Monday, January 17, 2022

Alta West Adams

I've been wanting to try Alta since they opened, and I am so glad that I finally made the time to go; I was so impressed by their food that I went back twice the same week! 

It's better to make a reservation no matter when you want to go because chances are there will be a wait. Note that their reservation system will charge your card $45 for a no show if you do not change or cancel your reservation more than 24 hours in advance.

The main outdoor patio is my preferred seating area, but to be avoided on the rare rainy days in Los Angeles. Also to be avoided, the tables by the right rear ramp, which is unpleasantly close to odors emanating from the back alley :(

One visit started with their house salad for $14 that was easily enough to share or could be a meal if you want to add some protein to the greens for a supplement. The dressing had a slightly smoky flavor that enhanced the greens in a very unique way and became addictive as I ate more of the salad.
I was very hungry so I chose deviled eggs for $9 which were a creamy and satisfying appetizer.
I usually don't like black eyed peas, but these fritters for $10 were black eyed peas I would eat any day, especially with the bright fresh herb sauce accompaniment.
My only disappointment were the oxtails for $34, the flavors were superb, but the oxtails needed much more time to become tender and for the wonderful gelatinous nature of the bones revealed themselves. Another 2 hours or more of slow braise would have made this wonderful. 
Their fried chicken was my favorite dish, either as a combo (I chose rice and beans and collard greens) for $28, or solo on either 3 or 6 piece plates.
I loved the red beans and rice and collard greens so much I ordered both side orders to go as well :)
For vegetarians, the California gombo for $21 is a comforting, delicious way to eat your vegetables. You can add tofu, chicken or shrimp for a supplement for $7-10 and make this even an heartier dish.

Service was excellent, even though a rainstorm caught everyone off guard and the shuffle of personnel from patio to dining area was unorganized and had our table served by 5 different people, everyone was helpful, professional, and did what they could to make the transition easier than sitting in the rain outside.

As the rain started to getting worse, I sipped on a wonderful glass of Nessun Dorma (which they also sell next door at their wine shop by the bottle) waiting for the rain to stop while enjoying the warmth of good food and good company.



Monday, January 10, 2022

French Miso Palm Springs

It's been over 2 years since I've seen most of my friends so on my trip to Palm Springs, it was nice to catch up with friends who live in the high desert after getting fully vaccinated with a booster. Champagne was the drink of choice for brunch at French Miso, which recently reopened for diners in their lovely courtyard location downtown. The Monthuy's Brut was only $56 and we could have easily drunk a second bottle! 

Booking a reservation and going as early as possible are keys to enjoying brunch here since they had already sold out of several items (including croissants!) by 1pm. 

Their menu changes constantly, but the day were went, these were the selections; we got the last order of Merguez, they were out of the Bento and Chicken Paillard, and no croissants or pain au chocolat :(
The herb omelette was nice light traditional fare with delicate herbs for $17.
Traditional eggs and bacon for $11 the purists.
I got the last order of Merguez (lamb sausage) with beautiful tender beans and a sunny side egg for $18 :)
Lovely service, a beautiful courtyard, and delicious food with friends made it the perfect way to spend a Sunday away from Los Angeles!







Monday, January 3, 2022

Ristorante Mamma Gina's Palm Desert

When a friend who has lived in Italy and speaks Italian recommends a place I am not familiar with, I take the suggestion as a "must try" as soon as I am in the area. Ristorante Mama Gina in Palm Desert was my first meal upon arriving at Hotel Paseo, and it seemed fated as it was literally 1 block away! 

Because of the rain and traffic that day, I wasn't sure how long it would take to get to Palm Desert, so I didn't make a reservation. It took about 3.5 hours to make the drive, so they were completely booked all night in the dining room, even at 6pm on a Thursday! The gracious host suggested putting a name on the chalkboard by the bar and trying to get a seat in that area. The entire place a jammed on both sides and in Palm Desert at the time, nearly no one was wearing masks or social distancing, so I was a bit reluctant to wait and eat there, but after the drive and seeing all the plates coming out of the kitchen, I opted to stay. It was actually only about 15 minutes later that the bar hostess sat us in the sidewalk patio part of the bar and I felt much more at ease with the spaces between the tables and some very friendly diners eating next to us who told us what they had ordered and how much they enjoyed it.

The Caesar salad for $8.50 was small and simple.

The calamari for $13 was nicely crisp and tender on the inside, and I was very relieved to find tentacles (my favorite part) on the plate.
I got the grilled shrimp skewer with spinach side for $12.75 and found both the shrimp and the spinach perfectly done with plenty of flavor and good seasoning without either being overcooked.
My friend got the veal scallopine for $19.90 with a mushroom medley, served with a side of spinach and mashed potatoes and devoured the entire plate. I managed to get a bit of the mushrooms and it was magnificent!
I'm looking forward to a return trip to the desert, to try the main dining area (WITH a reservation) and some of their pasta dishes, which tempted me every time the waiter walked by with a plate:)


Monday, December 27, 2021

A.O.C. Brentwood

AOC Brentwood opened in June, replacing Tavern, which was one of my favorite restaurants for years. I'm very happy to have found that the service, food, and decor are still top notch, and I was also very glad to find that they adhere to the Covid protocols of checking both ID and vaccination status at the door. I told the host that I was very grateful that they were one of the few places that actually checked customers upon entry. 

They have many options for drinks, including non alcoholic versions of their signature cocktails, so my friend ordered this cucumber based mocktail and enjoyed it as a refreshing pre dinner drink.

I chose a glass of a dry rosé that complimented my meal perfectly.
Romeo's lettuces salad for $15 was light and an excellent choice for a side salad.
The roasted brussel sprouts with pine nuts and burrata for $14 is a hearty vegetable dish which would satisfy a craving that requires more heft than a salad.
Sea bass for $25 was cooked to the perfect temperature, with a crispy skin but tender moist flesh.
I was thrilled to find grilled quail on the menu for $24, tender, succulent meat that was not overcooked but still had crispy wings. The rich side of potato raclette and shallot-quince confit were extra treats.
Spanish fried chicken for $18 was as good as I remembered it when this was Tavern. Crunchy with a slightly tangy zing to the meat, we devoured this as soon as it arrived at the table.
You may not be able to go back to everything you once remembered, but new memories are always waiting to be made, and some of them are newer and better versions of the past.




 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Hotel Paseo

Spending a few days in Palm Desert at Hotel Paseo was a chance to see how things have changed in the 30 years since I lived in Palm Springs and a great reason to visit friends I have not seen in over 2 years. 

Santa was driving the "welcome wagon" at the Hotel Paseo :)

The bed and linens were very comfortable and I appreciated having a USB outlet on both sides of the bed.
There is a mini fridge on the lefty side, a Keurig coffee maker in the center, an internet friendly smart TV and an area to set up a laptop.
Huge shower with great water pressure, bathrobe, and nice toiletries included in the bathroom. It took me a day to figure out how to turn on the lighting around the large mirror though ;)
The hallways were decorated with unique pieces from different artists, and this particular one was my favorite.
I got a ground level room in front of the pool ,and even though access to the pool could not be had directly from the patio, it was nice to have the view.
No one was ever in the pool but a few people did use the large jacuzzi and the seating around the fire pits.
It was hard to capture the infinity water cascade with the fire, but I can say that it was beautiful both in the daylight and at night.
I would definitely stay here again for it's location steps away from El Paseo, across from a very nice small mall, great places to eat within a block, and staff that personified customer service (the woman who checked me in, saw me try to get ice at the cafe 5 minutes after they closed, and she got it for me!). Rates were in the $300 range per night once you added up all the taxes, fees, and charges (parking, wifi, shuttle). If you download the Marriott app, you can navigate your stay a bit more easily with check in / out and requests for services.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Gjusta

I finally went to Gjusta and tried their famous tuna conserva sandwich for $18. Yes it is delicious and an excellent balance of textures, flavors, and quality ingredients. Would I buy it again? Not sure...It  did not wow me enough to spend that much for this again. It was also quite salty with the olive tapenade and the salted cucumber layers combined.
The brussel sprouts with toasted hazelnuts under a snowy layer of cheese was a hit, but not exactly "healthy", so sharing is the best option.
Chicken dumpling soup for $13 was a hearty filling bowl of goodness that would definitely be on my short list of comfort foods.
The kale salad was the favorite, with apple, celery, manchego cheese,  smoked almonds and a mustard vinaigrette for $18. This was probably the group's favorite dish.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Endless Color Pizza Topanga

Friends who moved to Topanga introduced me to Endless Color Pizza, and I loved it so much that it's now our go to spot to meet! Every one seems to know everyone and the large patio is dog friendly. Driving up from Los Angeles, look for the post office next door (the sign is hard to see driving north on Topanga Canyon Road, but it's easy to spot the large pink sign driving south).

Their assortment of salads changes depending on the day and time you arrive, but the best thing to do is simply get a bit of all of them on the same plate and go back for seconds on any items that you particularly love. If you want to just eat salad, this could be a very hearty and varied meal in and of itself!

They offer gluten free options which are delicious! Their mushroom pizza is one of my favorites, with a thin crust and lots of garlic confit for $22.
Their Margherita for $20 hits all the classic notes with fresh tomatoes, basil, basil, and oregano.
For meat eaters, the Young Italian Stallion with pork loin, tomato confit, artichokes, olives, mozzarella and fontina is a hearty choice for $23.
Adding arugula to the gluten free mushroom pie makes it a salad and a pizza :)
The kid loved the chicken fingers as the adults ate the pizza and drank the delicious bottle of biodynamic wine for under $30 a bottle:)
Of course no meal is complete without dessert, and the tiny plant based cheesecake heart was devoured quickly leaving the gluten free oat, walnut and golden raison cookie for $4.50 for the adults ;)





Monday, November 29, 2021

Marino

It's one of my greatest pleasures to introduce people who love to eat great food to restaurants who know how to consistently use quality ingredients with great skill to provide delicious meals. Marino has been in Hollywood since the late 1950's and I had the pleasure of eating at chef Sal Marino's Il Grano many times before he came back to his family restaurant.

I chose this restaurant for people in the restaurant business who came out from NYC because the cuisine was rooted in classic old school techniques, using the freshest Californian ingredients. 

We started with a bottle of Barolo (#4505) and the large Marino salad, with chopped mixed greens, eggplant caponata, salame, cheese, and legumes for $19 to share.

The night we went, there was a special halibut crudo with beautiful radishes.
Zucchini blossoms filled with ricotta and marjoram for $17 was devoured as soon as it got to the table.
Classic linguini vongole with manila clams for $21 was wonderfully aromatic with sliced garlic.
It's been too many years since I've eaten my favorite lasagna. It was like meeting an old friend with a comforting long heartfelt hug.
It's hard to pick my favorite dish, but branzino, Mediterranean striped bass,  for $38 is definitely in the top 3, delicately and exquisitely baked, served with vegetables that are equally simply and expertly cooked. 
It's good to be in sunny warm Southern California in November, especially when feasting on the skills of a master chef.