Friday, February 1, 2008

Burgers and Dogs!

by Xani

Er, rather, dogs and burgers! That's what I ate my last day in LA. Oh wait, did I also have breakfast that day? I did. At Lulu's Cafe. Another cute corner outdoor spot, I had decent huevos rancheros but neglected to take any pictures. After that we spent a few minutes watching the NFL playoffs (man football comes on early on the West Coast!) and headed to the world famous Pink's for hot dogs. But not just any hot dogs. Hot dogs that we waited NINETY MINUTES for. Yes, ninety. An hour and a half. Previous to this the only things I have waited in line that long for are: the Alpengeist roller coaster at Busch Gardens (gotta get front!), airport security during Thanksgiving 2001, and 50% off my entire purchase at Loehmann's (totally worth it).

Anyhow, after an hour and half in line (at least it was warm and sunny while back East temperatures hovered in the single digits) we ordered our dogs. I got the spicy polish dog with chili, mustard and onions. Andy got a couple of regular dogs with American cheese and god knows what else. But the real story was the guys in front of us. Pink's has a number of specialty dogs and whatever these guys ordered was special, indeed.

Andy and I watched in amazement, then growing horror as each of their hot dogs (super-sized stretch dogs, 10" long) was covered in chili and cheese, then onions, tomatoes and lettuce (??), THEN topped with a massive pile of bacon, THEN topped with an equally massive pile of grilled pastrami!!! It was unreal. Best line of the day-- Andy: "I guarantee you whoever is eating those things does not have health insurance." Genius! I wish I had gotten a picture. I did get one of my spicy polish dog, which was really delicious and FILLING.

After a few hours of digesting and more football, Jenny and I headed down to Santa Monica to do a little more shopping (why not?) and meet up with my cousin Ann for one more dinner. I really wanted to try The Counter ever since EP's great meal there when she visited. So off we went for some Build Your Own Burgers. But first, we had to share their Shake of the Month, Birthday Cake Shake! Vanilla Ice Cream Mixed with White Birthday Cake, Rainbow Sprinkles and Topped with Whipped Cream-- yummy! And they were nice enough to split it into thirds...

We started out with a little snack of 3x3x3-- a dish of french fries, sweet potato fries, and onion straws, served with 2 different dipping sauces. All three were really hot and crispy, but my favorite was the onion straws... no the sweet potato fries... no, straws! I just can't decide.

Three kinds of fried delicious-ness

Soon enough our custom built burgers arrived. I got mine medium-rare with sharp provolone, grilled onions, and red relish on the side. And it was very tasty!

I don't remember the specifics of Ann and Jenny's burgers. I know Jenny tried the turkey burger which she said was very good (for a turkey burger). Ann made the wise decision to get bacon on hers-- my kind of girl!

The burgers were great but were, sadly, my last meal of my LA visit. The next morning I was off to the airport, then homeward bound in a middle seat, in the back of the plane. Boo! My breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day consisted of one (1) in-flight bloody mary. Double boo! Travel is the pits! But, its worth it to be able to keep visiting great friends and family in LA (not to mention eating great food)!

Happy travels,


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Logo!

by Erin & Xani

You may have noticed that we've had a mini blog makeover! We are so excited about this new logo that the wonderful Michelle B. designed, and we can't thank her enough!

We also wanted to take this opportunity to remind you (in case you didn't know from our not-so-subtle hinting) that on February 23, 2008 we will be speaking on a food blogger panel at Great Tastes 2008, the mid-atlantic's premiere culinary expo! It will be a great event with food celebrities (e.g., Michael from season 2 of Bravo's Top Chef and Warren Brown, founder of CakeLove and host of The Food Network's Sugar Rush), seminars and talks, and lots of food and wine to taste and enjoy. It's at the Tremont Grand Hotel in downtown Baltimore (on St. Paul St., near Mercy Hospital) and it should be a lovely event. Buy your tickets today!

We'll see you there!

Happy eating,

E & X

ps. Reminder: This event is also advertised through our Facebook group ("I need my Black Coffee and a Donut") so join the group and RSVP there if you like!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Great Views and Great Food

by Xani

The next morning in LA we started on a healthy note, hiking at Runyon Canyon. This STEEP uphill hike provided me with an opportunity to take a couple non-food pictures:

The elusive Hollywood sign!

We worked up quite an appetite on that hike, so afterwards we headed to Toast (which you might remember from EP's visit a while back) and after a short wait we were seated at a table outside. I ordered the Shakshuka, described as "exotic breakfast treat of a slow roasted tomato, peppers and garlic stew, topped with over medium eggs - delicious! Served with toast." And indeed it was all of those things. It also came with a delicious fresh fruit cup. Jenny got her usual egg white scramblette.


There is certainly something to be said for eating outdoors! We had a lovely relaxing breakfast which allowed us to regain our strength and spend the next 5 hours shopping!

Later that evening, after all the shopping, a snack at Pinkberry, and a celebrity sighting (Bob Saget at the nail salon!), we went to meet Jenny's friend Remy at Craft Los Angeles. I was super-excited about this meal. Ever since EP went to Craftbar in NYC, I have been eager to go to a Tom Colicchio restaurant. And (spoiler alert!) it did NOT disappoint!

We ordered champagne cocktails at the bar before being seated at our cozy table. One thing I really liked about Craft was the atmosphere-- upscale but very relaxed. The lighting and level of noise were just right (well, lighting was just right for dining, not so much for picture-taking). The service was friendly and extremely competent. And the food... well, let's get started!

First, the amuse-bouche. This was a little bite of fresh, raw ahi tuna, a bit of yuzu (Japanese citrus), a spring of cilantro, and a few grains of crunchy fried rice. Certainly the perfect bite to start off the meal: savory, sour, crunchy, and absolutely delicious.

Jenny and Remy were kind enough to allow me to order for the table (thanks ladies!). It was a very tough job because the menu is extensive, and there are so many delicious-sounding things! I finally made my choices, got their approval on a couple of "unusual" picks and off we went. For the first course we ordered raw Japanese Hamachi & apple cider, roasted Peruvian octopus & Greek yoghurt, and roasted pork belly & Madras curry.


Terrible picture of octopus dish

Heavenly pork belly

All three dishes were very, very good. The himachi was really fresh, buttery and delicious. The apple cider flavor was delivered in little blocks of jello-like substance on top of the fish, and the sweet/sour flavor was a great compliment to the fish, along with the crunchy vegetable shreds and black sesame seed garnish. The octopus was tasty and well cooked, but was the weakest dish of the course. There was not enough of the Greek yoghurt sauce to go around, then the octopus on its own did not have quite enough flavor. I will say that it was extremely tender, unlike octopus I have had in the past (which was much like chewing on big chunks of rubber-- and that's being generous!).

The big winner of the course (and perhaps the whole meal) was the pork belly. Just WOW. So rich, so flavorful, so crispy and fatty and great. The curry flavor was very subtle. I could eat this dish every day and am currently scouring the Internet for similar recipes. My main concern is how to get the inside so soft and tender (braising?) but then get the outside to be perfectly crunchy... Chef Colicchio, if you are reading this, I must know your secret!!!

For the next course I ordered the roasted Niman Ranch flatiron steak, Brussels sprouts and smoked bacon, and braised leek and duck confit risotto. Again, no major disappointments:

I was dying at the cuteness of this little copper pot that they served the risotto in!

First off the steak: I have had a lot of steaks in my life and I have to say this was one of the most flavorful, well-cooked steaks I have had in a long time. I mistakenly believed that a Flat Iron steak was similar to a flank steak, but this article proved to be very enlightening. It was really, really good. Even though it was a small portion (with a hefty price tag!) it was so rich and flavorful that, along with the side dishes, it was plenty of food. The Brussels sprouts were perfectly cooked and deliciously bacon-y, and the risotto was pretty good. I didn't feel it was as good as others I have had, at restaurants or even cooked at home-- the texture was a little off. The pieces of duck confit perched on top were outstanding, however.

Finally we had had our fill of delicious, savory dishes, and it was time to move on to dessert! We were presented with a cute little dessert amuse, which I think was a lavender panna cotta with some kind of foam on top. I don't really love panna cotta so this didn't quite work for me. But luckily, Craft has an extensive dessert menu as well, including almost twenty flavors of sorbets, gelatos and ice creams. We ordered a sampler of 4 flavors: Madagascar vanilla ice cream, olive oil gelato, thyme sorbet and MAPLE BACON ice cream! I managed to get bacon into all three courses-- mission accomplished!

I used the tiny spoon that came with the amuse to eat the rest of my dessert!

All the flavors were very good. The vanilla was the most vanilla-y ice cream I have ever had. It was like a whole vanilla experience when you brought the spoon up to your mouth-- SO aromatic, so flavorful. A good pick by Jenny even though I originally thought it was boring! The olive oil gelato was tasty, but had a very mild flavor and was not as good as the one we tried at Pizza Mozza last time I was in LA. The thyme sorbet was soooo good. Just light and refreshing and packed with lemon-y, herbaceous flavors. The first thing I thought of when I tasted it was that it would make an excellent palate-cleanser between courses at a fancy meal. Then I thought it would probably be killer as a cocktail mixer-- a little scoop topped off with champagne (like a ice cream float, but a billion times better!), used instead of mint and sugar syrup for a thyme mojito, etc. Next time I have leftover thyme I will strongly consider turning it into sorbet, especially when summer rolls around!

Finally, the maple bacon ice cream. I have heard rumors of its existence, but I was thrilled to be able to actually try it at Craft! The maple ice cream was awesome-- very rich and sweet, maybe sweeter than you would want a normal ice cream to be, but the sweetness was perfectly set off by the salty, smoky bits of bacon! This is a genius dish. If I were to make one complaint, or adjust the recipe to make at home, it would be regarding the size/preparation of the bacon pieces. The pieces were about the size of lardons, fairly small cubes of crispy bacon. They could have been smaller and crispier. They were about pea-sized and I think about half that size (or smaller? we are getting into "bacon-bit" territory here now) would have been even better.

It seems now the meal would be over but no! Next came macarons (I tried these last time I was in LA-- I am so ahead of the food curve):

and THEN, a final little treat and what I thought was an adorable little touch by Craft, a little coffee cake from the bakery to take home for breakfast or a midnight snack!

Jenny and I display our gifts

I ended up giving mine to Jenny's husband Andy b/c I was so full I didn't think I could ever eat again, and also I don't like coffee cake that much-- too crumbly.

So, overall this meal was AWESOME. One of the best I have had in a while. I would definitely go back to Craft (except there are five hundred OTHER restaurants I want to try in LA!) and order some of their less mainstream dishes (sardines, sweetbreads, oxtails, pork cheeks, etc). I would, without hesitation, get the pork belly again. I suggest if you are anywhere near Craft LA, you do the same!


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