Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Versailles Cuban Forever

For those of you who do not recognize the food in the picture, it is the garlic chicken from Versailles on Venice Blvd., perhaps the one restaurant responsible for most Los Angelenos' love of Cuban food. Versailles has been in Los Angeles since the 1970's and has several branches throughout the area from Manhattan Beach to Universal Citywalk. The garlic chicken ($10.95) is still as fabulous as it always has been with the tangy citrus sauce, slightly sauteed onions, white rice, black beans, and fried plantains.

It is always good to check and see if the classic is still as good as it always was even with time and popularity. Walking into the Culver City location, I was immediately greeted with a welcoming smile (as always in any location I have ever frequented). My friend Mika is coming to town and when I told her I was going to Versailles, she immediately started drooling over their oxtails ($14.95), which are falling off the bone tender in a slightly spicy sauce that is served with white rice and plaintains. I ordered a serving (I may have to get another since I ate half of the one I got "for her") along with their famous crispy skinned garlic chicken.


A close up view of the meltingly tender oxtails.

The very Cuban black beans that accompany the garlic chicken have a nice depth of flavor, but I like to perk them up with a few dashes of Tabasco.


Having been to Cuban restaurants in New York and Miami, I have to say that Versailles in Los Angeles is still my favorite Cuban restaurant in the US, and that is saying a lot with the plethora of Cuban transplants who have great restaurants on the East Coast. Versailles will forever be my definition of truly fabulous Cuban Food.

Versailles on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 30, 2010

Vacations on Sale Today ONLY

Good deals don't last very long, and today is your last day to book a trip to Mammoth Mountain from LAX through Horizon Air for only $39 for a flight (each way) and $39 for a room (based on double occupancy)! The small print says that you must book your flight first to get the room rate, you need to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday with a 14 day advance purchase and these prices are not available November 20-30, October 4-10, or October 14-17. But those are all the rules and you can book at this rate through December 15, so take a trip and say cheers (beer and wine on Horizon Air is free)!

If snow and mountains aren't your idea of a vacation, then you might want to book at Club Med. They have September and October departures (including Labor Day Week-end) starting at $399 for 3-7 nights with no single supplement fee, a reduced upgrade fee on room categories, and free excursion and massage when you book a suite or deluxe room. All these extras are based on availability and today is the last day to book, so get online or on the phone and say "WOW" (that is what they are calling the sale)!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Birthday wish for tomorrow

I am making my wish today so it can come true tomorrow :-)



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Friday, August 27, 2010

World Cafe

I have been eating at World Cafe since the 1980's when I first moved to Los Angeles. It has evolved over years from a beachy casual cafe to an eclectic place that still manages to combine a comfortable ambiance with delightful fresh flavor combinations.

Since the heat of summer finally came to Southern California this week, I sought out a place with a nice patio for lunch along the beach and I remembered World Cafe had exactly what I was looking for: a tasty salad in a shaded patio with lovely ivy covered walls keeping the street traffic and noise out of sight and earshot.

With a selection of specials starting at $9.99 for a seafood Louie or seared salmon salad, I opted for the grilled shrimp and corn salad on romaine with asparagus, red and yellow peppers with tomatoes for $18. The dressing was a tangy tarragon vinaigrette that was a perfect accent to the fresh ingredients and very generous salad. I loved the freshly roasted corn and the perfectly grilled shrimp so much that I started eating the salad without any salad dressing! The crispy fried onions added a nice crunch to the plate and would have been good just by themselves (they are offered as an appetizer if you so desire).

With sandwiches, burgers, pastas, entrees for vegetarians, or grilled seafood and meat, and desserts galore, all under $20 for lunch, this is a wonderful place to go with friends or alone. Service was absolutely professional and the location on Main Street in Santa Monica, means there is plenty of city parking behind the restaurant (meters) unless it is a sunny week-end.

Nice to know that after all these years of traveling the world, the World Cafe is still a good place to come home to in Southern California.

World Café on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Way

In Memorium of Pascal who passed at 12:56am yesterday, singing a song he loved.

My Way*
*You must sign in with Facebook to watch the video

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kaizuka

I have been on a quest to find my sushi restaurant in Los Angeles since the 1980's (yes, I am old enough to say that). I've found several good ones that have changed (for the worse), closed, or where the chefs have moved back to Japan, so my search goes on as I continue on my quest to find my Holy Grail of Sushi one day, and it will stay open with the chef who created the place, for many years.

My latest find is Kaizuka in Culver City. Everything about the place is very pleasant, from the reception to the shaded outdoor patio. The friendly service and the sculptured water fountains added more nice touches to a good experience.

They promote themselves as a fusion place, but they offer all the standard sushi bar fare from sashimi to sushi, with a few interesting twists on classic Japanese cuisine, like their asparagus beef ($7.50), calamari with creamy basil ($8.50), and yellowtail sashimi garnished with jalepenos, yuzu and olive oil ($15). Since I was here for standard Japanese, I decided to go with some classics, like Spanish Mackarel sushi ($6) to start. The Spanish Mackarel was wonderfully fresh and presented beautifully even though it did not adhere to the rice soaked in ponzu.


And their lunch special of tempura and sashimi ($18), which came with a tasty miso soup, steamed rice, and a green salad with a light dressing on field greens. The box lunch set was superior to what is offered in most other Japanese restaurants, with mixed field greens instead of iceberg, home made ginger, daikon and cucumber for the sashimi, and the tempura was a generous mix of shrimp and vegetables in a crisp batter that could have been lighter but it was still a very good version.

This was not my Holy Grail, but it is a very pleasant place, definitely worthy of another visit, perhaps during a dinner with more people so we can travel around the menu a bit more.

Kaizuka Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Santa Monica Place Love Culture

The newly reopened Santa Monica Place Mall is now an open air affair with a rooftop dining terrace that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Since I was at Sonoma Wine Garden for lunch (see yesterday's post), I also wandered around the shops to see what was there besides the big name brands like Nike, Louis Vuitton, Kitson, Bloomingdales, and the soon to be opened Nordstrom's.

I found Love Culture, a cross between forever 21 and H&M, geared for either teenagers or those who are budget conscious fashionistas. There was nothing in the store over $30, and although they don't carry designer quality clothes, shoes and accessories, if you are looking for an outfit for one night, one day, or just as fun look, you really can't go wrong here.


I got this hair clip for $3.90


I got this ring for $5.90


I got this necklace with matching earrings for $6.90


I got this dress for $13.90

Which all adds up to less than $35 (including 9.75% sales tax) for a completely accessorized outfit, and even adding shoes would have put this ensemble at under $60 out the door! Amazing! I didn't realize how much I Love Culture until I saw the prices at this store; this is one place where price really is no object when it comes to fun fashion.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sonoma in Santa Monica

My vacation muscles are a bit weak, so I decided to train myself by acting like a tourist at the beach. The new Santa Monica Place Mall has just reopened and the new panoramic rooftop terrace houses some very nice additions to "mall food", including the Sonoma Wine Garden. What better way to start off an inauguration than with a glass of champagne (Domaine Chandon $12)?

The restaurant space is like a huge outdoor patio fenced in with olive trees and planters, so you can see out, but you feel ensconced in a private area. The lively bar sits in the center, while lounge areas with tables are set out around the perimeter, giving the place a casual relaxed feel; I'm sure you would want to hang out all day here if you had no other plans for the day.

My plan was to eat a nice leisurely meal while enjoying the sunny summer day, so I chose one of the brunch options (brunch is as close as I get to eating breakfast) of Kobe Steak and organic eggs ($15). I asked for my steak very very rare and my eggs over medium; I was thrilled that I got both items prepared exactly as I had ordered them. The cherry tomato salsa added a nice acidic balance to the rich steak and eggs. A delightfully chewy piece of grilled peasant bread lay underneath the steak and some field greens; this meal was a wonderful way to start the day.


It is so good to find anyplace in Los Angeles which serves truly rare steak, especially important when the steak is Kobe beef.


If you want burgers, pizza, or salads, they have those too, along with some cheese and seafood bites if you just want to nibble while you sip. My waitress was a consummate professional, and the busboy was completely efficient, both added to my joy at finding good food with good service in a touristy location. This place is a definite find atop a mall, facing the ocean (yes you get a view of it too), with quality food and impeccable service.

Even when the tourists* leave in a few weeks, the locals will have this treat to enjoy without any crowds and that is why many of us live here in balmy sunny California all year.

*For all tourists who try to find this place through Google, the map is WRONG; Sonoma Wine Garden is IN THE MALL, not on Santa Monica Blvd.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

40% off Sushi Roku Pasadena

Sushi Roku has several branches all over greater Los Angeles, but their branch in Pasadena is celebrating their 10 year anniversary with a 40% discount off all their food all day starting today through Friday August 27th.

Ten percent of the proceeds for this week will go towards the charity Five Acres which is an organization helping empower families to raise children to become caring and productive adults by building on their strengths and those of their families and communities.

So go eat great sushi at almost half off and help some families while you do it; sounds like a good deal to me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Merci for Voting!



Please vote for my essay. You can vote once a day through your Facebook account or simply register for a regular account on the website to vote with only your email. Thanks to everyone who has voted (162 times!) to make me now 77 of 1433 entries!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Simply Divine Tomorrow

Two Rodeo Road is the only new street built in Beverly Hills in decades. It is not big, but full of big name stores like Versace, Jimmy Choo, Porsche Design, and Vertu. It looks like a European cobblestone street, complete with old fashioned street lamps and winds uphill to an apex which ends with steps going down to busy Wilshire Blvd.

The street will be transformed into a Simply Divine party for the senses this Saturday (that's tomorrow for everyone who doesn't know what day it is today), between 8pm-10:30pm. It will be the place to be if you want to sip some wines from Mueller, Cabot, Thomas George, and Coquelicot while tasting treats from restaurants like Josie, A.O.C., Tavern, The Bazaar, Lucques, and Street.

There will be live and silent auctions for everything from business class travel to Italy for two for a stay at an Italian winery that has been converted into a bed and breakfast or jet travel to wine country for a 3 night stay at a winery, to dinners, spa treatments, cookware, and even a raffle to win a bottle of every wine being poured during the event.

You must be 21 or older to attend, the $150 ticket can be purchased online here and proceeds go to benefit the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, so get dressed up (it is a party after all), wear comfortable shoes (you will be walking on cobblestones), and valet your car ($15 before 6pm, $7 after 6pm) so you can treat your senses to a warm summer night in Beverly Hills for a good cause.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wally's for Bread, Cheese & Chocolate

What is better than a free baguette from Wally's Cheese Box (just because they appreciate your business)?

How about some cheese to go with it?


And maybe some chocolate as a treat later?


You can get all of these at the newly opened Wally's Cheese Box, next door to Wally's Wine Shop, where you can pick up the perfect drink to go along with your provisions. The former Wally's Cigar Box has been transformed into a welcoming little stop full of cheese choices from Roqueforts to Camemberts, pates, at least 5 kinds of proscuitto, crackers, chocolate, and they will even make you sandwiches like the Fresh Mozzarella on Ciabatta Roll with sun dried tomatoes, pesto, fresh basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil ($7.99), or a Wally's Hero on Ciabatta Roll with capicola, salami, mortadella, prosciutto, provolone, sun dried tomato, field greens, pepperoncini, mayonaise, mustard, oregano, olive oil and balsamic vinegar ($8.99). There are even a few tables outside next to the small parking lot if you can't wait and want to eat there.

Walking into the store reminded me of the small epiceries in France where good things come in small packages, with all you could want for a picnic lunch served up by a knowledgeable shopkeeper who obviously knows her wares and provides only top notch products. The baguette had the best interior texture of a baguette I have had here in the US; the yeasty, artisanal body of the center of the loaf made me forgive the far less impressive very chewy and very flour covered crust.

This is a must stop by shop if you live nearby or are in the area, the only warning is you must feed your meter if you park on Westwood Blvd. because the meter police literally patrol the area every five minutes and I don't think they take food as bribes to get out of a ticket.



Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Two Bunch 50% off

Happiness is getting 50% off all room rates at Two Bunch Palms, so you can make yourself happy today by booking through September 31, 2010 using Promotion Code 72R. The offer is even good over Labor Day week-end, and the longer you wait, the less of a discount you get, because if you book by tomorrow you get 35% off and by Friday the 20th your discount goes down to 25% off.

Clock's ticking, save now, or spend more later, it's your choice.

Cora's Coffee Cafe

Many people look forward to Summer at the beach all year, but for those of us lucky to live here by the beach in Southern California, the beach is our backyard and enjoying your own backyard whenever you want is a given.

Cora's Coffee Cafe is in my backyard, only difference is that even during the middle of the week at 2pm, there is a 20 minute wait for a table on the bougainvillea covered terrace. But considering that the specials of the day included Lamb shoulder with Cannellini beans, Duck breast served with figs and arugula, and short rib tacos, the fact that this wonderful spot required a short wait was a very fair trade. People come directly from the beach (one block away), in beach coverups, so this is a very casual place. It is so casual there is no host, you put your name on a list (usually on top of the newstands in front of the door) and they call you as they clear the tables. Considering that they are very busy all day, the servers somehow still manage to have a sense of humor and to accommodate people with strollers, seniors, and tourists with a smile.

Since I had not eaten duck in a very long time, I chose the special duck breast with figs and arugula salad ($16).


I was afraid that the duck breast would be overcooked when I saw that the slices of meat were brown, but I discovered the center of the generous serving was pink, warm, and juicy. The skin was even scored and seared enough so that it was delicious. The dressing was light enough to compliment without overpowering, and the tomatoes were a ripe, fresh, and colorful addition. The fresh figs were wonderfully charred, bringing a sweet counterpoint to the salad that made this composition unique and interesting (in a good way).


They have a full breakfast menu of everything from homemade bagels served with out without Michel Blanchet smoked salmon, to Waygu "Kobe" steak and eggs, and they serve Illly Coffee in all variations from espressos to lattes, so no matter what you like, you can probably find it here. Everything is made fresh and organic whenever possible, so I would start with some fresh organic orange juice and meander through the menu slowly as you savor the terrace in the back yard.
Cora's Coffee Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mozza2Go

Everyone has been talking about Mozza since it opened, but the 10 miles in heavy traffic to its location from my house has made it one of the "I'll get it it eventually" places on my list of eateries. Well today was finally the day I made the trek to Mozza2Go to get a taste of what has been the "hot pizza" place in Los Angeles. It is known for the celebrity chefs behind it and the innovative pizza combinations like this white anchovy, tomato and hot chili ($15):


And the slightly more traditional fennel sausage, panna, scallions and red onion ($16):


Both served on a satisfying chewy thin crust that would have been delicious on its own with no toppings whatsoever, but with the addition of freshly made tomato sauce or home made fennel sausage, the crust becomes spectacular. I do not eat the crust of most pizzas here in California, but I ate ALL the crust of both of these pizzas.

There are only a few things that would have made this the perfect pizzeria for me: first of all, the wait between the time I ordered by telephone to actually getting my pizza was well over 1.5 hours during midweek lunch hour even though I went to pick it up myself, so this is not a quick grab and go experience even though the name implies that it is; secondly, the delivery area is confined to about 3 miles from the location, which makes it inconvenient for those of us not living near Hancock Park to drive through midtown traffic for take out; thirdly, it cost over $30 for two personal size pizzas that were very delicious and well made, but for the price I would prefer to eat at a nice outdoor cafe close to home (like Cora Cafe) where it does not take me 1.5 hours to get my food and another half hour to get home.

All in all, yes, I would definitely eat here again and I am very glad I tasted the pizza from this truly fine venture by Silverton, Bastianich and Batali, if I was in the neighborhood, but I'm not sure I would make the detour again.

Mozza 2GO on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 16, 2010

La Grande Orange Wine Day

It's Monday, so for most people it is the beginning of the work week, but it can also be the beginning of a great week if you stop off between 6:30 pm - 8:30pm tonight at La Grande Orange in Santa Monica. Why stop by tonight? Because you can get unlimited pours of 25 wines from the West Coast (i.e. wineries between Santa Barbara and Washington State) for only $25. Yes you read that correctly, unlimited pours of 25 wines for $25, see Mondays aren't so bad after all.

You can either stay for dinner (they will have nibbles passed during the wines pouring) or take something home from their menu like the braised Niman Ranch pork shoulder with apricot mustard glaze, the charred Black Cod with Kaffir Lime broth (both for $19.95), or the more traditional beach fare of Swordfish Tacos ($16.95), or a chili cheese burger($13.95). Whatever you chose, the dishes here are made fresh with organic products whenever possible, so you can eat well without worrying about additives.

Whatever you chose, chose a designated driver or a cab if you have wined your way up the coast because as much as you may not want to go to work tomorrow, it would still be a better option than not making it home tonight.

La Grande Orange on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Thank-You for Voting!



Please vote for my essay. You can vote once a day through your Facebook account or simply register for a regular account on the website to vote with only your email. Thanks to everyone who has voted (101 times!) to make me now 77 of 1368 entries!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Capital Grille Still

Every time I go to Las Vegas, I always eat at the Capital Grille, and even though there is now one open in Los Angeles, it had become a tradition for me to stop at this one for at least one meal. If nothing else it is a place where I am assured of great service, a view of the Strip, and excellent food. So I had a Dry Aged Sirloin Salad with Roquefort Vinaigrette, made with dry aged sirloin, marinated with olive oil, fresh thyme, shallot and parsley and garnished with a roasted tomato, bell pepper and cippolini onion relish $23.

I ordered it rare and it came exactly as I wanted it, cold and red in the center with a perfect sear on the outside. Another reason I love this restaurant is that they understand what rare means and cook it that way when I order it. For anyone who loves Roquefort, the dressing on their salad is a perfect blend of musky blue cheese with a tangy vinaigrette. This is smart way to have your salad and meat in one dish of complimentary flavors. The only disappointment I had was that they have changed their wine menu, which now carries more South American and Australian wines, but no more French wines. Sadly the Belle Gosse Pinot I ordered from Sonoma ($15) was no where near as complex in subtle flavors as the Margaux I drank last time I was here.

After finishing the entire entree salad, I was too full for dessert, but I had room for a double decaf espresso. It was a perfect finish to a fantastic trip.
The Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Table 10 for Three

It's a rare treat for me to be joined by friends for dinner out of town, but when going to Las Vegas, friends are more likely to want to join me and I was very happy to meet up with two friends for dinner at Table 10 in the Palazzo.

Since everyone was hungry, we ordered the Crab Trinity, with Herb Marinated & Chilled Snow Crab Legs, Crab Remoulade Salad and Citrus Jumbo Lump with Cocktail Sauce for $16. We enjoyed all three of the trinity so much none of us used the sauce or citrus accompaniments.


We all chose different entrees; the first one was the Creole Crawfish "Boil" Pasta, made with Louisiana Crawfish Tails, Baja Shrimp, House Made Andouille Sausage & Corn with Linguini, Crystal Creole Cream, Fried Celery Leaves and Parmesan Cheese ($28). At first I hesitated when asked if I wanted to taste this, but when I was offered a Crawfish tail taste with the pasta, I couldn't resist. I am so glad I tasted this wonderfully spicy medley of creamy heat and fresh seafood. The Andouille sausage was very spicy and added a nice heat point to balance the creaminess of the tender pasta. I would order this dish next time I come here in a heartbeat.

I chose one of the daily specials, the Grouper over a bed of spinach with a shallot confit and fried red onion rings in a light cream sauce ($28). Again as with my previous experience at an Emeril chain restaurant, the fish was done perfectly tender and not over cooked. the flavors were mild on this dish especially compared to the Creole pasta (as they should be), so this is a perfect selection if you are not fond of spicy food and love fresh fish.

My other friend chose the Emeril’s Lobster Dome, made with Maine Lobster, Mushrooms, Haricot Vert, Roasted Tomatoes & Yukon Potatoes with Tarragon Fondue and Homemade Pastry ($43). She wanted it just for the name, but when our wonderful waiter explained what it was, she enthusiastically chose it. It arrived in a very hot All-Clad pot looking like this:


The top pastry was removed, this is what it looked like:


It was a rich complex tarragon sauce with morsels of sweet Maine lobster meat and vegetables which had my friend swooning through the next day about the flavors. The pastry top was a nice garlicy cheese bread topping that was perfect for dipping into the sauce.

All our portions were so big we could not imagine deating dessert unless we shared it, so we got one "Smores" Stack, made with Chocolate Cream layered in Graham Cracker Tuiles with Toasted Marshmallow Fluff for $8.

My dessert fiend friend loved the burnt marshmallow cream but thought it was "too chocolately" i.e., too thick and dense for her tastes, so I'm sure chocoholics would love this creation. I was too full to even taste a small thin chocolate wafer, so we all went for a walk through the Venetian after dinner to savor some visual delights after our culinary ones.
Table 10 (Palazzo) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

If you want to taste Joel Robuchon's cuisine you must travel to either New York or Las Vegas in the United States, so being in Las Vegas meant I had to make a reservation at one of his two restaurants in the MGM. Since his namesake Joel Robuchon restaurant was closed during my stay, I chose L'Atelier, the less formal option where you sit at a counter watching the chefs prepare your meal.

My dining companion was the son of another mother, Eric, a Las Vegas local who had never eaten here, so we went on a food adventure by ordering two tasting menus with options which allowed us to taste seven (with a complimentary eight) of the menu items for $95 per person. I chose a half bottle of Pinot Noir ($40) because we would be tasting a range of various flavors and the Pinot would be the most complimentary to our menu and a half bottle allowed us the flexibility to continue with the same or change our drinks during the meal. The Drouhin half bottle proved to be the perfect compliment and just enough for our tasting menu.

We were treated to an amuse bouche (literally an amusement for the mouth) presented wrapped like a present, an avocado and cilantro flavored gelee that was as light as a cloud.


The first course on our menu was a cold appetizer of Le Foie Gras, served traditionally poached and chilled. Eric had told me before we ordered anything that he did not care for Foie Gras, but he was willing to taste it anyway and I give him kudos for being open minded. He still did not care for it, but I loved the divinely rich dense texture of this delicacy. Since many say the production of this specialty is cruel, it is soon to be illegal in California (2012), but I feel that as long as the animals are treated humanely (allow them to naturally gorge themselves), eating this animal should not be thought of any differently than eating grass fed beef.

The hot appetizer course was one of Eric's favorites, the Langoustine, a crispy langoustine fritter with basil pesto. I enjoyed it as well, but gave him most of my portion to make up for the foie gras.


For the main course we had one of each choice so we could taste them both. The fish was the Dover Sole that was lightly poached, served with with a tomato concasse that gave a nice acidity to the tender fish.


The other entree was the L'Entrecote, or rib eye cooked to order (Medium rare for Eric) served with a wonderful pommes puree (mashed potatoes), one of their signature dishes, which had equal parts butter and potatoes; perhaps not the healthiest side dish, but a few spoonfuls will delight your taste buds and satiate you. The meat was tender, juicy and even though it was a thin cut, it was cooked as ordered, so the kitchen staff gets points for their preparation skills.


With two more courses to go, we were well on the way to getting full, so when we were presented with the cheese course, we ate sparingly of the cow's milk, goat's milk and sheep's milk choices. Eric enjoyed the cow's milk, and I ate both the goat's milk slices with gusto.


Because the portions were small, we actually had room for our desserts. One was a variety of sorbets and ice creams, featuring caramel, chocolate, pistachio, raspberry, and coconut (which was our favorite of all the choices).


The other dessert plate had petite slices of tradtiional tartes with flavors to suite chocolate lovers and fruit lovers alike. This was a feast for our eyes, but I must say that no one tart stood out in flavor for either of us.

Every dish was well executed and the service was impeccable, on par with the finest restaurants in France. I think the only thing lacking for me was the element of pleasant surprise which is what some newer chefs have done with classic dishes and ingredients, but this was great eating journey with a fun and adventurous companion, so it is one I would repeat without hesitation.
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon