Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bäco Mercat

408 S Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013

I feel like I have been stalking chef Josef Centeno for years. A huge fan of Meson G (although I seem to be a fan of every restaurant in that Melrose Avenue space including long gone Alex and  current Hatfield's), experienced the flash in the pan that was Lot 1 right by my house, really like the food at wildly popular Lazy Ox, and now Bäco Mercat is my new most favorite place.


A couple weeks back we spent an evening at Bäco (as it's called by the hostess answering the phone) with friends and loved it so much we experienced cravings for the food immediately. We returned this weekend to have a pre-Wilco show meal. Just as good the second time around, maybe better.


The bar guys. The bar guy on the right on the photo has an excellent bartending pedigree, we know him from his days at Grace (is Grace defunked, is it not defunked) and Mozza. He makes a great drink and gives all around excellent service. You can't see his face in the shot, but he sports some excellent facial hair.


This weekend's visit to Bäco saw a change in policy regarding adult beverages. Please see above vodka martini. During the first visit, we were told we could only order cocktails from the cocktail menu. The bar policy (despite having a full bar) was to make market driven cocktails designed to compliment the food. The end. This week we were made twin martinis no questions asked, no explanations needed. They may have had to stray from their initial vision, but this is a big win in the name of customer service in my opinion.


I love okra. My grandmother used to grow her own okra, pick it from the garden, coat it in cornmeal, fry and serve. No okra will ever be better than the okra I had at Grandma's. But this is close. Blistered okra cooked on the grill and served just barely coated in a beautiful red sauce. I inhaled this both visits.


I blame it on the shrimp. This crispy shrimp is one of the reasons I am such a picky bitch. Anytime we visit a small plates focused menu, D jumps in before I get a chance to read the menu and immediately orders whatever catches his eye. By the time there are 10 small plates ordered, we're too far in for me to add my .02. THIS visit I specified, he wasn't allowed to order until I was ready. And I wanted my own food. I wanted this shrimp and I did not want to share. Crispy shrimp with the heads on, lots of lime wedges and a smoked paprika aoili. If I could, I would eat this for breakfast right now. I squeezed lime all over each shrimp to soften whatever the shrimp is coated in (it's very crispy, needs a little softening, especially the head bits). Next I dip in just a tiny bit of the aoili. So good. Soooooooo good.


Mussels in light creamy broth, grilled bread. Mussel perfection.


My favorite flatbread in all of Los Angeles. What j'adore about this flatbread is all the beautiful fresh herbs on top. We ordered this both visits. This is simply "the tomato & cheese", with smoked tomato, jalapeno and basil. But on top after cooking they throw generous branches of dill and cilantro. Just heavenly.

It's close, it's priced reasonably and the food is that perfect mixture of rustic and refined. I wonder if we can go tonight.

Images in this post brought to you by the iPhone and Finger Focus. My Nikon may never leave the house again.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Eggs en Cocotte in My Pajamas

Planning on working from home today, I lay in bed at the late hour of 6:15 trolling the Internet on my phone. I look at food blogs, read about this and that, engage in the wonderful directionless treasure hunt that is web surfing. Today I came across a post about Egg Slut on Squid Ink, LA Weekly's food blog. Coddled eggs in a baby food jar with potato, butter and cream? OMG, I leapt from the bed, threw on some sweats, put a leash on the dog and headed immediately west toward the Egg Slut truck on Fairfax to be there waiting for one when they opened.

Lies. After laying in bed for another thirty minutes pondering the ceiling, I shuffled my pajama clad body into the kitchen and investigated the refrigerator. Potato? Check. Eggs? Duh. Cream? Lactaid. Cheese? Is this a question? Etc. I ambled over the my desktop, reviewed the chemistry of eggs en cocotte by checking out a few blogs, then headed back into the kitchen to see what I could throw together. I sure af was not going to the store.

eggs en cocotte

I boiled one medium red potato, then pureed with a little goat's milk butter, leaving the skin on. Saute half an onion until translucent, add herbs. We had cilantro on hand, I used about a child's handful.

eggs en cocotte1

I deglazed the onion/cilantro pan with maybe a cup of Lactaid (someone in the house has lactose issues) and continued to cook until reduced about a third. Grate a cup or so of cheese (I used Parmesan, but was tempted by the pepper jack). Puree herb and onion mix, adding a few tablespoons of chicken broth to keep mixture from sticking to the side of the food processor. Butter or non-stick spray two large or four small ramekins. I used my two giant ramekins because I am piggy when it comes to eggs. Pour the herb puree into the bottom of your ramekins.


Split the potato puree between your ramekins, place in gently. The entire contents will naturally mix a little but you want some layering action.


Sprinkle cheese over the potatoes, don't go nuts. You are going to need to top the entire mess with cheese before it goes into the oven, reserve some of said cheese to do so.


Gently crack two eggs over cheese in large ramekins. If you use small ramekins, one egg per cup. If I had been less piggy more thoughtful, I would have also thrown together a fruit salad from the cara cara oranges and pears we have on hand and made two small ramekins instead of two large and no fruit salad.  

Don't forget to feed the dog.


Split the milk/cream/dairy reduction between ramekins. It should mostly cover the eggs. See the pretty cilantro puree seeping up to the top around the edges? Top with cheese.


There are several ways to cook eggs en cocotte. I used a bain-marie in the oven. To make one, I boiled a kettle full of water then filling the broiler pan halfway immediately before adding ramekins. Oven should be at 350F. In the end, I was running out of time as D yelled at me from the his weight lifting/Internet surfing/man sanctuary that he needed to eat within 10 minutes, so I turned the oven up to 400F for the last 7 minutes. I think total cooking time was about 20 minutes, maybe? I measured by the firmness of the yolks. You can decide how firm you like your yolks. Bear in mind, this is a creamy dish anyway. You might enjoy your eggs a little firmer than normal because of all the saucy things going on alongside them.


Serve the dish with toast or something for dipping. Essentially, I took something very sinful and made it a little healthier. It was still delicious, D was really amazed (after having looked slightly annoyed at all the dairy going into the dish, 11 years married and cooking for him, he still doesn't trust that I know what he likes to eat, ffs).

I am now full as a tick, still in my pajamas, and planning to have a really good workout later. Much later.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In Defense of the Bar

I love a bar. Pretty much any bar will do. A wine bar, hotel bar, neighborhood dives, a subterranean bar with the hipsters sporting unfortunate hair, a craft bar, an airport bar, the bar at a steakhouse sitting on a tall stool with a leather seat and a martini, casino bars, strip club bars, the bar down the hill from my house with mariachi music and flaming margaritas; even a suburban bar at a suburban restaurant where the singles mingle and the sweet and sour flows. I enjoy sitting at a bar.

As 2012 really starts to get under way, I am finding my thoughts in defense of the bar. I write in defense of the old school bar, the bar with everyone in mind where the bartender handles a crowd with silent or loud lightning fast panache, making drinks with the speed of a gun slinger at high noon.

Historically, my favorite bars, let me tell them to you. The Post in downtown Sacramento, way back in the eighties when I first turned 21, along with the Brass Rail across the street from the capitol building where I chronologically turned 21. Add the Round Corner Tavern with its pool table to the Sacto list.  The Pilsner Inn at Church and Market in San Francisco was a favorite when I lived there, and before the remodel The Owl Tree up the hill at Post and Taylor. I also lived for the times my roommate and I would swing by the Redwood Room at the Four Seasons Clift in the early nineties before it became a Morgan's property. After moving to LA, I fell in love with Max's on Fairfax (now The Dime) right around the corner from my house and I used to love to drink vodka gimlets at Jones on Santa Monica. I spent eight years sitting on my ass at the east end of the long bar at Three Clubs where I met my husband in a dark dank corner. Nowadays, I find myself eating and drinking at the Mexican bar down the hill from my house, popping into the Library Bar now and again and once a month or so dropping in at 4100 for old time's sake.  All these spots hold a special place in my heart. A place you can sidle up to the bar, utter a friendly or subdued how-dee-do, and wet your whistle with something pretty standard to leave the day behind or celebrate or just about whatever.

These bars are all what I think of as an old school bar. Not really old school in the old school that was the school when my parents were young and free. Old school in the sense that I am usually anywhere from ten to twenty years older than most bartenders in today's new school bars and I think of old school as being the school to which I had grown accustomed prior to the new school being new.

All of this isn't to say by any means that I don't like the new generation of bars that have overtaken our drinking habits on both coasts, I do like them very much (yes, NYC, we know you had them first). I love all bars. I really like a bar.

But you know the type of new bar I mean. If you don't know, you need to drink out of the house more often. A craft bar is a bar where the provenance of every label is not only known but  a point of pride. Cocktails are made with artistry using herbs, local and seasonal produce, agave nectar and berries muddled together with unlikely combinations of spirits creating heretofore unknown yet delightful flavor combinations. However. I take issue with this new generation of craft bars on a few points. (And yes, I know if you are from the East coast you have known about these bars forever, like that band no one else knows about yet). My issues are as follows:

I don't always want a dispatch on the glories of Velvet Falernum, an essay about our heralded return to Genever, a monologue about  how vodka drinkers only use vodka to get drunk (and?) and miss so much in the way of flavor profiles by ignoring the rest of the bar, a veritable dissertation about the shape and henceforth melting properties of ice based on total surface area of aforementioned cube. And I certainly never want to hear from another bartender that if the owner knew they were changing the recipe of my drink slightly to suit my taste buds there's a chance s/he would get shit canned. No lie, this happened a few months back.

I theorize my taste for certain cocktails evolved as a rejection of what was popular in my youth.  I was drunk for the first time ever on a stomach heaving combination of cheap champagne and gin, something readily available in someone's parents' liquor cabinet. The flavor of gin henceforth holds no appeal. Coming of age in the eighties meant being subject to a decade specific style of cocktails including Sex on the Beach, B-52s, sweet and sour based margaritas and daiquiris (heresy), Long Island Iced Tea, the Fuzzy Navel and so on. I have been drinking vodka and soda since I can remember.

Given the right bartender and a collaborative environment, a leopard can change its spots. A few well constructed drinks around town that I love include the Old Cuban at The Association, The Chanel at Pattern Bar near FIDM, pretty much anything made by Matt Biancaniello at the Roosevelt in Hollywood, and recently a custom made multi-citrus vodka gimlet at Hatfields. And the daiquiris at La Descarga? All the daiquiris.

I love a bar, and even in a new school bar am excited to see the drink list and experiment with your pet ingredient. However, reserve the lecture and the subtle eye rolling if I order something pedestrian. The only thing I don't like about a bar is not being able to wait to leave.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martinis Around Town: Barbarella, ink., Baco Mercat

As I looked through recent iPhone snaps last night, I realized I have a nice overview of my eats and drinks of the last few weeks but nothing really in depth.  I also realized I have been drinking a lot of martinis. Ummm....since my favorite martini is basically vodka with more vodka and an olive snorkeling around at the bottom, I have consequently been drinking a lot of the hard stuff. Maybe my liver would appreciate a wine diet for awhile. At any rate.


Of the three recorded, we start with Barbarella. Barbarella is a nice establishment, the bartending style not incredibly modern. An approach, I'll be honest, I don't have any lack of appreciation for. This particular Ketel One martini was ice cold with ice chips from the small cubes and the shaking motion floating on top. I like the little chips, even if they do water down my vodka a bit. Note the run-of-the-mill pimiento olives, two please.


Next up, martini ink. style. Coupe glass strutting the mixology approach to bartending. I love a coupe, the way it sits non-precariously in your hand. My mom has these gorgeous cut crystal coupes she inherited from Auntie Marge (iirc), they are quite a bit larger than this and I love a martini in one of those. I admit it's partially the size. The coupes at ink. are more modest size-wise. Three olives, rested crosswise on a wooden toothpick, no ice chips at all. They use a rather massive cube that prevents chipping during shaking. The vodka in this was an obscure potato vodka from eastern Europe and it was delicious. My favorite martini of the three.


Jerry rigging it. Baco Mercat doesn't make martinis. I have a mouthful to say about this, but I shall self edit because their food was phenomenal, truly. They deserve every dollar of success because their service was even better than the food. Baco Mercat is really doing it right despite their bar policy. A large vodka on one giant rock with a side of lemon minus the lemon. I enjoyed every drop.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


8360 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90069

I'm not going into any laborious detail about ink., Michael Voltaggio's busy little sweet spot in West Hollywood inhabiting former Josu space. What I will say is that the food was inventive and whimsical but down to earth. Affordable, yet still felt like a treat. The service was some of the best I have had recently. I will definitely be going again and I have someone specific in mind to take with me.

Make your own slideshow with music at Animoto.

Video inspired by one of my favorite fashion bloggers, L.A.'s own, Meagan. Caveat: I did not choose Maryjane for the theme song, and I am not sure how it ended up in the background. I don't really enjoy the pot, it gives me massive paranoia, quite the opposite intended effect. However, we had kind of a crazy night that night, so I will just leave it as is for the fun of it. Who doesn't love Rick James?

Please see more thorough ink. reviews here, here and here. I'm just havin' fun.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ringing in the New Year in Santa Barbara

I am a fan of the idea that the way one spends the first hours of the new year sets the tone for the rest of the year altogether. I will be pleased if 2012 echoes my first couple of days. We spent the eve with friends in Santa Barbara, and stayed through the second enjoying the city and the sunny weather. On the first, I slept in late, played tennis and ate seafood at Brophy Brothers in the marina. On the second, went for a long run through the downtown shopping district, stopping often to take snaps and ogle the architecture. As a harbinger, I'll take it.


State and De La Guerra.


Love the Moorish lettering spelling out street names on the corners.


I started my run along the "red tile walking tour" published in a tourist magazine. Ultimately, it was an advertisement because it only took the walker past shops and not past city hall, Casa de la Guerra, Rafael Gonzalez house, the Historical Museum, etc. As soon as I realized, I tossed the map and set out on my own, meandering down back and side streets off State.


Casa de la Guerra in the perfect morning light.


El porche.


I love the old Greyhound signs...


The exact same signs are still up at the downtown Greyhound station in Sacramento, but the station itself in Sacramento is more than a bit grittier.


La dolce vita, indeed.

Happy New Year

Here's to a happy, productive and prosperous new year.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Paso Robles List

My two years spent working and traveling to Paso Robles on business is at an end (barring anything unforeseen, and there are always lots of things unforeseen). I feel like I have been inside nearly every restaurant and market. many tasting rooms and a couple hotels. Paso Robles is a wonderful place to visit for wine tasting, R&R, or even a drive-by on the way north or south in between the Bay Area and Southern California. My favorites, let me share them with you.

1401 Park Street
Paso Robles, CA

Artisan focuses on local and seasonal produce and proteins whenever possible. The atmosphere is elegant but not off-puttingly so, and the food has been beyond reproach every single visit. This is my favorite restaurant in town.

608 12th Street
Paso Robles, CA

Brought to Paso by Chef Santos MacDonal and his wife, Il Cortile offers Italian food on a par with any I have had anywhere in California. Again, a focus on local ingredients with burrata from LA County's own  Gioia, and a Paso/Italian focus on the wine list. They offer upscale dining inside, al fresco on the sidewalk facing patio and a small bar that appeals to this often solo diner. They even have a regular who stops at Paso just to eat at Il Cortile and visit with the staff on his frequent trips between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. It's that good and they are that friendly.

Villa Creek
1114 Pine Street
Paso Robles, CA
Known among my colleagues for the infamous and Chowhound lauded taco Tuesdays, I love to stop into Villa Creek the second I hit town for a glass of prosecco and a snack to reward me after the long drive. Villa Creek has terrific food and the liveliest upscale bar in town. The bar staff is always good company, the steamed clams on the bar menu my favorite dish.

The Wine:
Lone Madrone
2485 Highway 46 West


My ultimate favorite, they make a nebbiolo that knocks my socks off every time I taste it. Constructed by Neil Collins (also executive winemaker at the heralded Tablas Creek), the wines from this vineyard are dry farmed and head trained, and typically blends inspired by Neil's years of working with Paso wines.

11680 Chimney Rock Road
Love the wines at Justin, have yet to taste one that didn't impress. My sister-in-law A got an Orphan for Christmas (a blend of whatever the vineyard happens to fancy throwing together in any given year).  Last time I stopped into their tasting room, I was treated to several wines not on the menu, I felt incredibly special. It might have been the booze talking. The wine room itself is not my favorite in the region, it reminds me a lot of the more corporate feeling rooms of Napa. But there is none of the accompanying impersonal attitude. Justin is worth a visit.

2900 Vineyard Drive
Turley makes and sells primarily zinfandel. They are delicious, but plan your tasting trip accordingly. Stop at Turley first prior to burning out your taste buds where the wines are bigger.

Tobin James
8950 Union Road
I enjoy that Tobin James is literally right on the 46 as I head out of town after a long day (or short, depending) of work. Stopping by for something special right before hitting the long drive makes arrival home all that much sweeter. The wines at Tobin James lack some of the subtlety of other makers in the region, but they still hit right inside my sweet spot of wine preference.  The syrahs, primitivos and blends tend to the jammier end, but I enjoy every taste of fruit.

Courtyard Marriott 
120 So. Vine Street
Paso Robles, CA
All Courtyards are not created equal. Things to love about this one: room service, busy downstairs bar, large heated swimming pool, pay-per-view movies in room and inclusive breakfast with omelet station every morning. The Marriott is also walking distance to downtown Paso, perfect for a morning jog around the square or an evening walk to dinner.

La Quinta Inn & Suites
2615 Buena Vista Drive
Paso Robles, CA
Located out by route 46 (and not really a safe walk into town, traffic wise), I love La Quinta nonetheless for their pet policy. No fee, no holds barred. Around the fenced parking lot (away from aforementioned traffic) is a green belt replete with oft emptied trash cans and doggy bag stations to self clean after your meandering pup. I discovered their pet friendly policy this fall and wish I would have discovered it two years ago.

Di Raimondo's Italian Market
822 13th Street
Paso Robles, CA
It's not all Italian and it's not only cheese. Get in here for cheese, a baguette and other goodies before wine tasting. Trust me.

Powell's Sweet Shop
840 11th Street
Paso Robles, CA
For your kid or your inner kid, Powell's will blow you away with the array of classic, nouveau and novelty sweets.

Kennedy Fitness
500 South River Road
Paso Robles, CA
To work off the stress of the day or front load some serious calorie burning before wine tasting your afternoon away, stop in at Kennedy for a group exercise class.  Every single one I have attended is top notch including Body Pump, Spin, Yoga, Zumba (it wasn't pretty), and Sculpt. If I remember correctly, they charge $12 non-member fee per usage. Worth every penny.