Thursday, January 24, 2008

Back to Cali

by Xani

From Texas I headed off to sunny Los Angeles. EP and I have been lucky enough to get out to the West Coast a couple of times lately (and I've got more trips coming up)-- we're practically bi-coastal!

My first day back in Cali my lovely cousin Ann picked me up for a day of eating and adventure. Well, mostly just eating, but with some adventure thrown in for good measure? Um... yeah. A quick stop at Peet's Coffee (not sure which location-- it was right across the street from the famous Viper Room) for a fuel-up, and then we were off to Malibu!

After a scenic drive up Pacific Coast Highway and we arrived at Lilly's Cafe & Pastries for, what else, (more) coffee and donuts! Check out our selection:

The donuts at Lilly's are freshly made and the apple fritter (top left) is especially good. If I was forced, at gunpoint, to identify a negative quality of standard donuts, it would be that they don't have much crunch. The apple fritter, however, was flawless: delicious fried donut goodness, fresh apple taste, and crunchy around the edges. Delicioso! The cruller and chocolate frosted were fine specimens as well. Apparently Lilly's also makes killer burritos, but they weren't on the agenda that particular day. I'll have to save those for another time.

After a nice long walk on the beach, watching dolphins leap, dogs play, and surfers wait patiently for waves, it was time for our next meal. Cholada Thai Cuisine in Malibu is a dive-y little joint right on Pacific Coast Highway, with a reputation for killer Thai food. By this time I was hungry again and ready for a nice cold beer and some spicy lunch!

For starters we got the green papaya salad and a never before seen dish called Kanum Jeep, described as steamed wontons filled with chestnuts and ground pork topped with roasted minced garlic.

One bite of the papaya salad and I was sold. This is my regular appetizer order when I go for Thai food (as I've described here) and this was definitely the best I can remember having in a loooong time! Lots of flavor, plenty of heat, nice and crunchy with two perfectly cooked shrimp perched on top. Great start to the meal. The dumplings were another big hit. I was intrigued by the combination of chestnuts and pork. The little dumplings were very flavorful (read:garlicky) and the two sauces served along side were good and HOT.

Next we had two more dishes: a pumpkin and eggplant curry with tofu, and drunken noodles with chicken.

Behold! A well lit photo!

Never seen one of those on this blog before, huh?

Both dishes were very good. I especially like the pumpkin and eggplant curry, which was decently spicy, and the flavors and textures of the veggies and tofu were great. Everything tasted very fresh and not over-cooked or mushy at all. The drunken noodles were seriously spicy (I think it almost killed Andy, one of my hosts for the weekend, when he unknowingly ate the leftovers) with plenty of flavor, but they were the weakest dish of the bunch. They just couldn't compete with the other outstanding dishes!

We finished off the afternoon by heading to Vanilla Bakery which you might remember from EP's visit a while back. I wanted to try their cupcake babies for myself! Oh, and I wanted to be a wonderful house guest and bring a dozen of them home for Jenny and Andy. And I did. Here they are:

They are every bit as good as they look!

I'm almost embarrassed to admit this but there was yet MORE food to come that night. Jenny and I were both too full to eat any more (or so we thought) and so we cancelled our plans to try a macrobiotic/vegan place for dinner, and instead headed to Celadon for JUST DRINKS. Yeah, right.

After half a drink we decided we had room for a couple of appetizers. We ordered the Tuna Tartar Lollipops (with tempura crispy rice and sesame seaweed salad) and, of course, Kobe Beef Spicy Tahini Sliders, because I am a sucker for a baby burger.

Check out how tiny!! Barely bigger than an olive...

Ordering food was definitely the right decision. The tuna dish was spicy and crunchy (sort of like a deconstructed spicy tuna roll, if the sushi chef was on crack and accidentally tempura fried the sushi rice), and the burgers were AWESOME. Better than the ones from Texas. Also, way more money. I guess you get what you pay for!

Finally we were done eating for the day (well, except for a late night cupcake baby or two) and hit The Improv for some very funny stand-up comedy. All in all, a GREAT day in LA, and more to come!

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