it with various herbs, al dente poached veg & maybe some salmon or lardon inside the confines of a transparent aspic encasement. Upon further research, I am pleased to find out that there are many renditions of ouefs en gelee.

The author of Chocolate & Zucchini, Clotilde Dusoulier, writes about the both the joy of gently breaking apart the aspic to free the beauty of the ingredients inside and the omniprescence of this dish in the non-touristy outer arrondissements of Paris.

Below is the close up she posted. I like how this one is wrapped in what looks like a thin slice of ham or proscuitto:

I have not attempted to make this yet, but I can feel it coming. I made a horrific dinner the other night for John and David, as usual winging it completely. I will blog about the horror of that meal at another time. Now however, I will treat you, dear reader, to the joy of a variety of examples of oeufs en gelee from various places about the interwebs.

Here is a simple version, still in its ramikan.

This one, served on a bed of greens, illustrates the beauty of digging through the aspic and cracking the softly poached egg...I am imagining sopping up the yolk with a warm grilled hunk of kalamata olve bread.

And this version (apologies for the tiny pic) shows one housed with slices of salmon, my mouth is watering anticipating that those are slices of smoked salmon, the combination of the lightly flavored aspic, the egg and the soft fleshy salmon...

In the recesses of someone's dark and twisted mind, labeling this photo of a streaker at Wimbledon as "oeufs en gelee" must have seemed amusing.

I am officially amused.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"They're not CUPCAKES!",

I said adamantly for the third time. Inspired by a recent obsession with cupcake blogs and the little cakes made at, I decided to make Tracy's birthday dessert my damn self.

I had been dying to try silicon baking pans. They are supposedly easy to clean and foolproof with regard to depanning your baking. I bought these online at

The recipes that inspired these cakes were found at and altered according to my whim and circumstance. I wanted to make starkly contrasting flavors so I chose ancho-chili chocolate and grapefruit-pomegranite.

The chocolate cakes were iced with ancho-chili chocolate ganache and topped with shavings of Scharffenberger chocolate.

When shopping for ingredients, my local yup-mart was *gasp* out of pomegranite seeds. So to give a little extra kick I trebled the amount of grapefruit zest in the recipe. Amd because buttercream frosting should be banished from existence (nods to Karla) I frosted these with cream cheese frosting. Teh nom!

CJ's lamb. This guy can cook!

Before and after:

My all time favorite lewd gesture.

The more or less unused cocktail table.