Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No. 177: Waterloo & City (Culver City)

Exterior & Signage
When I got the invite to check out the debut of Waterloo & City's brunch, I was a bit ambivalent about attending. Their menu is very meat-forward, and I didn't want to feel like the odd vegetarian out (or worse, fall off the wagon) but their PR assured me that a fellow vegetarian will be attending the event as well, so I accepted their generous offer and shlepped my non-meat-eating behind to Culver City.
Charcuterie Platter
That's not to say I wasn't tempted, especially when Proprietor & Exec. Chef Brendan Collins pulled out all the stops with his King's platter of housemade charucterie ($32,) including beef drippings, salmon & potato terrine, chicken liver & foie gras mousse and even more exotic cuts such as venison and rabbit (throw in a skunk and you got a butchered Bambi cast reunion! Thankfully, Collins didn't.)

Of course, sitting in the middle of table mean I was in the center of the pate and terrine "sharing" action, which eventually turned the beautiful display of meats into this . . .
Destroyed Charcuterie Platter
in the meantime, I found solace and comfort in my meatfree dishes . . .
Corn Soup w Parmesan Ravioli
A corn and pepper soup with parmesan cheese ravioli ($8) - rich and sweet with just a little bit of zip, it captured the essence of summer corn shucked at the peak of ripeness. Even though it was a hot summer afternoon, I can't help taking repeat sips of this piping hot soup. You say insanity, I say irresistibly delicious.
The Westside & Pimm's Cup cocktails
To counter the heat of the soup, I got a refreshing and perfect-for-brunch cocktail called "The Westside" ($10) a light and fragrant of beefeater 24 gin, watermelon, mint and lemonade. In hindsight, I wish I could bring it out on their lovely restaurant patio or game room, and relax and sip away while everyone else is going carnal on the charcuterie.
Frittata of the Day
For my entree, I got their frittata of the day ($10,) which incorporated tomatoes, eggplants and mozzarella cheese -- or as I call it, a breakfast moussaka. It was fluffy, cheesy, zesty with flavorful veggies, I also love that it's made to order in a precious-looking mini skillet (as opposed to the usual reheated slice of a larger frittata at most other places.)
Sticky Toffee Pudding
The tasty final bite came in the form of a trio of their desserts (and I'm definitely impressed that Chef Collins is also the pastry chef too!) All three were good, but my favorite was their sticky toffee pudding with milk ice cream and salted caramel ($8.) Again, being a hot baked sweet treat, it's more of a cold-weather item but it was just so decadently indulgent I had no shame going back for seconds, maybe thirds since no one was looking (moist sponge cake thoroughly soaked through with hot, buttery toffee sauce? yes please!) Besides, they're recovering from the meat-heavy brunch-induced food coma. Tough beans for them!

Leaving the hosted brunch thoroughly satisfied, I'm also glad that 1) I can actually survive a media meal as a vegetarian and 2) that even meat-forward places like Waterloo & City are taking time to put together tasty vegetarian-friendly options instead of relegating them to a generic minestrone soup & garden salad combo. And of course, I'm thrilled to discover a British-inspired place that I can bring my sheperd's pie, fish & chips and charcuterie loving friends to -- and we can still both find something great off the menu.

What Do Others Say?
- It got a solid 2.5 stars from LA Times for "its inspired British and Mediterranean fare."
- LAist did brunch with me that day, and agreed "the Sticky Toffee Puudding is . . . the way to go."
- Another brunch companion, Savory Hunter, gave props to its "ambitious but accessible cuisine, where the vibe is comfy and genial."
- Trippy Food & Deep End Dining collaborated on a slideshow-podcast recapping almost every dish served that day.
- Both Thirsty in LA & Grub Street LA got the lowdown on its two happy hours (5-7p & last two hours @ bar/lounge daily.)
- Caroline on Crack tried to go incognito but got caught by PR, but still "received very friendly and attentive service and the food . . . was delicious" prior to being recognized.
- Stuffy Cheaks went during opening week and "it won [her] heart."

More pics for my & dining companions' eats & drinks here

Waterloo & City
12517 West Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90066
(310) 391-4222

Monday, August 09, 2010

No. 176: Intelligentsia (Pasadena)

So this is what it feels like to be the most popular kid in the cafeteria . . .

Bagged Lunches from Heirloom LA
. . . a bagged lunch ($13 for the farmers market veggies one) from Heirloom LA, now available at the newly-opened Intelligentsia Pasadena. Since I was running errands all day today in preparation for a road trip along the California coast, this ready-to-takeout meal (along with a cup of coffee, of course!) was a great way to enjoy a little deliciousness on the go.

So what's inside the bag?
Heirloom LA bag lunch
A "perfectly sized" veggie sandwich (I placed it by the fork for scale), a container of potato & arugula salad and a wrapped muffin-cup sized tin of chocolate-hazelnut-banana bread pudding.
Farmers Market Sandwich
Making up for the sandwich's small size is its huge flavor, from the fresh-tasting roasted veggies (carrots, eggplant, zucchini and pepers) to the sweet & savory pumpkin puree, just a touch of garlic and herbs plus some cheesiness from the mozzarella and parmigano reggiano. It's definitely one of those sandwiches that saves well and even get better with time, with the different ingredients melding together and the cheesy bread soaking up the flavors. A heavenly half-dozen bites, though I definitely wish I could have a half-dozen more!
Roasted Potato Salad
When the Intelligentsia barista/cashier told me the sandwich came with a potato salad, I was expecting something heavy, mayo-laden, onion-breath-inducing; so it was a pleasant surprise to see a version that's comparatively light, not to mention tangy, herbacious and slightly sweet. The wedges of roasted potatoes are accompanied by wilted arugula, what I think is balsamic-caramelized shallots, sprigs of rosemary in a honey-ish vinaigrette. For someone expecting a heavier or more savory potato salad, this might be weird or even a turnoff but for someone like me who has a sweet tooth and loves cleaner and crisper flavors -- it was a 'no contest' against the traditional varieties that I can never stand eating more than a few bites of.
Chocolate-Banana Bread Pudding
Finally, the chocolate-banana pudding with bits of hazelnuts . . . again, deceptively small in apperance but big in taste, absolutely divine in dark chocolate flavors and just rich and gooey and great even served chilled (though now I can't imagine how it'd taste when reheated up!) A wonderful, indulgent finish to a light lunch and in hindsight, that sandwich is indeed 'perfectly sized' since after the pudding I felt satiated and not bloated and guilty (though I still wouldn't mind a few more bites of the sandwich.)

And as expected, the La Maravilla coffee from Guatemala ($3.50) was top-notch and an surprisingly good match with my bagged lunch. It was clean and crisp on the palate like the sandwich & the salad, with some fruit-backed cocoa notes like the bread pudding. And with just a slight hit of bright tanginess, it made for a great palate cleanser between courses without overwhelming the tastebuds.

Of course, now I can't wait to enjoy all the rotated-daily lunch items they serve in-house.

What Do Others Say?
- FoodGPS's Joshua Lurie provided a "what to expect" report for Feast LA.
- Mattatouille attended the media preview (and snapped a photo of me!) and simply called it "one of my favorite places in the city" and looking forward to more from their menu, beer & wine selections and of course, the coffee.
- Gourmet Pigs gave it a first look from the media preview, found it "a definite upgrade in the space that used to be Wok 'n Roll . . . [and] easily the best restaurant in Old Town"
- LA Weekly's Squid Ink filed a more objective outlook but said it's "a beautiful space"
- LA Times' Daily Dish also provided a brief report and some photos from the media preview
- Eater LA checked it out in soft opening phase, deemed it "appropriately hipster-marvelous"
- Gmangoman also went during its soft opening, called it it a "much needed addition to the Old Town Pasadena restaurant mix"

A few more photos on my flickr set here

55 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91105

Heirloom LA's website & twitter

Thursday, August 05, 2010

No. 175: 320 Main (Seal Beach)

Considering I'm only 20 minutes away from downtown LA and its ever-burgeoning cocktail scene, going O.C. isn't really on the top of my mind when I feel like checking out drinks. But, as chance would have it, I had a (not-so) little road trip between going-ons in Huntington Beach and Culver City this past weekend and had some time to kill, so I decided to take a little pit stop in Seal Beach to swing by 320 Main, a newish restaurant & bar that Rumdood heartily (and repeatedly) recommended for some great sips.

Even though it's just a few blocks away from the shore, this is definitely not the typical beach bar. With its vintage interior that harks back to the early 20th century and an impressive collection of spirits and bitters, I felt assured that I'd be in good bar hands.
320 Main cocktail menu
More reassurance came when I checked out its cocktail menu. Sorry, beach tourists and college students -- you won't find the likes of appletinis or frozen-blended daiquiris here. The list here is a good mix of longstanding classics, both familiar (Mint Julep, Old Fashioned) and a bit more esoteric (Tequila Daisy, Rum Swizzle), alongside with complex & contemporary creations.
Jason making Sweet Bricia
Being no stranger to most of the classics, I opted to try one of their signature cocktails, Sweet Bricia ($12,) named after the fun-loving Bricia Lopez of Pal Cabron. Made with mezcal and tequila, creme de cassis, apricot liqueur, citrus and nutmeg - shaken and served over crushed ice, it was a provocatively delicious cocktail, with so many different flavors working together: the citrusy tang, a fruity fragrance from the apricot and currant liqueurs, with a smidge of nutmeg spice against a slightly-smoky foundation of the mezcal-tequila base. And at the same time, even with so many diverse components, it didn't feel like there was too much going on in there ~ as a matter of fact, it was so simply refreshing and quaffable I sucked the entire cocktail down in a matter of minutes. And yes, I totally forgot take a photo of the drink itself -- but at least I did get one of owner Jason Schiffer preparing it.
The Devil's Own
Next, I asked Jason to choose my next drink, and he opted for The Devil's Own ($11,) a sinful concoction made with Zaya rum, Fernet Branca, Gran Gala, vanilla syrup, absinthe and lemon essence. Sweet smelling and heavier bodied, this drink tasted good but I felt iffy about it in the middle of a summer afternoon... the richer texture and the warmer flavors gave the drink manhattan-ish quality that makes it more appropriate for an evening cocktail, perhaps before dinner or as a nightcap.
Mai Tai
Picking up on that hint, Jason made me a Mai Tai ($10,) with their housemade orgeat and based on Trader Vic's recipe. So refreshing and way more in tune with the beach season, and definitely better than the one I tried at Don the Beachcomber's on a recent urban hike.
To help me wash down all that alchy, I also got their happy hour bruschetta ($4) - three long and thick slices of garlic-rubbed and grilled French bread topped with chopped roma tomatoes, basil and parmesan cheese shreds and a balsamic drizzle. Just like the two cocktails I wound up drinking, a warm-weather appropriate bite that's flavorful and not too heavy (though I would've actually ordered something more substantial if I wasn't already planning on a Le Saint Amour dinner shortly later that day.)
Bar @ 320 Main
And as I settled my bill (and discovered Jason comp'd one of my drinks, thanks!) and took a stroll down Seal Beach, I'm already making a mental note to come back to check out more from their food and drink menu. From what I had so far, 320 Main definitely holds its own against the cocktail-forward bars of L.A. (and I even say better than some of them) and maybe with time, O.C. can carve out its own unique drinking (and dining) identity and not be thought of as L.A.'s second fiddle.

What Do Others Say?
- LA Times' Daily Dish considers it a "new address to remember for anyone interested in cocktails."
- OC Weekly's blog calls it " great place to get both the classics from the Age of the Cocktail. . . and new inventions created by mixologists with good palates."
- The Press-Telegram found "the service at 320 Main was excellent and enveloping . . . prices are a bit high for this area, but . . . they're reasonable for the quality of food and service."
- Thirsty in LA highlighted the Bricia-inspired drink here & at other local bars.

320 Main
320 Main Street
Seal Beach, CA 90740

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

No. 174: Le Saint Amour (Culver City)

When people ask me if going veggie is limiting on my eatery selection, my usual response has been "asides from sushi bars and steakhouses, not really." However, subconsciously, I kinda ruled out French restaurants too. Because really, not counting desserts, how many French vegetarian dishes can you name? Asides from ratatouille.

Le Saint Amour Exterior
So I had mixed feelings upon accepting an invite to check out Le Saint Amour in Culver City, where unsurprisingly most of the dishes utilizes some form of meat, fowl or fish, and the menu furthermore boasts that the chef-owner Bruno Herve-Commereuc makes his own sausages, terrines and charcuterie items. Things seemed even grimmer when my plus-one, whom I asked to come along to provide an omnivore perspective, bowed out last minute for an emergency.

But what turns out to be a shocker is me having a hard time choosing between the promising vegetarian dishes available on the menu, and what two or three things I can order with my finite stomach space.
Monmousseau Rosé Sparkling
To help stall for time to make food decisions, I got a glass of Monmousseau sparkling rosé ($9) from the Loire Valley; another expectation blown out of water, as you can tell from its uncharacteristically copper hue, foreshadowing its markedly different flavor profile to most other blush bubblies; rather than smelling berry-forward & slightly toasty, this one is more like a poached pear with warm sweet spices and a bit of vanilla-honey-maple aromas too, something I'd expect more from a Cognac or a bourbon. Flavorwise, it had a touch of sweetness and a slightly heavier body but still enough acidity to make it a nice meal-starting sipper.
Burrata & Tomato Confit
For starters, I contemplated getting their mozzarella & leek tarte flambé ~ but scared that the flatbread will be gianormous, I went for the more sensible-sounding burrata with tomato confit and pesto ($10) instead. And I am very pleased with the choice as this turned out to be amazing dish, the tomatoes were wonderfully ripe-tasting and so unbelievably sweet that I even asked co-owner Florence (Bruno's wife) if any sugar or syrup was added, which was an obvious 'No' (they've just been oven-roasted very slowly with a little olive oil and garlic, she replied.) Whereas a caprese salad might have needed some balsamic vinegar for the sweetness, here the caramelized sugars of the roasted tomatoes were enough to complement the garlicky-basily pesto and the creamy-richness of the burrata. Furthermore, the tomatoes were served atop crispy polenta triangles (better view here) which were a nice textural contrast against the everything else on the plate.

As main dish, I also faced a little tough choice -- deliberating between getting a salad, their penne with arugula and garlic confit or their trio of their side dishes. Opting for a little more variety, I went with the third option and got a side course plate of pomme frites, sauteed lentils and oyster mushrooms fricasee ($16).
Veggie Sides Trio
Of the three, the third left the most remarkable impression, the oyster mushrooms had tons of woodsy flavor and a deceptively meaty texture (in fact, when it first arrived I thought there might've been chicken in the fricasee from appearance alone!) The lentils were a nice little surprise too, being used to lentils stewed to a mush in Indian restaurants, it was nice change of pace to get this firmer, sauteed version -- kind of like Israeli couscous in mouthfeel with an earthy, stewed black bean taste. Finally, the frites, lightly tossed with salt, garlic and parsley -- they were good and actually reminded me of SeriousEats' perfectly thin and crispy fries since they pretty much fulfilled every criteria. But my personal allegiance lies with the thicker, twice-fried frites like the ones at Wurstkuche or the fried-extra-long "well done" version at In 'n Out so these didn't wow me on their own. However, I discovered that I can DIY my own garlic fries by dipping these in the garlic-infused oil that the starter olives were soaking in (comes with bread service) so by the meal's end the plate was pretty much devoid of the taters too.
Floating Island
For dessert, I asked Florence to recommend her favorite from the menu and thus, I got the floating island ($8), a simple but elegant dessert with consisting of a meringue floating atop a sea of creme anglaise. No stranger to this dessert, I was pleased that the meringue was on soft, wet and whippy side like the topping of a lemon meringue pie as opposed to a hard & crumbly like macaron cookie or a pavlova--since this means I don't have to deal fragile pieces flaking and breaking off and getting soggy too fast. The anglaise itself, with little snakey ribbons of caramel, was also delightful -- a perfectly slurpable dessert soup that I kept spooning long after the meringue island is gone. If my adjacent tables were vacant, I might've even sucked out every last drop from the rim of the bowl. But alas, they weren't, so I stayed civil.
Saint Amour Patio
As I was sipping my espresso and going over my notes, I was also observing the number of French patrons this place attracted . . . even in the cozy patio that seats about 30 max, there were at least three four-tops where the customers spoke in complete French to Florence and the waitstaff. No stranger to ethnic dining in So Cal, this definitely speaks for the restaurant's authenticity as a brasserie, not to mention building a good enough loyalty amongst clientele that they feel comfortable enough to speak in their native tongue amongst each other and to the almost all-French crew. In the same brasserie vain, the prices here are very reasonable, with starters & wines by the glass around $10, entrees around $20 and desserts at $8.

And of course, the biggest endorsement I could make for a hosted meal is whether I would come back on my own dime, which I would happily do and actually looking forward to . . . even as a vegetarian. I can't wait find a plus-one to share that leek-mozzarella tart with and finally get that meat-eaters perspective, and I for one am already feeling the amour for that tomato confit and floating island.

What Do Others Say?
- Food, She Thought found "the concept is simple and lovely, the execution could be better" but still plans on a return trip
- Exilekiss said it "still needs to settle in and refine itself" but gave props for a few consistently solid dishes
- LA Foodblogging loved their bread and housemade charcuterie, finding it a "perfect place to settle down with a long, leisurely lunch and a glass of wine"
- Tomostyle "could go on and on, as I cannot contain my excitement" for this place's "true French bistro food in a true French bistro environment with true French staff and true French hospitality."
- LA Times' S. Irene gave it a lukewarm one star but does give "thanks to two hardworking French expats for bringing us a brasserie that celebrates typical French cuisine"
- LA Weekly's Jonathan Gold called it "Paris in Culver City" and a "decidedly useful bistro" with an "air of cheerful Parisian diffidence that is hard to manufacture."
- LA.com liked the food and that "the bar and waitstaff are almost entirely French [staffed], and not only that, but they are actually polite"
- Culver City Crossroads' Mary McGrath was impressed and said "it lives up to the reputation. It’s affordable, and there are no noses in the air."

Le Saint Amour
9725 Culver Blvd
Culver city, CA 90232
(310) 842-8155

Le Saint Amour on Urbanspoon


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