Friday, October 30, 2009

Great Chefs & Free Champagne Nov 8

Great Chefs of LA is holding it's annual event with the theme, Go Green Go Organic on November 8th at the CBS studio Center in Studio City from noon- 3:3o pm to benefit The National Kidney Foundation. There will be live and silent auctions, food competitions and challenges, gift bags, a DJ, and the chefs of honor are Neal Fraser (Grace) and Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger (Border Grill). Many websites/bloggers are giving away free tickets, so check out the Great Chefs Facebook page to see where you can enter to get some freebies, but remember that by paying your own way ($150 minimum), you get to support the charity.

If you want a complete freebie, head over to Petrossian between noon and 5 pm. Maybe I should say the tastes of Champagne and food are free, but like all good dealers, they want you to taste so that you will buy. There will be free Champagne, appetizers and chocolate samples, all to entice you to buy caviar and foie gras, smoked salmon, olive oils, and French chocolates. Being a good food junkie, I know the bait will work, so I'll bringing my purse....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

$100 for One

It's so fitting that I chose to celebrate my birthday at Bazaar (see my earlier post), and now the restaurant is celebrating it's one year birthday the entire month of November with an incredible menu of six courses and four glasses of wine for $100 per person. The courses are comprised of all the ones made famous by Celebrity Chef Jose Andres, like the liquefied mozzarella caprese, the Philly cheese steak, and the foie gras cotton candy. You can watch him make some of his unique dishes on this clip from the Craig Ferguson show.

If you haven't already been to this eclectic hip space, it may be time to explore the only restaurant to get tough food critic Irene Virbila's four star review in recent Los Angeles Times history. Keep in mind that only part of the immense lobby is the restaurant so you can explore the shopping section, the dessert section, get a tarot card reading, or get something from the raw bar.

If it is a crime to have two birthday parties, then I'll be happy to serve my sentence; all I ask is that I be allowed to finish my meal first.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Peace or Party?

Sometimes I need a quick getaway that does not require a flight. After the week of nonstop work I've had, the last thing I want to do is go through airport security and figure out which containers hold less than 3.4 fluid ounces of shampoo. So all that translates to driving far enough away to feel like I am out of town, but not so far that I need to spend so much time driving to my destination that I am exhausted just getting there in the first place.

The Miramonte Resort in Indian Wells is about a 2 hour drive and Perfect Escapes has a great bed and breakfast deal for only $159 a night. Aside from breakfast for two, you also get a confirmed 2pm late check-out, a $25 spa credit towards any 60 minute treatment at their spa, The Well, and a complimentary upgrade based on availability. This is a perfect peaceful retreat with fountains and mountains. Just ask for offer OID: 515 when you call them at (877) 589-7688.

The Ivy in San Diego at the Gaslamp District is also about 2 hours away by car, but a world away in atmosphere. If your mood is to be around shopping, restaurants, and nightlife, reserve the Gourmet Ivy package and get lively luxury for $189 a night for a two night minimum with code OID: 924. You also get a $50 daily credit for meals and drinks at the Quarter Kitchen, Envy Nightclub, or Ivy Rooftop bar (my fav). Other extras include a welcome glass of Champagne, 12 pm early check-in, 4pm late check-out, and complimentary upgrade based on availability.

Now the only question is do I want peace or to party?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cool Phone Tools

So many of my friends have iPhones and Blackberrys that sometimes I feel as if I am the only one without one or the other. I haven't leapt into the smartphone revolution partially because I haven't decided which one I want yet; some applications are made only for one or the other and are so useful that they have become part of the reason to buy a particular brand.

The Red Laser app for iPhone makes your phone a bar code scanner for merchandise so that you can compare prices at the physical store with online prices. It works for everything from groceries to televisions, so next time you see a sale on cookies or a computer in a brick and mortar store, scan the bar code and the app will search all online retailers for prices on the exact same item. It takes comparison shopping to a new level and you literally hold the key in your hand. The laser reading app also allows you to scan items to add to a shopping list, or to see reviews on the product, or scan a DVD in a store and beam the title to you TiVo, so you don't have to use it only to shop.

Some applications are great because they promote safety and are FREE, like the app for Blackberry. This converts text and email messages so that you can listen to them and respond without having to text back, even through Bluetooth! This helps eliminate the drivers who are constantly looking at their phones reading text messages and then trying to text back while driving (which is illegal in some states). They are working on a version that will work with the iPhone but for now it's only available for Blackberry and Android phones.

If MACs and PCs can now translate (most) applications written on one or the other, phones should be able to do the same thing one day. Now if we could get an application that would make people understand each other as well as machines do.....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Brasserie Pascal $10-$20 Menus

After three weeks of the Dine LA prix fixes menus, I have become accustomed to eating several courses of delicious dishes for moderate prices. Brasserie Pascal must have been reading my mind because they began a special October 23rd that they are offering all day, everyday!

For as little as $10, you get your choice of any 1/2 Croque (sandwich), soup du jour, green salad, and potato chips.

For $15 you have a choice of two courses, either an appetizer and entree or entree and dessert. The appetizers include a selection of homemade pates, their vegetarian non dairy soup du jour, or a green salad with mushrooms & tomatoes in a house basil dressing. The entrees include Filet Mignon with peppercorn sauce mashed potatoes and vegetables, Alaskan Halibut with Parmesan Risotto, fingerling potatoes and vegetables, or spinach or chicken crepes with chived buerre blanc, vegetables and fingerling potatoes. The desserts give you a choice of a mousse au chocolat, creme caramel, or apple crumble.

For the $20 "splurge" menu, you get a 6 oz Creekstone Farm filet mignon with half a Florida lobster, rice pilaf, and asparagus with a tarragon sauce.

Off on my hunt for another great deal; let's see what I find tomorrow.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

100th Bev Mo Celebration

Bev Mo is known for having a 1 cent sale where you can get a second bottle of wine for only 1 cent after you purchase one at the regular price. Everyone I know who loves wine & spirits loves this store and apparently they have plenty of company because Bev Mo just opened their 100th store yesterday and they are celebrating today.

They are having a "Mega-Tasting" event from 11am-5pm at their new Rolling Hills store (located near Trader Joe's). Some of the people pouring include the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Glenfiddich Scotch, Perrier-Jouet, and Grand Marnier; check the schedule for the hours your favorite brands will be pouring.

Tickets for the tasting are only $15 and proceeds will benefit the South Bay Boys & Girls Club; you get 10 tasting tickets for your donation, a goody bag, and there will be free hors d'oeuvres. If you want something more substantial, the local fire department will be serving up Jim Beam BBQ.

Go stock up on your spirits for the upcoming holiday fetes now and enjoy helping out a local charity at the same time; I'll see you there!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tengu Westwood

Rounding out my Dine LA meals this week is Tengu in Westwood Village. I've been to the Tengu in Santa Monica, but not this location and since it's been a while since I've eaten at Tengu, I wanted to see if it was still as good as I remember. For the $22 Dine LA lunch menu you get three courses with four choices each ranging from sushi and stir fried vegetables to NY Strip steak; a great deal considering three courses at full price would normally run about $40 here.

For my first course I chose the red snapper carpaccio, served with okra, yuzu dressing, and shichimi togarashi, which came out in long strips with skin intact. I found it a bit unwielding to maneuver into my mouth until I realized I could roll the slices before picking them up with my chopsticks. (Sorry no pic, the one I took was out of focus.) The fish was fresh, the sauce was perfectly seasoned, and I could have easily eaten several of these appetizers as my main course.

For my main course I asked for the pan seared papaya NY Strip steak, with a ginger, papaya-jalapeno glaze and steamed rice. I specifically requested a VERY RARE steak and when it came out it was medium well. I showed the waiter and reminded him what I had said about doneness (cold in the center); he agreed my meat was overdone and promptly replaced it with one cooked as I had ordered. I must note that hardly any restaurant in the US ever cooks my steak as rare as I request (the one exception so far has been Pacific Dining Car), so when my replacement came out I was very happy to get my preference with only one send back. I know it's hard to see the steak in the photo, but it was under the sauce, sliced, and a good sized perfectly seared NY Strip steak with a nicely balanced spicy papaya sauce that complimented the meat. Although the meat was sliced, it was a two bite slice and eating this with chopsticks might prove challenging for some people; I would recommend you order a knife and fork for this entree if you are not a chopstick expert.

For my finale the most interesting dessert seemed to be the Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, tempura-style angel food cake, crème de cassis whipped cream, and fresh berries.

The ingenious chef somehow wrapped the ball of ice cream in a layer of Angel food cake, dipped it in Tempura batter and fried it. The result was an interesting (not good, not bad) mix of cake, ice cream, crunchy batter, and cream. I'm not sure I would order this again, but it was definitely worth trying.

As Dine LA ends, I'm off to hunt for more good food with great prix fixe menus.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mandarin Taste

I met my friend Gloria for lunch in Anaheim because she is one of those unfortunates who is pretty much chained to her desk job in a Monday through Friday 9-5 Inferno. Her favorite lunch spot is Mandarin Taste in Anaheim, and even though I have met her there countless times, I got lost and ended up (literally) at the exit for Disneyland before realizing the newly repaved 5 Freeway has a hypnotic effect.

Mandarin Taste is well known in the area, with newspaper article reviews of the place (you know the paper stuff before blogs) framed on the wall of the entrance. As picky as I am about Chinese food, I would agree with the kudos for this Hunan-Szechuan style semi-formal restaurant. It is rare to see waiters in tuxedos at a Chinese restaurant, but you will see it here, along with trained service and a beautiful tropical fish aquarium on the wall by the booths.

We chose the crispy shrimp $13.99 which were lightly coated and fried before being tossed in a sweet sour sauce,

and the three flavor kung-pao $12.99 which had nicely spiced beef slices, juicy chicken, tender shrimp with peanuts, and scallions for our entrees.

Both entrees came with a very nice spicy hot and sour soup, white rice and a pot of black tea. All the choices here are typically basic American-Chinese food, but it is done well and in a very nice setting with a full bar (and yes, they serve drinkable wines here). Sometimes it's better to be safely familiar than to be unpleasantly shocked, so if you are going to Disneyland (on purpose), Mandarin Taste is a great place to stop by for better Chinese food than you'll find anywhere in the Magic Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

North, South, or East?

Since my trip to visit my friend in NYC was canceled, I'm looking for somewhere else to go before the end of this year. One of my friends suggest Northern California and some wine tasting now that the crowds are leaving. The nice thing about going after the prime Fall season is the vineyards should be practically empty and there will be no wait for tours or tastings. Of course the other benefit is the drop in rates at places like the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country which has a rate of only $89 a night through Travelzoo from October 25-February 28, and this rate includes week-ends but excludes Oct 30-Nov 7, 1009. The rate includes coupons for free tastings, free parking at the hotel, and access to the hotel's fitness and business centers.

Another option is going South to the Fairmont in Newport Beach with a Perfect Escapes deals starting at $96 a night if you book by October 22, 2009. This rate includes early check in and late check out and is good for stays through April 15, 2010. With courtesy shuttle to Fashion Island and Balboa Island, this is a great spot for shopping and eating not far from home, but far enough to live like a tourist.

And finally C & H International is having a sale to the Far East with round trip flights from LAX to Hong Kong for $370, Bangkok for $343, or Singapore for $460. The only fine print is that these rates don't include taxes or fees, minimum stay is 6 days and maximum is 90 days, and Fri-Sun departures are slightly higher ($30-40). Fares are nonrefundable once travel starts and other cities and destinations are available, so contact them if you want to meet a friend in Asia for a vacation who lives in Atlanta, Boston, or Dallas.

So I ask again, North, South, or East?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thyme Cafe & Market

It's nice to find a place that cooks as well (or better) than you do because when you are too tired or not in the mood to create something for yourself or your family, there is Thyme Cafe & Market on Ocean Park in Santa Monica right next to Bob's Market.

I ordered some half pint containers to go to try out a few of their prepared dishes to go. There is a bright cafe where you can eat in any of their breakfast or lunch items, like a BLT breakfast sandwich ($6.50) or challah french toast w/maple syrup ($6.50), to a curried chicken salad ($8.50) or a turkey meatloaf sandwich with caramelized onions and Harissa aioli on baguette ($7.50). They also have prepared salads, butternut squash or lentil soups, and whole casseroles to go ready in a side case if you want to run in and pick up a salmon salad ($8.50) for lunch or a boeuf bourguignon in quart containers ($18) for dinner.

I started with a half pint of the brussel sprouts with bacon and golden raisins ($4) which caught my eye in the showcase of food at the front counter. It was as good as it looks in the picture, the brussel sprouts cooked through but still crisp, the bacon was crunchy, and the golden raisins added a nice sweet tart element.

I also chose a half pint of the the curried couscous with slivers of raw carrots, scallions, almonds, currants and freshly chopped Italian parsley ($4). Although I liked the combination of ingredients and the curry flavor, the consistency of the couscous was a bit gummy.

Other options included a chicken vermicelli, shrimp in a creamy sauce, wild rice with cranberries and orange flavor, a greek salad, a lasagna, and a chicken with wine dish that was still steaming hot as it came out of the kitchen. You can order the dishes in half pint to quart sized containers, so get as much as you would like or get several half pints and give yourself a taste of everything.

There was also a nice assortment of cupcakes, scones, cookies, and quiches available, so I chose a coconut lemon thumbprint cookie for dessert. It had a nice crumbly shortbread texture with a nice lemon and coconut flavor.

Thyme just opened, so they are still working out kinks with things like the cash register (which had to be reprogrammed twice to print out my order), and some diners were not happy to find that they stopped serving breakfast before noon. Overall the space is welcoming and fresh with eager young servers serving beautiful food, so it is a remarkably good start for a new cafe from an experienced caterer.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Vinoteque on Melrose has all the promise of a good restaurant, but it has some work to do before it fulfills its' potential. My first visit was during the first Dine LA week because I wanted to try as many new places as I could while they offered prix fixe menus (they have extended the program through this Friday). The point of prix fixe menus is that they allow you to sample two or three courses showcasing the kitchen talents while saving your wallet some green to play with on another day.

My visit started well with a warm greeting by the hostess and a seat with a nice view of the spectacular wine collection. The waiter arrived with a menu and two wine lists, one for full bottles and another for glasses. I appreciated the chance to peruse their bottle collection, but does any single diner ever order a full bottle? I had to ask for the Dine LA menu which seemed a bit nonsensical considering every other table (the 5 surrounding me) was ordering off the Dine LA menu. I started with a frisee salad served with a panko poached egg, mustardy vinaigrette, lardons, and a smear of blue cheese on a thinly sliced toasted tranche. It was a bit hard to eat between the balanced slice of toast with blue cheese and the wild frisee, but so tasty I would order it again.

The above photo of the braised short rib is pretty but blurred a bit and that is a fitting metaphor for the dish itself. The meat was a bit sweet with a Hoisin flavor and two of my bites had a big kick of hot spice, an uneven flavor for a very tender piece of meat, but the vegetables were perfectly cooked and full of earthy flavor which complimented the dish. Since the regular menu lists the braised short ribs at $14 and the three course menu that included it was $16, maybe the restaurant was trying to make more of a profit off those diners who didn't know about the prix fixe. I enjoyed a glass of 7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel with the main course and at $7 it was a bargain pour.

Watching the dining room, it was evident that this was a very casual place. However this is not a good thing when the casual attitude permeates the waitstaff as diners had to request desserts and bills from busboys because they were unable to get their waiter's attention. There is definitely a communication glitch between the waitstaff and the diners because a busboy came out to deliver a coffee to three tables (including mine) who had not ordered coffee. I noticed that the pineapple dessert with raspberry sorbet was arriving at a nearby table, so I asked my waiter for that dessert at the beginning of my meal (he insisted that dessert be ordered early to ensure that it would be prepared in time for the end of the meal). I waited 15 minutes after I finished my main course to get my dessert. The dessert I was delivered was a completely different one than the one I ordered, I got a mascapone panna cotta instead of the pineapple dessert I ordered. When I reminded the waiter of my order, he promptly replaced it with the correct dessert.

The dessert was refreshing and colorful...and it tasted ever so faintly of fish! Perhaps the lackadaisical attitude of the front of the house was also in the back of the house as the kitchen did not pay attention to properly cleaning their cutting boards or knives. Sadly my experience was not the only one in regards to a sloppy kitchen because the table next to me found eggshell in their lamb meatballs.

I would go back to Vinoteque if they became a simple wine bar, sans food.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Champagne & Cops

It may seem like an oxymoron to have Champagne & Cops at the same event, but if you head over to Hollywood's K&L Champagne tent event today between 3-6pm, you will see that both can and do exist in harmony. The Champagne tasting is $100 and offers more than 50 labels from the likes of Veuve Clicquot, Dom Perignon, and Pommery so you can sample which you would like to buy (on sale) during the event for your holiday gatherings. Proceeds will benefit the Hollywood Police Activities League, so you are actually helping the cops out by drinking here!

Of course it should go without saying that you should not drive after tasting too much. This is one event where you can be sure that there will be plenty of police around to escort you someplace to sober up, so please don't make them work at a charity event and designate a driver or take a cab.


Friday, October 16, 2009


Twist is an eclectic shopper's paradise about a block from Santa Monica Yoga on Ocean Park which offers everything a little or big girl might want in a store. Whether your style is Bohemian or Business Casual, you will find something here that you'll want to take home. Prices are very reasonable with tops and dresses ranging from about $25-$75 each. I loved browsing the bracelets with inspiring sayings and knick knacks like gift appropriate key chains and pins with beatnik and mod designs. If you want something virginal, they carry adorable baby outfits, and if your taste is a bit racier, they have an adult costume section with naughty nurse outfits and invisible thongs. If you are in a crunch shopping for a gift for an adult or baby, this can be your one stop shopping trip because they also carry cards and gift wrapping right in the store.

They carry the Goal Digger line featuring t shirts that say, "Finding the right shoe can change your life, just ask Cinderella", and caps that say, "Happiness is an Option" with pink rhinestones embedded into the wording. Buying wonderful items from a company whose motto is SHOES (Sisters Helping Others Embrace Success) is all about empowering and inspiring women. Do double duty by shopping to make yourself and someone else happy in one easy step, so to speak.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

La Vecchia Trifecta

Sometimes just walking by a restaurant makes you want to try it, especially after reading the menu and seeing that it is participating in Dine LA Restaurant week, with three course lunches for $22 (add $16 for wine pairings like glasses of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay for each of the three courses).

La Vecchia on Santa Monica's Main Street not only fulfilled all of the promise of a great meal, but it delivers some of the best service I have ever had in a Los Angeles restaurant. La Vecchia is one of those rare restaurant trifectas where good food, great service, and a comfortable atmosphere make every diner a winner. Compared to restaurants which are twice as expensive, both my server Giuliana and the manager Thao, were outstanding in a field where many servers are either annoying & obsequious or casual & saccharine. The people at La Vecchia are the best professional combination; efficient and invisible while being wholly present and personable.

A nice Ciabatta bread was served with an oil olive, garlic and basil infusion that was a precursor to the simple full flavors to come.

I chose the appetizer of capriccio imperiale, a chilled seafood salad with lobster, shrimp, baby calamari and green beans tossed in a Sicilian extra virgin olive oil lemon dressing (the dressing is very lemony, so if you are sensitive to acidity, you may want to ask for the dressing on the side). I was surprised by the amount of lobster and the freshness of the shrimp, but I was beginning to realize that this restaurant was going to surpass my expectations on many levels.

For my main course I stayed with seafood and chose the ravioli allo arragosta e gamberi, ravioli filled with lobster and jumbo shrimp tossed in a pink Cognac lobster sauce with Maine lobster, asparagus and finely diced fresh Roma tomato.

Again I was surprised by the amount of lobster meat (all the pink you see in the picture is Maine lobster chunks) and the full shrimp stuffing in the pasta. I could only finish two, but the filling was so good I ate the inside of the other two raviolis so I could save room for my tiramisu dessert of classic lady finger cookies soaked in espresso and layered with mascarpone pastry cream.

I think I'm going to adopt la Vecchia as one of my neighborhood Northern Italian restaurants, after all, winning a trifecta is a rare event that should be repeated as often as possible.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Living a Little or a Lot in Laguna

The Surf and Sand in Laguna is the perfect place for a beach side getaway; with the crowds of summer gone, this is a great time to go to the beach before it gets cold (for California). They have a special package called "Live a Little" that includes one nights' accommodation with a three course dinner for two for $369 Sunday-Thursday (add $100 for the week-end). If you want to "Live a Lot", you can opt for two nights, three course dinner for two, $100 resort credit, and complimentary valet parking for $738 Sunday-Thursday (add $200 for week-ends). These rates don't include any alcoholic beverages, taxes or gratuities. Make sure you call to reserve at 877-349-0345 and mention the special when you book to get your discount.

If you just want a taste of the resort, I would recommend their spa & lunch package which combines a 50 minute massage or facial with a three course lunch at Splashes for $125. Make sure to call the spa to reserve your package at 949-376-2772.

Or savor the view and stop by for a glass of wine at their bar as you watch the waves any Monday-Thursday between 2-5 pm and get 50% off your bill (the discount is also available between 8-10:30pm). Make sure you print out the promotion page to get your discount.

Now all you have to do is choose whether you want to savor, taste, or live in Laguna at the Surf & Sand (or all three).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tiara Cafe

Dine LA week has me venturing out further than usual in my hunt for great places to eat and when I saw the menu at Tiara, I had to add it to my eating itinerary. The only downside was its' location downtown, so I made a 1:30 pm reservation figuring that was late enough to avoid the 12-1 pm downtown lunchtime crowd. Parking in the area wasn't difficult, especially now that the meters have been replaced by pay machines that accept credit cards and change. To use the parking machine, you punch in your space number from the sidewalk and pay, but there are drawbacks; the machines do not like Amex business credit cards and ate some of my change without applying it to my time. You can pay a garage if all this seems too daunting, but it's hard to beat $3 an hour street parking in that area.

Finding the entrance to Tiara was a bit of a challenge since the front door of the cafe is actually also the door to their market, but it is evident once you walk in the door that this is a fashionable, eclectic place buzzing with energy and fun. The hostess was the only negative part of my dining experience; she seemed annoyed that I had made a reservation, seated me facing a huge column (I switched my seat so my back was to the column), and "forgot" to give me the Dine LA $16 menu until I asked for it (she was also annoyed to find one to give to me). The restaurant was full so it took a good 10 minutes before anyone came by my table, but once my waiter Arturo arrived, everything took a wonderful turn for the better. He was obviously happy to be there, to talk to customers, and he was thoughtful beyond belief (I will explain later).

For my appetizer I chose the Thai Cobb Salette, made with grilled spice marinated chicken (which can be replaced by seitan for the vegetarians), spinach, spicy mixed greens, green papaya, eggs, Nuskes apple smoked bacon served with a spicy Thai dressing. It was as delicious as it looks. Other choices were the house smoked spicy salmon fresh'wich, made with the house smoked & grilled salmon (seitan can be substituted), Persian cucumbers, chiffonade of lettuce, avocado, all wrapped in a thin rice paper and served with an avocado dipping sauce, or for beef eaters, the smoked brisket chili, made with 3 different organic locally grown roasted chillies, all cooked with organic heirloom tomatoes, spices, and served with corn bread muffins.

For my main course I choose the Burrata pizzette because I wanted to taste the dough that they allow to rise for 24 hours. The menu said the pizzette is made with heirloom tomato confit, locally made fresh burrata cheese, greens, and caramelized onions, but mine had mushrooms instead of greens and peppers instead of onions. Other entree options were the grilled chicken and tamale, made with achiote marinated chicken breast grilled, a fresh corn tamale with roasted poblano chilies, grilled zucchini, red beans & dirty rice served with a yellow tomato habanero sauce (they will replace the chicken with grilled vegetables and make it perfect for vegetarians & vegans), or a grilled ahi tuna, made with Japanese togarashi spice marinated sushi grade tuna, scarlet quinoa, grilled fall farmer's market vegetables with a light curry sauce (they can use seitan to replace the tuna or change the tuna for curry grilled shrimp).

Details aside it was delicious and the dough was fantastic. I could only eat two of the six slices after polishing off the entire salette, so my wonderful waiter Arturo suggested I take my desert home along with my uneaten pizzette slices. I chose the Key Lime with vanilla bean meringue and caramel sea salt ice cream. Other choices were peach cobbler , with a brown butter custard bottom, last of the season fresh peaches, topped with a crumbly cobbler crust & served with a 50/50 peach sorbet & vanilla ice cream, or a chocolate molten cake, a warm chocolate cake filled with an oozing ganache, served with a 50/50 chocolate & vanilla ice cream. Arturo even packed the key lime dessert container saying that it would have ruined it if he had tried to take it out, and sorry no baked vanilla bean meringue & caramel sea salt ice cream, becasue it would melt to a mess as I was taking it to go.

It's wonderful to find a place that uses organic and local ingredients, offers vegan substitutions, and thoughtful service, even if it is downtown.

Monday, October 12, 2009

$16 Catch

Thanks to the Dine LA promotion (see my previous post), Catch in the five star Casa Del Mar hotel has $16 lunches (and $26 dinners) that include three courses and a view of the Pacific Ocean from floor to ceiling windows in a space where all the tones are clean and fresh feeling. With ivory and wood for the table settings, and a partially visible sushi station in the middle of the room, this is an amazing atmosphere for a historic building restoration of a bath house.

There are three choices for each of the three courses and for the first course I chose the grilled asparagus with citrus, feta and arugula. It was a perfect way for me to get started on real food after three days of a cleanse. The other choices for an appetizer were smoked trout or a leek and potato soup of the day.

I decided to stay with lighter dishes and segued into a sashimi salad with a soy vinaigrette with beautiful pink disks of thinly sliced radish. The picture doesn't show the sashimi well because it was on the bottom of the greens (six slices of tuna and salmon). Other choices for a main dish were a Niman Ranch Skirt Steak with crispy potatoes and salsa verde, or warm grilled vegetable salad with basil pesto.

For dessert, the only thing I had room for was the blueberry crostata with marscapone and lemon. It was wonderful, flaky, warm, and not too heavy. The other lighter choice was a vanilla yogurt panna cotta with strawberry compote, but next time I want to try the warm molten chocolate cake with espresso gelato and mocha sauce.

The DineLA website allows you to register your American Express card with the program so that if you dine at least 3 times during restaurant week for at least $16 per charge, you will get a $20 statement credit, so maybe I'll come back for seconds next week.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wine, Cupcakes and Wardrobe Today

If you have $20 and some time today between 2-5pm, go to Moe's in Brentwood to taste some Cabernet and cupcakes. Tastings are offered from the likes of a Rubicon Estate Cask 2005 or a Rombauer Diamond 2003 (and three other $50 Cabernets). And to test the theory of red wines with dessert, the wines will be served with some Susie's cupcakes.

If you are in a mood to shop today, tomorrow, or Monday for some clothes that come from Hollywood Studios, head over to the Oscar Room in the Roosevelt Hotel where they are selling wardrobe items from movie sets from as little as $10 to thousands of dollars. You may find the shirt that your favorite actor or actress wore in your favorite film, or you may just find a great piece for your wardrobe at a great price. Part of the proceeds will benefit the child abuse organization Childhelp, so shop to your heart's content and help a child find some peace.

Friday, October 9, 2009

N.Y. & C. Pizza

Just as the clever name suggests, N.Y. & C Pizza is one place that will allow of of us East Coast transplants to choose our version of "real" pizza. There has only been one pizza I have ever had in Los Angeles that tasted like the ones I love in NYC (where I was born); sadly it closed decades ago and I have not found anything close to it aside from Bravo Pizzeria in Santa Monica (the owners also have a restaurant in Brooklyn, so they know pizza & cannoli).

Of course my friends from Chicago argue that their thick crust version is "real" pizza and they lament for the lack of a pizza in Los Angeles like the ones in Chicago. It's like arguing about baseball teams or Coke vs. Pepsi, everyone has their preference and you will not sway anyone from their choice.

Thankfully there is now a place for both sides to eat in the same place, although you may have to pick which side of the restaurant you want to be seen in because one side is decorated with all memorabilia New York, the other all Chicago. Choose wisely if you want to keep your friends...

1120 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. Open until 4am.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Taste of Abbot Kinney

If the weather is nice and you get hungry around 2 pm on Sunday October 11, head over to Abbot Kinney in Venice for the first annual Taste of Abbot Kinney. The $60 ticket gives you a wristband identifying you as a participant, discounts at participating retailers during the event, and some of the proceeds will go towards the charity called Inside Out, which helps empower kids through art.

Many of the great restaurants in Venice are on Abbot Kinney (see my previous post about this street), and they are offering bites of their food and glasses of their wines and spirits as you meander down the street past their establishments. There will be a shuttle from designated parking lots and you can buy your tickets in advance at any of the participating restaurants before the event, like Joe's, Primitivo, or J's Kitchen. Jin Patisserie just joined, so there will be delectable dessert offerings when you are ready for something sweet at the end of your evening.

Maybe Saturday in the park, then Sunday at the Beach.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hot Night at the Beach Tonight

Combining a great dinner with a great cause is the best of both worlds, and tonight Chimayo at Huntington Beach is hosting a dinner for $35 (includes tax but not gratuity) that will benefit the restoration of a 1923 Seagrave Fire Engine.

Dinner will be three courses, with a starter salad of organic greens with cherry tomatoes tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette, followed by your choice of macadamia crusted halibut served with stir fried vegetables in a ginger orange au jus, or an 8oz Filet Mignon with garlic mashed potatoes, green beans and blue cheese butter, or herb roasted chicken served with green beans and mashed potatoes. If you still have room for dessert, they will be offered in miniature, so you can try several, along with snacks of guacamole & chips, and drink choices of Kenwood wines, beer, coffee, tea, or soda.

A no host cocktail hour will be offered starting at 5:30pm and dinner starts at 6:30pm, just in time for a fiery sunset.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hyatt Newport $99 Everyday

I have friends coming in from Paris later this year. It will be the first time they have ever traveled to the US and I am thrilled to show them Southern California. Since first time visitors always want to visit Disneyland and the Beach, I found a great deal for them at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach. They aren't going to be here until November, so the deal Hyatt is offering every day from Oct. 19 through Dec. 31 at $99 per night fits their schedule perfectly!

My friends will not be flying into the local airport, but it's nice to know the hotel offers a free shuttle to/from John Wayne airport, Fashion Island, and Balboa Island. It's nice to have easy transportation to local attractions (like shopping & eating) without having to learn the freeway system. I'll drive them to Disneyland, but they also have bus tours from the hotel to the happiest place on Earth (Disney's words, not mine; my happiest place would be Monaco not Anaheim, but to each his/her own).

Hyatt is a nice high end chain with amenities like flat-screen TVs, iHome Stereos with iPod Docks, and most rooms also have private balconies. I found this deal through Travelzoo, but you can also book it directly through Hyatt by using code 99TVL. Just make sure you book by October 9th, 2009.

Monday, October 5, 2009

DineLA Restaurant Week

Dine LA Restaurant Week is a concept that started to entice diners to try out new restaurants and revisit old favorites by offering 2-3 course prix fixe meals at lunch or dinner (or both) ranging from $16-$44. The symbols $-$$$ denotes the prix fixe menu price on the website; one $ denotes $16 lunches, $26 dinners, two $$ denotes $22 lunches, $34 dinners, and three $$$ means $28 lunches and $44 dinners.

Last time there was a restaurant week I tried Taste in West Hollywood and loved it! Usually the week comes to a different city around the year and you only get a once yearly opportunity to take advantage of this experience, but this year with restaurant businesses eager to build business with new clientele (as well as get back regulars), Los Angeles is hosting a second week this year!

The dates for this event are from October 4-9 and 11-16, so except for two Saturday nights, you can dine out in a different restaurant everyday for nearly two weeks! My favorite restaurants are all participating, from Grace to Michael's. Whether you want to try something exotic like Chaya or something classic like Fleming's steakhouse, you can satiate your craving. Locations cover the greater Los Angeles area, from Manhattan Beach to Glendale.

There must be at least one restaurant in your neighborhood that you would want to try (or two or three).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chaya's 25th & Comme Ca's Love Affair

For its' 25th anniversary, Chaya has a new tasting menu called "La Petite Chaya," in honor of the first restaurant that the Tsunoda family opened in California in 1982, featuring escargots en cocottes ($8), crunchy shrimp rolls ($6) or Kobe Beef rolls ($18) and desserts like French Apple tart ($6). If you go during the month of October, Executive chef Tachibe is offering a $25 prix-fixe dinner special with proceeds from $25 tickets for an Oct. 25 celebration to benefit the Careers through Culinary Arts Program which helps students interest in working in the food industry with scholarships and training.

Just up the street from Chaya's in Beverly Hills, is Comme Ca on Melrose and they have a new Defaire Love Affair happy hour for lovers or workers who would like to enjoy their afternoons somewhere other than in Los Angeles traffic. Whether you want a tasty bite of steak tartare, salmon tartare, crabcake, croque Monsieur, shrimp cocktail, or fromage du jour, it will only cost $7, though lovers might prefer some of the $2 oysters. For a nice libation to lighten your mood while eating, but without lightening too much of your wallet, try one of their $7 specialty cocktails with fanciful names like the Little Prick, made with gin honey, lemon, rosemary, and rose water, the Mango Mahal, made with vodka, mango puree, lime, and rose water, or my personal favorite the Live to Love, made with cachaca, St. Germain, raspberry, and champagne.

So next time you are faced with driving during rush hour, go get a bite and a drink and let the traffic clog on without you; just make sure you get a cab if you end up drinking more than eating.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Picanha Churrascaria Brazilian Grill

There are times when only red meat will satisfy my protein craving. After making vegan mabo and eating veggies & fruit for the past week, my taste buds began to scream for rare beef. Since my friend Mika was in town for a limited time, we decided to go out for unlimited beef at Picanha in Burbank. We had walked past it many times but until tonight we had not tried it. She had just ended a Master Cleanse, so she was ready for beef after not having any for 10 days.

The warm cheesy rolls had us hooked at first bite. It would have been easy to make our entire meal out of these wonderful puffs, but a side of beef had our names on it and we practiced self-control by only having two baskets of bread before dinner.

Dinner is a cowboy version of roving Dim Sum carts, with "gauchos" who come to your table if you put the green signal up, or pass you by if you leave the red signal up on the little table indicator. After getting whatever you want to eat from their 40 item salad bar (which includes hot sides of garlic mashed potatoes, zucchini, black beans, and soup), you await the skewer bearing servers. They will carve and serve you many cuts of beef (and one chicken option the night we went) ranging from the house special and Mongolian beef (pictured), to tri tip and sirloin. If you have a favorite cut or doneness, they will accommodate your preferences, including my penchant for bloody red and Mika's for medium rare. This would be a very bad choice for any vegans or vegetarians, but they do offer side dishes of hearts of palm salad, manioc flour (a staple in Brazil), tomatoes, pickled red onions, and potato salad.

They offer a couple of creamy desserts like passionfruit mousse, cheesecake, and a Brazilian flan (made with coconut), which we liked flavorwise, but the added coconut made the consistency a bit lumpy.

It's always satisfying to indulge a craving and we left very satisfied:)