Friday, August 24, 2007

Dining with the Couture Fan in La La Land

by Erin

While I was in LA, I was able to spend some time with friends Jenny and Andy, who just recently moved to LA from New Jersey (remember Jenny's farewell dinner?). They were wonderful hosts, and they took me to some fabulous places to eat!

After getting milkshakes at the nearby Farmer's Market (hey, it was hot out!), we went back to their apartment and relaxed a bit before heading out to dinner. (I must note that I loved their apartment and felt very comfortable there because there are pictures of Xani all over the place!) We ate at Kate Mantilini, a sort of upscale diner in Beverly Hills.

I had a hard time deciding what to order because the menu was HUGE! But, we ended up ordering calamari as an appetizer, which was served with marinara sauce and an avocado-flavored aioli. The calamari was perfectly cooked, and the sauces were good (the avocado was a surprise...), but it wasn't very hot. I think the dish could have been a slam dunk had it been the right temperature.

For our mains, I got pasta with peas and proscuitto, which was served with both long and short pasta in a creamy sauce. This dish was excellent - normally I don't get pasta in restaurants since BCD Dad makes a mean bowl of spaghetti, but I was glad I went with this dish.

Jenny got a pasta dish too, with broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes, and Andy got an open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes - both looked great.

After dinner, we ordered coffee and were browsing over the dessert menu, when Andy said to Jenny, "Should we take her to Diddy Riese instead?" While I had no clue what (or who?) they were talking about, Jenny was clearly excited about this idea, so we abandoned our dessert menus, paid the check, and hit the road.

I soon learned of the gloriousness that is Diddy Riese. It is a wonderful little shop in Westwood (near UCLA) that sells two things: cookies and ice cream. While you could just order a cookie or a scoop of ice cream, the majority of DR's patrons order an "ice cream sandwich," where you choose what kind of cookie you want on the outside (you could even pick two kinds), and then you pick a flavor of ice cream to go in the middle. Genius! And SO DELICIOUS! I got chocolate chip cookies on the outside, with cookie dough ice cream on the inside. Jenny got white chocolate chip cookies and cookie dough ice cream, and Andy got chocolate chip cookies with mint chip ice cream. Yummm...

Not only was this delicious because it was two sweet treats in one, but Diddy Riese was smart about it: they added what seemed to be extra salt in the cookie to play off the extreme sweetness of the cookie and ice cream combo. SO GOOD. And like I said, GENIUS!

As you can see, they were a bit difficult to eat! But, well worth the struggle.

Also, note the price of these babies: $1.25 each. No wonder they're so popular amongst the UCLA kids (as evidenced by the long line running out the door!).

What a delicious treat that was - it's something that's now on my "must-eat" list for my next trip to LA!

The next morning, Jenny and I took a short tour around the nearby La Brea Tar Pits, and then it was time to eat again - oy. We went to a cute little restaurant called Toast, not too far from Jenny and Andy's house. Apparently lots of celebrities frequent Toast, but of course none were there when I was there (I have terrible celeb-sighting karma!). While the celebrities were lacking, the food was AWESOME.

Now, I am not normally a breakfast person, and I'm definitely not someone who's into eggs, but I ordered "The Oscar" on a recommendation from Jenny (who mentioned that it had been featured on FoodTV), and it was probably the best egg dish I've ever had EVER. Described as "thin strips of chicken, guacamole, fresh salsa, eggs over medium and melted cheese, sitting atop grilled corn tortillas," it was absolutely delicious. I still can't believe that "eggs over medium" is part of the description! Xani and I order our eggs this way and it's so obscure that no one ever gets them right. Well at Toast, they got it right! The broken yolks of the eggs really brought all of the ingredients together, as did the large amounts of melted cheese, and the salsa and guacamole were super-fresh and flavorful, and brightened up the whole dish.

The Oscar was served with a fruit cup filled with fresh fruit, and Jenny and I shared a side of their breakfast potatoes, which were also great - crispy and well-seasoned, and a generous portion to boot. Jenny got an egg dish too (though I can't quite remember what it was called), and it too was good - great fresh veggies in an egg-white omelet. Delicious!

Clearly Jenny is a fan of Toast since she goes there all the time, but I would seriously recommend this place for a wonderful LA breakfast (although I'm told that there's usually a line to get it since it's pretty popular - thankfully there was no line for us!).

Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to group all of my lovely meals with Jenny and Andy together since it was such a treat to visit with them. Thanks again, Jenny and Andy! See you when you come back east!

Happy eating,

EP

Praise the Lord! It's In 'N Out Burger!

by Erin

When I arrived in LA, cousins Ann and Steven asked me "Is there anything in particular you'd like to have while you're here?" My first and only response was: "In 'N Out Burger."

There are many reasons why I love In N' Out. Let me count the ways:

1. Best Fast Food Burgers in the land: In my opinion, In N' Out has the best fast food burgers in the country. Unfortunately, they only have restaurants in California, Nevada, and Arizona, so I have to get my fix whenever I'm out in those parts. (And last time I was in Vegas we had so much eating to do, we never made it to In N' Out - a tragedy!)

2. Celebrity Sightings: A very special thing happened during one of our visits to an In N' Out in LA in 2003: We saw DENNIS QUAID! (The funny part of that story is that when I saw him, I couldn't think of his name, so I said to Xani, "It's the guy from Inner Space!" Of course I can only think of a movie that's 20 years old!)

3. Secret Lingo: Yet another interesting thing about In N' Out that I love is that there is a whole SECRET CODE for ordering. Well, I guess it's not so secret since there are websites about it, but there are items on the menu that are not listed anywhere, you just have to know about them. Like a secret burger-ordering society. And I'm a member.

4. Secret Bible Passages: Okay, I don't love this about In N' Out - in fact, I think it's kinda weird - but still, interesting that they hide Bible passages on the bottom of your cup. Praise the Lord! Soda!

Anyway, back to the eating. One evening after we got home from laying around on the beach, we decided that would be the night for In N' Out. So, we did our research at the site linked above, and headed out.

We got to In N' Out armed with our lingo. I ordered my burger "Animal Style," meaning a "mustard-cooked beef patty, additional pickles, extra secret sauce with grilled onions." Ann and Steven got burgers too, but Ann got her fries "well done," meaning they were crispier and more browned than the regular fries. Ann also got the Neopolitan Shake, with the chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry actually kind of separated out - very impressive.

The burgers were, as usual, FANTASTIC. Just totally yummy - the onions and special sauce really made the burger. Ann's "well done" fries were much better than the regular fries Steven and I got. From here on out, I will order my In N' Out fries "well done." Also, the neopolitan shake was really good! I don't even like strawberry ice cream but it totally worked in shake form with its vanilla and chocolate brethren.

It was an awesome trip to In N' Out, and I'm so glad we got to go! I'm told that next time I'm in California, I'll have to go to Fatburger, the rival California fast-food burger joint. Bring it on!

Happy eating,

EP

A Taste of Provence, in Vermont

by Xani

A couple weeks ago work took me to Rutland, Vermont. I had never been to Vermont before, and it ended up being pretty much what I expected: lovely weather, beautiful countryside, cows. There didn't seem to be much of a restaurant scene (or a nightlife) but we did happen upon one great little place on our last night there. My friend and co-worker, Catie, discovered Cafe Provence after reading an article in the local paper which featured restaurants using local ingredients. My immediate thought process after hearing about this was: Cafe Provence= french food, french food=use of cheese, cheese is from cows, cows are from Vermont! Or something like that. Basically I was pretty sure dinner was going to be GOOOOD...

Cafe Provence is in Brandon, VT, which was about 15 minutes north of our hotel. We drove past cows and rolling hills, and then we arrived in the cute little town. The restaurant had both indoor and outdoor seating, but we actually chose to sit inside because it was pretty chilly out (this was during a stretch of high 90s and brutal humidity in Baltimore-- travel is not all bad!). The only bad thing about the indoor seating is that the tables were really close together. As in, if I took a deep breath the guy behind me was going to feel it, and vice versa. Perhaps this is an attempt to be authentically European? I've never been to France, maybe someone can tell me...

Anyhow, we settled in at the table and began to look over the menu. Everything was sooo tempting, it was hard to decide! First, Catie ordered us a bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol, Provence 2004. She chose this because she had actually tasted it at the winery on a visit to Provence a couple years ago and remembered it as quite good, and it was excellent!

Then, onto the food. For her first course, Catie ordered the Spinach & Four Cheese Raviolis, with spinach mousse & lemon herb tomato sauce. I had a taste and, indeed the local Vermont cheese was absolutely delicious in the tender little ravioli. The spinach mousse was kind of a flop though-- think vaguely spinach flavored jello. Blah.

I ordered the Moules Marinieres (steamed mussels with white wine, shallots, garlic & parsley, garlic toasts), which were just perfect. The mussels were plump, tender and full of flavor. There were a LOT of them, but I ate every one, all the garlic toasts, and then used some of the fresh baked bread on our table to soak up the awesome broth.

Plates were cleared, then came the main dishes. Catie chose the Stuffed filet of Sole with Shrimp Mousse, Mushrooms & Roasted Peppers with Asiago cheese & herb polenta, parsley cream sauce, and I ordered a duck dish, which sadly is no longer on their online menu so I can't give you the fancy description! As I recall, it was sliced duck breast as well as a roasted duck leg, served with crack-infused potatoes and fresh asparagus, atop a sauce made with Maine blueberries. Here are the dishes in all their glory:

Stuffed Sole

Duck with Blueberry sauce

Again, both dishes were lovely. My duck was perfectly cooked-- moist succulent breast meat and crispy leg skin. Yum. Catie's elaborate fish dish was also tasty, and the polenta underneath was really cheesy and good.

Finally, on to dessert. Cafe Provence had a selection of beautiful homemade pastries and other super-sweet looking treats (no cupcake babies though!), but when Catie and I dine out, and dessert rolls around, it means one thing: cheese plate. But there was none on the menu! How is this possible??!! Well, when the waitress returned, I just flat out asked her if they happened to have a cheese plate back in the kitchen someplace, and they did! I heard angels singing when she told us she would bring it right out! A little while later, this gorgeous vision appeared before us:

Featured on this plate were a variety of local cheeses, including a blue, a cheddar, a nut-crusted goat cheese, and some fantastic, creamy brie. A few accouterments like apple slices, orange wedges, nuts and dried cranberries completed the plate. Well, I guess it could have used a bit of quince paste, but now I'm just nit-picking...

I was surprised and delighted to find a place like Cafe Provence while in Vermont. I may never get back to that part of the country, but if I do, I would definitely go back. I recommend it to anyone who finds himself or herself in the area, which some of you skiers out there just might, its fairly close to various ski resorts.

Sorry for the low number of posts lately but EP and I are both busy with our school, work, and personal life responsibilities (it doesn't help when I end up in hotels without Internet access!). We have several posts in the chamber and ready to be fired, so stay tuned!

X

Monday, August 20, 2007

Cupcake Babies!

by Erin

While I was in LA, I came to realize that cupcakes are the new, hip thing there. They're all the rage - who knew?! Apparently there have been a handful of cupcake shops popping up all over the place, and cousins Ann and Steven took me to a nearby one in Santa Monica that opened just one month ago: Vanilla Bake Shop.

Vanilla Bake Shop was absolutely the cutest, most whimsical little bakery I've ever stepped foot in! It's well-lit and decorated with a lot of whites and pastels, and they have jars of colored sugars everywhere.

They have a wide assortment of treats, with of course cupcakes being the stars. More specifically, Vanilla Bake Shop focuses on mini-cupcakes, which it calls "cupcake babies" - um, ADORABLE!

One other adorable thing about Vanilla Bake Shop was that they serve milk to drink with your cupcakes. They clearly know the cupcake biz.

They have many different flavors of cupcakes: some are standard for every day, and the rest are on a daily rotation (i.e., certain flavors on Monday, different flavors for Tuesday, etc.). We decided to get a dozen mini-cupcakes and share them so we could try as many flavors as possible!

We got:

  • Vanilla Bean, Creamy Vanilla Bean Cake, Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Frosting
  • Mom's Birthday Cake, All American Yellow Cake, Milk Chocolate Frosting
  • Southern Red Velvet, Southern Red Velvet Cake, Sweet Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Bittersweet Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Cake, Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting, Chocolate Sprinkles
  • Meyer Lemon Raspberry, Yellow Butter Cake, Lemon Curd Center, Vanilla Bean Frosting & Raspberries
  • Toasted Dark Chocolate Coconut, Dark Chocolate Cake, Toasted Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Key Lime, Yellow Butter Cake, Key Lime Filling, Cream Cheese Frosting, Graham Cracker Crust Crumbles

Meyer Lemon Raspberry

Vanilla Bean

Key Lime

Southern Red Velvet

Toasted Dark Chocolate Coconut

Steven enjoying Mom's Birthday Cake

As expected, they were WONDERFUL! My favorites were the Vanilla Bean and the Key Lime cupcakes - so flavorful and delicious, and such creative flavors.

It was a wonderful, LA-tastic excursion and I will keep my eye out for the cupcake trend to hit Baltimore...but I won't hold my breath.

Happy eating,

EP

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