Thursday, September 24, 2015

Clifton's Cafeteria Re-Opens in Downtown L.A.: Don't Miss the Details!

The re-opening of Clifton's in downtown L.A. is one of the biggest events of the year, for everyone from tiki cocktail aficionados to historic preservationists to downtown revitalization advocates (ok, there's a lot of overlaps in those groups.)
Photos of Clifton's Cafeteria's wonderful restoration and re-opening after four years of rebuilding are everywhere. The stuffed bears! The rock walls! The giant tree!

The first and second floors will open (hopefully) this week including a cafeteria with much-improved food, seating area and bakery on the first floor and woodsy bar and cozy lounge on the second floor. Eventually there will be a tiki bar on the fourth floor with decor from the late Bahooka Polynesian restaurant in Rosemead, a sit-down steakhouse from chef Jason Fullilove and a speakeasy style bar in the basement, near the still-illuminated neon that was discovered during renovation and hadn't been turned off in decades.

"Edison" owner Andrew Meieran acquired the 1932 gem and has been laboriously restoring and redecorating for four years, but thankfully, he saved many of the vintage kitchen items that are now on display along with critters from the Natural History Museum and the giant tree in the middle of the restaurant.

Owned by a devoutly religious family since the beginning, Clifton's had never served alcohol, but a woodsy new bar on the second floor will now dispense classic cocktails from behind an antique bar with a burl wood counter.

When you go to sample a Moscow Mule and hand-carved roastbeef sandwich, don't miss all the period details that were kept and polished up, like the slicers, orangeade dispensers, art deco coffee urns and more. And don't forget to look down at tiled floors and ground-level dioramas, sure to be a hit with the kids. And finally, the jello. It's back, but in gourmet form, with lavender mousse and edible flowers this time around.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Baroo: Did This "Free-Style Experimental Kitchen" Just Usher in the Latest Hot Neighborhood?

pork belly taco

If you are driving east on Santa Monica Blvd. and you overshoot the mini-mall that is home to Baroo, "a free-style experimental kitchen" of Korean-influenced fermented foods, you will probably find parking just a little ways past Wilton Place. You will traverse a short stretch of sidewalk that's home to at least three businesses catering to Oaxacans, a dubious nightspot known as Gold Diggers, the doorway to the exceedingly sketchy Harvey Apartments and a small, non-threatening gang of guys and their large flashy motorcycles. At least you certainly can't say that east Hollywood has become too gentrified.

the kombucha fermenting area

The mini-mall is deserted at night except for the blank white lighted sign in front of Baroo. For some reason I thought I had already read an article deeming Baroo "the most hipster restaurant ever," but maybe I imagined it. It was probably this Eater article instead, What's Up With This Bizarre Fermentation Restaurant in a Hollywood Strip Mall?

Inside the small cafe is a communal table, shelves stocked with fermenting potions in various stages and a counter piled high with notable cookbooks, a nod to tradition and technique also seen at places like St. Martha.

If Sqirl is too bougie now, but you like the vibe and want even more fermented veggies in your grain and egg bowl, then this could be your spot. I confess, I have not yet eaten a full meal there, but I couldn't resist posting some early impressions from a small gathering I attended.

I'm not even sure if the pork belly tacos we tasted are on the menu, but they certainly should be, since they were Hoisin-intensive, fatty in the best way, mildly spicy flavor bombs. Natto wraps, on the other hand, are not the strongest fermented soybean product I've ever tasted but are still most likely a taste that appeals to a select few.

On the blackboard menu, only an oxtail pasta dish has meat in it - most of the bowls are composed of a number of unusual-sounding ingredients (roasted Koji ink cream, Jobs tears) and grains, possibly with an egg on top. Several Kombuchas are brewing on the shelves with innovative flavors like Rose and Elderflower, along with a slew of pickles that can be ordered in a $2 tasting plate.

Open just three weeks, Baroo is headed by chef Kwang Uh, who worked at New York's Picholine and Daniel and staged at Noma, then opened this simple yet innovative restaurant with his friend Matthew Kim. I'll certainly be back soon to what those Jobs Tears are all about.

East Hollywood: It's the next frontier. De Sano Pizza knows that already -- and maybe soon, everyone will.

Baroo, at 5706 Santa Monica Blvd, is open for lunch and dinner every day except Sunday.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Get Roy Choi's Food While Chilling on the Couch With the Munchery

Ever have a craving for Pot's kimchi-fried rice, but you're so fried from work you absolutely can't move a muscle, except for the one that opens an app on your phone? Or how about cheezy short rib ramen? Chef and serial entrepreneur Roy Choi has partnered with food delivery service Munchery to offer two dishes for home delivery that epitomize his over-the-top, throw a lot of ingredients together that all manage to taste amazing cooking style. Even if you're not hungover, the fried rice makes the perfect quick lunch of dinner. My recommendation would be that one egg mixed into the fried rice is probably just right, while two is just a bit de trop.
Munchery, which is five years old in San Francisco but just launched in L.A. a few months ago, is currently delivering mostly west of Western but plans to add Eastside areas soon. If you're not in the mood for fried rice or ramen, they have a large selection of other entrees and sides to choose from, and everything is cooked fresh each day near L.A. We also tried orecchiette with prosciutto and burrata and chicken with broccolini and black rice. Both were terrific, but but don't mistake this for those austere diet food delivery services -- the restaurant-quality meals don't stint on the butter. Each entree ranges from $8.95 to $11.95, making it pretty similar in price to services like Blue Apron where you cook the meals yourself with ingredients that get shipped across the country. Sure, it would be great to cook every meal at home from scratch, but if you're super busy, these services are a godsend. Delivery to your home or office is $2.95 within a specified window between 4 and 9 pm or $4.50 on demand.
Go to to see if you're in their delivery area and get a look at this week's the menu items.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Maré on Melrose: Your New Favorite Secret Summer Patio

This month's Larchmont Ledger review was Maré on Melrose. Go to the neighborhood paper's website to see how many forks it got.

To find the sweet little hidden restaurant Maré, start at Greenspan's Grilled Cheese shop on Melrose. Now walk confidently through to the kitchen at the rear. It may look like a dead-end, but the kitchen staff will point you to a heavy door that looks like it might lead to a walk-in cooler. Don't worry, you're not about to be deep-frozen: the door leads to the former Foundry chef's pleasant new all-patio restaurant that features a tightly-edited menu that concentrates on Mediterranean-style seafood and lots of seasonal vegetables.

A pleasant patio restaurant with no indoor seats

With polished service and fresh, assured flavors, Maré will hopefully stick around long enough to get some use out of the many available heat lamps. You emerge from of the grilled cheese shop's kitchen into a patio with a hostess station and waiting area. Reservations are available for parties of six and more only, so kill some time on the foosball table if there’s a wait.

While you’re considering the menu, an array of snacks is placed on the brown paper table covering: a dish of preserved kumquats and tiny olives, seeded baguettes, pickled sweet peppers. There are certainly worse ways to while away an evening than sipping rosé and dipping bread into the little wood dishes of dipping oil and pickles.

this pleasant spread greats diners on arrival

If you haven’t stopped by the Melrose Umbrella Company next door first, there are muddled fruit cocktails, like tequila with kumquat or whiskey with fig and oregano. For now the wine list keeps it super-simple with one house choice of each color, though it may eventually grow.

There’s something relaxing about the lack of choices at Mare. Order a selection of a pretty tray of crudités with two dips and an array of lightly steamed and raw veggies, a very Italian Riviera plate of small fried smelts, maybe a whole grilled branzino or a special like supple slices of raw scallops topped with plums, salsa verde and crunchy sea beans.

Almost every table gets one of the shellfish dishes: Mussels, shrimp or clams are available with a handful of broth variations from white wine to curry to corn. A bowl of plain spaghetti arrives alongside the mussels, along with a raw egg, and the diner is instructed to mix the egg, pasta and leftover broth to form a sort of a French ramen, a nice touch that makes for a heartier dish.

For dessert, choose between a few simple selections like sorbet, semolina cake with fruit compote or chili chocolate crepes.
raw scallops with sea beans and salsa verde

Maré’s slightly improvisational feel, enthusiastic service and reasonable prices make it a fine spot for a mid-city summer supper. With just a few more dishes on the menu -- perhaps a cheese and charcuterie plate – it could end up being everyone’s favorite secret spot.

Mare Melrose, 7465 Melrose Ave., 323-592-3226

Friday, July 17, 2015

Lamill Coffee Freshens Up Menu, Streamlines Premium Coffee Program

Silver Lakers pack Lamill to work, caffeinate and socialize

When Lamill Coffee Boutique opened seven years ago, EatingLA wondered whether it might be "too spiffy for scruffy Silver Lake?" Well, Silver Lake isn't so scruffy anymore, and since 2008 the area has seen the arrival of various new wave coffee purveyors such as Intelligentsia, Dinosaur, Caffe Vita, Sqirl, Go Get 'Em Tiger, Proof Bakery, Broome St. and many more. But Lamill's fanciful decor stands above the plywood aesthetic of the more minimal spots.
Lamill is one of the few coffee roasters that is actually local (Groundworks and Bar Nine are a few of the others), and over the years the Silver Lake Blvd. cafe has simplified its beverage program to bring it more in line with what the neighborhood prefers. Gone are the pricey and whimsical concoctions like "coffee and a cigarette" with tobacco-infused whipped cream -- more recently the cafe has moved to offering a half dozen freshly-roasted blends and single origin coffees available with three brewing methods: Clover vacuum brewing, hand drip or French press. Fortunately the excellent Hong Kong Milk Tea is still on the menu along with a dozen other tea selections from Lamill's own label.
Boursin omelette with roasted tomatoes
Chef James Trees (Hutchinson, Michael Mina, Whist) has given the menu a freshening up, with house-made pastries and maple espresso brioche donuts, a wide brunch selection and lunch and dinner entrees. When Lamill opened, the neighborhood was aghast a the prices, but now they're in line with the rest of the area. On the menu for breakfast and brunch are the ubiquitous avocado toast smeared with what must be an entire avocado; smoked salmon toast; a terrific, classic Boursin omelette; Eggs Benedict and chicken and waffles.
If you don't tend to think of Lamill as a place for lunch or dinner, think again -- try a croque monsieur, shrimp 'n grits, the Lamill Burger, steak frites or salads. There's also wine and six different craft beer selections. Lamill is open until 10 pm, 11 pm on weekends.

Lamill Coffee Boutique
1636 Silver Lake Blvd.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Ostrich Farm: Echo Park's Cozy, Stylish Spot Flies Under the Radar

Ostrich Farm's interior is simple but not austere

Some very good restaurants have opened in the area this year, and Echo Park's Ostrich Farm is one of the best of the lot. It was also a good chance to read up on why it's called Ostrich Farm, since I had heard more about the South Pasadena bird attraction than the Griffith Park one. In this month's Los Feliz Ledger, I gave it the top rating of four forks. Read the review:

Ostrich Farm is the swankiest place to open in Echo Park since since Allumette closed up a year ago. But where Allumette's ambitious, borderline-molecular dishes never quite seemed comfortable in the former Allston Yacht Club space, Ostrich Farm and its light touch with new American cuisine feels like the right spot at the right time.
seared shrimp and asparagus

Ostrich Farm proprietors Jaime Turrey (who ran the Monsieur Egg cart) and Brooke Fruchtman (a former LACMA exec) are first-time restaurant owners, but after five months they seem to have everything running smoothly, with a clientele that includes lots of locals of all ages and the occasional movie star.
The former purple-painted pupuseria is now a bright, white space with big windows looking out on Sunset, a long marble bar and sage leatherette banquettes. The only wall decoration is a block-printed tapestry, which combines with modern gold lamps, vases of baby's breath on each table and rough linen napkins for a stylish rustic look right down to the stubby wine glasses.
flatbread with grilled peaches and burrata

The menu seems simple at first glance, with a few flatbreads, the now-inevitable chicken liver toast, mussels and meatballs among the starters. But layers of flavors are revealed when you bite into the flatbread with grilled peaches, fennel and a generous puddle of burrata, which you'll want to snack on forever with a glass of rose or Sauvignon blanc. Grilled shrimp and asparagus, topped with shards of parmesan, looks basic, but the perfectly-grilled shellfish is a light complement to some of the richer dishes.
pork osso buco with polenta

Sea bass, rib eye steak, and roast chicken make up most of the entrees along with a braised beef pot pie and pork "osso buco" style. The pork is a bowl of pure comfort, with pillows of braised meat resting on a bed of pudding-like polenta decorated with broccolini, roasted fennel and roasted tomatoes. It's the kind of dish where each forkful is an experiment in combining salty, bitter, smooth and savory to create just the right flavor in your mouth. A soft-shell crab BLT sandwich special gets a little confused with layers of mayonnaise, roasted tomatoes and thick-cut bacon on sourdough bread but it's hard to complain about something so decadently satisfying.
The dessert list is small but more tempting than most -- salted dark chocolate tart sounds appealing, but we tried a cherry galette topped with whipped cream and a marzipan base, the ideal celebration of the current season's fruit. 
Sadly, Ostrich Farm is unable to use its rear patio for seating due to noise concerns
Ostrich Farm (named for the railway that ran to a 1880s Griffith Park tourist attraction), seems to have figured out how to be stylish without being pretentious and creative without being fussy. You could buy 50 pupusas for the price of a meal for two here, but right now, this is what the area wants.

Ostrich Farm, 1525 W. Sunset Blvd., 213-537-0657

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

What's New at Chaya Downtown? Fish Straight from Japan and the Return of the Beer Garden

The patio beer garden is a fine spot on warm summer nights
Chaya Downtown is hosting a weeknight beer garden for the fourth year, featuring kushiyaki skewers and other items grilled on the outside patio, beer and pitcher specials and boozy popsicles. But what's new at the 5-year old restaurant is the Kaisen bar, a fresh seafood bar that replaces the sushi bar.
Chef Joji Inoue flies in a variety of fish fresh from Japan twice a week, including the scary-looking but delicious spotted knifejaw, orata, branzino, threeline grunt and opal eye. Oysters, lobster and crab are also sourced from the best regions and flown in several times a week. Fish is available grilled, baked in sea salt or deep-fried.
Stuart Haygarth's whimsical chandelier at Chaya
Sea Robin, grouper, bonnet fish and tilefish are just some of the hard-to-find varieties
Chef Inoue also prepares battera sushi -- the Osaka style layers rice and fish in a box for a compelling presentation. The Kaisen bar menu is served every night at dinner along with other Chaya specialties. The beer garden starts at 4, Monday to Friday; happy hour is every night until 8, one of Downtown's good values.
Chaya Downtown 
525 S. Flower St.

(I was invited to try this restaurant)

Monday, June 15, 2015

La Tostaderia: Fish Tacos and Ceviche Stand Out at Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market's recent addition of ceviche and fish taco stand La Tostaderia joins Wexler's Deli as the latest reason you don't have to spend an hour in line at Eggslut to have a delicious meal at the rapidly-changing food hall. Owner Fernando Villagomez has long run carnitas stand Las Morelianas in the market, and he's now partnering with chef Sandra Felix for a counter that's an ode to fresh, modern Mexican seafood preparations.

fish tacos at la Tostaderia

Both fish and shrimp tacos were excellent, with green salsa verde providing a tart, zingy contrast to freshly-fried nuggets of corvina fish topped with crunchy bits of pork chicharones.

campechana verde ceviche

While the tacos were our favorite at a recent tasting, ceviches were also a cut above most Mexican restaurants in L.A., especially the smooth and tangy Campechana verde with shrimp, squid, scallops and corn nuts and the scallop aguachile. Most dishes are $8-10, but that seems worth it for the fat tacos and solid portions of ceviche. When Golden Road Brewing opens later this year in the market, their beers should make the perfect pairing with La Tostaderia's appealing seafood dishes.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Is Nancy's Fancy 'The Gelato That Will Change America'?

That's a lot of pressure to put on a frozen dessert, so let's assess this new and luxurious product that one chef said could convert Americans from ice cream to gelato.
What/who: Nancy's Fancy comes from Nancy Silverton, co-owner of Mozza, founder of La Brea Bakery and Beard award-winning pastry chef. They're made at the L.A. Creamery facility in Chatsworth.To me, gelato only tastes different from ice cream when you're eating it in Italy or at least housemade at a gelato specialty shop. So to my taste, these packaged pints are on the same playing field as other upscale ice creams found around L.A.

Flavors considered in reverse order of preference:
1) Butterscotch budino with salted caramel swirl: Mozza is known for its uber-rich butterscotch budino dessert; this version adds a salted caramel swirl. The layer upon layer of deeply caramelized flavor is wonderful but best in small doses; a little too sweet overall. B
2) Frutti di bosco: Berries with Greek yogurt have a bright, deep berry flavor. Almost too intense, but perfect paired with something blander. A-
3) Coconut stracciatella: This gelato surprisingly has no dairy, just luscious coconut cream with finely ground chocolate shavings. It's way creamier than the typical sorbet or soy ice cream, with a fairly strong salty component that I personally found addictive playing off the bittersweet chocolate. A
4) Roasted banana with bourbon & pecan praline: It's easy to tell how good this is going to taste from the name alone. The banana flavor is subtle, but combined with the bourbon undercurrent and crunchy sweet praline bits, it's the winning entry so far. A+

Price: $10.99 a pint. Yep, it's a lot, but it's also the same as Jeni's and in line with places like Salt & Straw and Carmela. If you're a quality over quantity ice cream person, as I am, it could be worth the splurge. There's probably no gelato that will actually get Americans to stop eating cheap, low-quality ice cream, but this could definitely change your bringing-dessert-to-a-friend's-house-game.
I'm looking forward to trying some other flavors in the works like Chunky peanut butter with salted peanuts and Stumptown spiced coffee with cocoa nibs.
Available at: Gelson's Markets

( I was provided this ice cream to try but I would have definitely tried it on my own as well.)

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Carousel Restaurant: When the Original is Still the Best

The interior is brighter and more open than before.

In this month's Los Feliz Ledger, EatingLA paid a return visit to Carousel, which has recently redecorated.

Why to go: After more than 30 years, a recent facelift and a beer and wine license is the perfect reason to revisit Carousel in East Hollywood, which still turns out some of the city's best Middle Eastern cooking.
The look: Carousel retained its 1980s mini-mall ambiance for decades, while the more lavishly decorated
location on Brand Boulevard in Glendale seemed to get all the attention from the Tcholakian family. Now Carousel's original restaurant on Hollywood Blvd near Normandie is more inviting, with an opened-up layout, black and white photos and carved wood accents replacing the hotel-room art and frosted glass dividers. Bright canvas awnings shield the sidewalk tables from the parking lot, and some even bring their doggies to dine al fresco.
Carousel is now serving beer and wine

The food: After trying "modern" Mediterranean dishes elsewhere like kale tabbouli, you might find
yourself dreaming of Carousel's perfectly-balanced fattouch salad or its bracingly tart, herb-flecked cabbage salad that's the perfect foil to the richness of charred lamb kebabs or creamy hummus. The homestyle Lebanese dishes at Carousel define the flavors that others experiment with, but sometimes the original is still the best.
Vegetarian sampler is the perfect way to try everything

Entree kebabs and samplers are a good value for plenty of food, but make sure to explore the more unusual corners of the appetizer menu. Tabbouli comes in regular and a "red" variety with sauteed tomatoes and onions, while hummus gains another dimension with toppings of ground beef or Armenian soujouk sausage. Carousel was where I first tried muhammara, the fruity, lightly- spiced dip made of red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate, and it's hard to find a better version. I had already tried fattoush salad before I ever went to Carousel, growing fond of the combination of crunchy pita slices, cucumbers, tomatoes and purslane. But as soon as I tasted Carousel's bright citrus-sumac vinaigrette, I could tell a new standard had been set for the signature salad.
Beef Kofta

Kebbeh, or steak tartare, is one of the most popular traditional dishes, but if you prefer beef to be cooked, try Beef Kofta, fried torpedos of ground beef and pine nuts that start the meal off just right. You'll want to assemble various deliciously garlicky concoctions using pita bread and meats as a base, so make sure appetizers include several spreads like smooth eggplant mutabbal or moussaka and creamy lebneh (yogurt cheese).
Save room for baklava and Armenian coffee after dinner, and or try something different like the fragrant rosewater and Lebanese cheese desserts.
To drink: Lebanese and Armenian beer and wine work well with herb and onion-laden dishes, or try
housemade lemonade, bright green tarragon soda pop or traditional yogurt tun drink.
Must-tries: Muhammara dip, fattoush salad, eggplant moussaka, chicken lula kebab, lamb kebab
Good to know: Middle Eastern restaurants easily kids, vegetarians and gluten-free diners. Carousel's catering also feeds many of the Eastside's parties and celebrations. The menu at the Glendale location may be slightly larger, but Hollywood location is convenient with its parking lot, and it's easier to carry on a conversation without the live entertainment featured in Glendale some nights.
Carousel, 5112 Hollywood Blvd., 323-660-8060