Sunday, October 31, 2010

Make This Now: Fried Egg, Green Apple, Leek, Goat Cheese Sandwich

I had leeks, a little green apple and, the urge, of course.

I wanted to use up the remnants of my produce bin. Needed to use them up in order to feel like that upstanding, non-wasteful citizen I can never quite seem to be. You know, that person who always remembers to bring his or her grocery totes with them to the store, the person who would never dream of using a giant wad of paper towels to clean the stove, and the person who would consider it a travesty to throw away broccoli stems or beet greens.

"I'll make a pesto with them!" Mister or Missus superior human being says. "Or toss them into a salad!"

I, on the other hand, toss them into the garbage. Right next to the empty yogurt carton I forgot to recycle.


Yesterday, however, I was going to be resourceful. Creative. Both inspired and inspirational. I was going to use that quarter of an apple and half a small leek to make something amazing, stupendous -- worthy of a blog post.

And, for once, I actually did.

I remembered seeing an omelette recipe once that called for green apples, so impetuously decided to make a fried egg sandwich with the apple, leeks, spinach, goat cheese and a little balsamic/honey/Dijon dressing. Weird, yes, but also strangely delicious.

So now I compel you to make this sandwich. Not because you need to use up your produce to be the upstanding citizen that I'm not, but because you want to have a tart, sweet, salty, savory party in your mouth.

Or you need to cure your Halloween hangover.

Fried Egg, Apple, Leek, Goat Cheese Sandwich
Serves 1

1 whole wheat English muffin, toasted
1 egg
4 thin slices of green apple
1/2 a small leek, sliced into thin 1 1/2 inch strips
Handful spinach
Goat cheese
Salt, pepper
Olive oil, butter
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey

Whisk together vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard. Set aside.

Heat large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat, add a swirl of olive oil, then the leeks. Sprinkle with salt, reduce heat to medium, and saute until slightly caramelized (approximately 8-10 minutes). Add spinach, balsamic dressing, and cook together until liquid has evaporated. Remove from pan and set aside.

Clean frying pan completely, then return to stove. Heat over medium-high heat, add a pat of butter. Crack egg into the pan and fry according to preference (I like to stir my yolk into the white and then cook it like a burger patty until cooked completely through). Season with salt and pepper to taste. When egg is ready, turn heat off and add spinach and leeks to the opposite side of the pan to slightly reheat.

Spread goat cheese on both halves of the toasted English muffin. Top bottom half with fried egg, then top the egg with the slices of green apple, the leek and spinach mixture, and the other half of the muffin. Eat immediately.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Eveleigh Restaurant: Already "that" place

I've always wanted to be "that" girl. Not the "it" girl – the pristine princess who seems above her admirers, but the other girl. The one who everybody wants to call their best friend. The one who is liked not just because she has a pretty face, but because she is effortlessly charming, effortlessly chic, effortlessly together. She's cool – almost infuriatingly so – but she's so nice, it's impossible to hate her.

"How does she do it?" I think when I've encountered "that" girl in social situations. "And how can I do it too?"

There isn't an easy answer to my question, because she isn't doing anything. She's just being herself – being the person she was born to be. It can't be manufactured. It can't be taught.

Walking into Eveleigh restaurant on Wednesday evening for a special "Friends and Family" dinner before the restaurant officially opens for business on Monday, I immediately had the sense that I was in "that" spot – the spatial equivalent of the girl I'll never be.

The restaurant seems almost out of place on the trendy strip of West Sunset Boulevard where glitz and glamour are so often contrived commodities. It's cool without trying – cool because it's not trying. The space is neat and uncluttered by unnecessary decorative flourishes or Hollywood egos. The interior is dominated by the bar, a gargantuan island of alcoholic possibility. There are classic cocktails for those in the mood for something with bite, and a well-healed wine list featuring astute selections from California, France and Australia.

After drinks have been secured and appetites have been whetted, the place to be is outside on the intimate patio overlooking West Hollywood. The space is modest in size and unadorned aside from the picnic-style tables that are thoughtfully dotted with bright candles. The flames flicker at the slightest aggravation from a breeze, and the lights seem to dance through the night sky like fireflies. It feels exotic – like being on the deck of a patio in a small enclave of paradise rather than in the middle of a congested, landlocked stretch of Los Angeles.

The one-page seasonal and market-driven menu of classic American and European-inspired fare is divided into four sections – small plates, large plates, sides and desserts. Sharing seems inevitable at the communal restaurant that seems to be as much about having an experience as it is about the food. But Executive Chef Jordon Toft’s rustic cuisine isn’t to be dismissed. The items are familiar, but unique. Thoughtful, but not overly fussy.

On the small plates menu, the Roast Butternut Squash with meaty royal trumpet mushrooms, parsley and St. Agur blue cheese is not to be missed. The caramelized hunks of sweet squash sing with the addition of the tangy cheese, and the mushrooms add welcome heft and earthiness to the plate. The Fried Eggplant Salad with cilantro, scallions, and a rice wine, soy and cumin dressing is equally exciting to the palate – though is not as crispy as the title would suggest.

There are salads too – Butter Lettuce with warm egg yolk and garden herbs, and a Mache Salad that could almost double as a meat and cheese plate with it’s long ribbons of parma prosciutto and ricotta salata, and accents of fresh figs and walnuts. Crispy Seasoned Squid is brightened up with an appealingly potent preserved lemon mayonnaise, but the real stand-out on the small plates menu is the Pork Rilletes with sweet pickled zucchini, radishes and charred toast. The supple strands of juicy pork are addicting with the pickled relishes – it’s perfect for sharing.

The larger plates are no less inspiring. The Beef Rib-Eye Cap with beets, chanterelles, fresh tufts of grated horseradish, and Pinot Noir sauce is a highlight, appearing at the table a rosy shade of medium rare. A steak knife is hardly necessary to cut through the well-seasoned buttery flesh, and the accompaniments chime in with the appropriate flavor notes to compliment the beef. Tack on a side of the Orecchiette Mac & Cheese – the best gourmet version I’ve had in recent memory – to proceed directly to comfort food heaven.

Richer dishes include a massive slab of Crisp Pork Belly with soft polenta and a Braised Beef Cheek with buttered sunchokes and roasted carrots that plays pinch-hitter for the ubiquitous beef short rib dish. I prefer the lighter surf options – a fresh Grilled Ocean Salmon with avocado, warm heirloom baby tomatoes, watercress and herbed goat cheese that actually tastes like it’s from the ocean, and the robust Wild White Shrimp with sauce vierge, bacon, cauliflower puree, and peppered pecorino.

For dessert, the Poached Peach with coconut vanilla syrup, brown sugar ice cream, and almond praline is a study in complimentary textures and flavors. Designed as a sort of deconstructed peach crisp, it’s most potent on the palate when everything is swirled together on the plate and then eaten as one immensely satisfying bite. The Frozen Dark Chocolate Sandwich with warm rum caramel and banana ice cream is also nice, but the intensely banana-y ice cream is the most memorable part of the dish.

Eveleigh, however, doesn’t even need its fine food to be memorable with diners and the late-night revelers who will soon be flocking to the space in droves. One look around the patio, one look into the casually chic interior, one look at the trellis-lined walkway, and it’s clear that Eveleigh is already there.

It’s already “that” place.

8752 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Thursday, October 28, 2010

DomaineLA Wine Tastings: The perfect addition to my Sunday routine

I love routine.

Love love routine.

I’ve been eating the same bowl of peanut butter oatmeal for breakfast on week day mornings for the past four years. I always brew a big pot of tea to go with it, and always spend a good twenty minutes enjoying my breakfast while I read the Los Angeles Times and half-listen to Tony Harris on CNN. Some might find this sort of repetitive morning ritual tiresome, but I crave it like I do a really good cookie, and find comfort in the familiarity of the motions.

While I do love mixing things up by trying a new restaurant and will happily trek some place I’ve never been before (most of the time), I love the structure that a set schedule brings to a day. Recently, I’ve become particularly attached to my new Sunday routine that involves three of my favorite things – God, food and wine. I wake up, eat breakfast (while reading the paper, of course), go to church to pray for my sanity (and a husband), pick up produce and Rockenwagner pretzel rolls at the Brentwood Farmer’s Market, go home, make myself an egg sandwich for lunch, and then proceed directly to a wine tasting at local Hollywood wine shop, DomaineLA.

DomaineLA owner Jill Bernheimer started the tastings on Sunday, September 19th with no real sense of how they would be received by the community. The first tasting that featured three sparkling wines with optional pairings from the Ludo Truck parked outside far exceeded her humble expectations – the small neighborhood shop was brimming with both local customers and foodies in search of good company, food and wine. By the time Esi from Dishing Up Delights and I arrived at 4 pm, approximately an hour before the end of the tasting, nearly all the wine glasses were occupied. Like us, everyone seemed to be looking for a way to put a little sparkle into their Sunday.

Since that first widely popular event, Jill has hosted three more Sunday afternoon tastings – two of which I’ve also been able to attend with Esi. There was a $10 tasting on 10/10/10 featuring wines from Producer Amy Atwood, including a unique 2009 Petras Pinot Noir from Rheingau, Germany that almost reminded me of a rosé. The Ludo Truck was on hand once again to provide sustenance for all the happy sippers.

Then, this past Sunday, Importer Luis Moya of Vinos Unico came in with five selections from his portfolio of affordable Spanish and Portuguese wines. We all loved the dry NV Cava Barcino Brut ($15) and the lusty 2008 Granadeiro Tapada do Barao Tinto from Antejo ($12). The tasting was my favorite to date – I spent two hours savoring the accessible wines, asking the gregarious importer questions, and chatting with friends. Hungrier attendees gratefully gobbled up tofu balls and pork belly banh mi sandwiches from Starry Kitchen, who had taken over the Mandoline Grill Truck for the event.

The Sunday afternoon DomaineLA tastings are the perfect way to bring closure to a weekend. It’s relaxing and low-key, but still social. It’s intimate, but also a way to meet new people and friends with similar interests. And it’s the type of thing that one can (for the most part) spontaneously show up to if they aren’t anal enough to pre-purchase their tickets on-line like the freaks who enjoy living their lives according to a schedule of planned events.

I know I’m going to be scheduling some of DomaineLA’s upcoming tastings into my calendar this fall and winter. Even if it means breaking with my new Sunday routine to go to one on a… (gasp)… Friday night.

Upcoming Wine Events at DomaineLA

Sunday, November 7th – “Brunch with the Lardon Truck” featuring a special bacon Bento Box and a pairing flight of sparkling wines, mimosas, etc. Details to be announced soon.

Friday, November 11th – DomaineLA’s new “Off the Clock” series kicks off with a special intimate round-table tasting with Jeff Porter, the wine director at Osteria Mozza.

Future participants in the “Off the Clock” series will include Matthew Kaner from Bar Covell, Lou Amdur from Lou on Vine, Marisa Geirlich from Street, Helen Joahannasen from Animal, Amy Christine and Peter Hunken from Black Sheep Finds, and Paul Wasserman of the Wine Hotel.

6801 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 932-0280

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Terroni: Tremendous service -- if you sit at the bar

“Here, try this one,” He says, placing a fourth wine glass in front of me at the bar.

I blush, feeling both tickled and embarrassed by the special attention Terroni’s bartender is lavishing upon me in the form of heady Italian red wines. Stephanie from Stuffy Cheaks snaps a picture of my collection of glasses – she’s equally impressed by the service we are receiving.

After a moment’s hesitation, I finally settle on the 2007 Montefalco Rosso Antonelli, a blend of Sangiovese, Sagrantino, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon that is very fruit forward on the palate. It’s a pleasant wine that I imagine will taste even better when paired with food.

Stephanie and I don’t have to wait long for such sustenance to arrive. Moments later the bartender presents us with a plate of four slices of an Italian stromboli-style pastry with zucchini, eggplant, spicy salami and mozzarella. Despite the diminutive size, the bites pack a potent punch on the tongue – everything is well-seasoned, and the salami has a surprising kick. I initially mistake it for Terroni’s addictive peperoncini piccanti that the restaurant serves as a condiment for their Neapolitan-style pizzas and rustic Southern Italian pasta dishes.

Once our friend Kate arrives at the restaurant, Stephanie and I bid our charming bartenders – and incidentally, all attentive service – goodbye for the rest of the evening. After we’ve been seated at our table for four in the far corner of the buzzing restaurant, we feel as though we’ve been forgotten. Fortunately, we have Terroni’s comforting Italian soul food to assuage our wounds from the social slight.

We start with an order of the fried Arancini, an item from the antipasti or “Apristomaco” menu. The golden conical-shaped rice balls come with judicious slices of parmesan cheese that seem almost superfluous upon tasting the arancini. The center is stuffed with ground meat and cheese and immediately makes me think, “Fried Bolognese.” I love the twist on what can occasionally be a bland, mushy bite, and am happy to oblige my dining companions when they insist I take the last one.

I am less enthusiastic about our second starter – the Ricchia salad with arugula, fresh mushrooms, parmesan shavings, lemon, and extra-virgin olive oil. The salad is meant to be pure – a study in what can be achieved when using fresh, high-quality ingredients – but it is a little too understated for my tastes. I enjoy having a bright interlude in the middle of our comfort food fest, but would not feel necessarily inclined to select the same salad again.

For our entrees, we each opt for one of Terroni’s freshly made pastas. At our waiter’s suggestion, I select the Capunti al Ragu d’Agnello with handmade capunti pasta, slow cooked lamb ragu and pecorino, and am immediately smitten with my cuddly bowl of carbohydrate decadence. While it’s an atypical preparation of a ragu – the lamb is served as pellets rather than supple strands that can more readily soak up the sauce – it’s an appropriate pairing for the shape of the pasta. I adore the chewiness of the capunti that is almost reminiscent of gnocchi in terms of shape and texture.

I’m also fond of Stephanie’s pasta selection – the Linguine alle Vongole e Bottarga with clams and bottarga in a white wine sauce. Even without the assistance of the clams, the some what stiff al dente linguine oozes oceanic flavor. I imagine that the over-the-top brininess might be tiresome after several bites, but I am delighted with the forkful of pasta I sample.

Kate is least excited about her dish – the Spaghetti ca’ Pummarola N’Goppa which is Terroni’s version of spaghetti with tomato sauce, garlic and basil. While such a dish can be a standout when done right, she finds it to be a little too simple, and the pasta is a bit thick and unwieldy to work through.

I’m tempted to order the nutella fritters with hazelnut gelato for dessert, but by this juncture in the evening, we’ve all grown a little weary from the poor service we’ve received from our disappearing waiter. I stare sadly at my empty wine glass that he never offered to replenish, but pay my portion of the bill without regret. Even though the rest of the evening wasn’t as successful as the first 20 minutes Stephanie and I spent at the bar, it was still an enjoyable night with friends.

Next time, however, I’ll be more inclined to spend my $18 on a bowl of pasta at Osteria Mozza – a place where I’ve never had to ask for a refill of wine, and a place where I would never ever find it conceivable to pass up dessert.

7605 Beverly Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 954-0300

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Sweet for the Beast from Sweets for the Soul

It only takes one bite.

As I surrender my tongue to Canelé’s pillowy French toast, letting it dissolve into my mouth like cotton candy, I know I’m doomed. The sugar rushes to my head, my veins surge with bolts of energy, and my eyes expand to wide circles.

I’ve awakened the beast.

I force myself to put my fork down lest I attempt to eat more of Laurie from G-Ma’s Bakery’s brunch, and knead my napkin to keep my hands occupied. It’s no matter. Even if I don’t take another bite of the epic French toast, I will need to find another form of sugar to consume in the near to immediate future.

“I think I’m going to go to Sweets for the Soul…” I tell my dining companions after we’ve paid our bill and departed the restaurant.

None of them want anything – we’ve all just consumed a sizable brunch (with bacon) – but they still agree to walk one block down Glendale Blvd. to the pea-sized bakery with me.

Even though the independently owned Sweets for the Soul is known for their brownies that Los Angeles Magazine named the best in the city in their “Best of LA” August 2010 issue, I quickly zero in on a different item in the bakery case. My eyes dart over the Obama brownie with dark and white chocolate chips ($4), the caramel brownie bliss with toasted pecans and caramel ($3.50), and hotter shot brownie with cayenne, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger ($2.75) without much pause. Everything looks amazing, but my soul (and the beast) wants something else – the billionaire’s bliss cookie bar ($.2.75).

I order the confection – a neat square of shortbread topped with Madagascar chocolate, caramel and fleur de sel – without hesitation, my heart already pulsating with giddy anticipation. For a second I contemplate eating it when I get home with a cup of rooibos tea, but as soon as I step out onto the sidewalk to rejoin my friends, I know I can’t wait that long. While they look on in half-horror and half-amusement, I plop down at one of the two circular patio tables outside the bakery, and begin to inhale the bar.

It’s more delicate than the salted caramel bars I’ve enjoyed at both Huckleberry Cafe and Bite Bar & Bakery. The caramel is less pronounced and less overtly sweet on the palate, but the entire package is charming. It tastes hand-crafted, and the ingredients are undoubtedly of high quality. I almost feel guilty eating it so manically. My teeth are working so quickly that they shatter the thin shell of bittersweet chocolate, crush the tender shortbread into crumbs that spew onto the table, and annihilate the generous salted topping.

When it’s gone, I sheepishly look up at my friends who seem bewildered by what just transpired.

“I had to have it.” I say as way of explanation.

They nod, I collect my things, and then we walk back down the street as though they didn’t just witness the awakening and subsequent quieting of my inner sugar beast. It’s like any other day in the Atwater Village neighborhood. And it’s like any other day in the life of “Diana Takes a Bite.”

Sweets for the Soul
3169 Glendale Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(In Atwater Village)
(323) 668-9338

Monday, October 25, 2010

Canelé for some far-out farro

I study the menu in consternation, my brow taut with anxiety.

"It's not here," I think frantically. I glance across the table at Cathy from Gastronomy Blog's menu, hoping that it's just a misprint on mine – hoping that I'm wrong to suspect that Canelé is no longer serving the chickpea pancake with fried egg, feta and harissa for brunch.

I'd been planning to order the dish since Cathy, Amy from Roaming Belly, and Laurie from G-Ma's Bakery, had scheduled our brunch date at the Atwater Village local's spot two weeks prior. I had even announced it to them via e-mail after analyzing my options at home that Friday night. For once, my mind was made up. I wasn't going to get Canelé's souffle-like French toast again, I was going to get a savory delight instead – the chickpea pancake – and that was the end of the discussion.

Or so I thought.

"I don't see it." I say finally, looking up at my dining companions in confusion. "It should be between the Quiche Lorraine and the Soft-Scrambled Eggs."

They shake their heads – they don't have an answer for me either.

My eyes narrow over the replacement dish – Fried farro with a fried egg, bacon and sriracha ($11.50).

It sounds good, but most things with bacon are. Pork fat – in any incarnation – has become almost tiringly trendy. Everybody wants to put it in and on everything, and often times it's done without much thought as to how it will actually enhance or integrate into the dish.

I don't want to have bacon just to have bacon. If I wanted that, I'd just order a side of bacon ($4.50).

But the waitress is enthusiastic about the farro. Her face lights up when I mention it. It lights up even more when she describes it. "So good." She insists.

I trust her. So do Cathy and Amy – all three of us order it for our brunch.

It takes some time for our food to come out (everything is made to order in the small open kitchen), but I know as soon as I see the wobbly yolk of the fried egg teetering over the heap of farro that I'm going to love the dish.

Every component on the plate makes sense. The nutty farro has been prepared similarly to fried rice with ginger and heady punches of garlic and green onions. It's the perfect base for the oozing egg and fatty hunks of bacon that are generously interspersed throughout the plate. I love the kick from the sriracha, and am glad that it’s served in a separate cup so I can add it at will. The earthy, spicy, sweet, and savory elements meld together perfectly, and the bacon is the proper lubricant to bring a touch of decadence to the mostly wholesome dish.

By the time I’m scraping up the last few kernels of farro, the chickpea pancake has been long forgotten. The farro was everything I didn’t know I wanted – including the fatty bits of bacon.

3219 Glendale Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039-1831
(323) 666-7133

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lentil Soup with Saffron Yogurt: One good thing about fall

I haven’t been dealing well with the seasonal change this year. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to summer when it abruptly departed a few weeks ago without so much as hug or proper farewell. It left without comment – taking sweet corn, nectarines, Rosé, and my ability to wear my white skirt with it.

Fall seemed to happen over night. In recent weeks, the air has turned cold and vacant, the blue skies have grown tired and gray, and when I wake up in the morning the world is still sinister and dark.

It makes me sad. It makes me tired. It makes me want to burrow under my pink comforter and hide away until it is sunny and light again.

My appetite has changed too. I no longer want to eat leafy salads dotted with slivers of plums and fennel, or the Greek yogurt parfaits I’d been eating for breakfast with sweet blueberries and vanilla-scented granola. I want warm, comforting foods – banana walnut oatmeal with dates, turkey meatballs, chicken marsala.

And soup.

Last Friday, the light at the end of my dark tunnel of a day was 101 Cookbooks’ “Lively Up Yourself Lentil Soup.” As the dark clouds threatened to burst over Los Angeles, I fantasized about going home, changing into sweatpants, and cuddling up with a big bowl of the stew-like soup.

The end product was everything I wanted it to be – and, most importantly, everything I needed it to be on that particular day. It warmed my soul. It lifted my spirit. And it reminded me that not everything about fall is bad.

“Lively Up Yourself Lentil Soup”
Lightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Serves 3-4

1 cup green French lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
½ large onion, chopped
1 14-ounce can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen)
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups green chard rinsed well, deveined, finely chopped
Crispy shallots (optional)

Saffron Yogurt
a pinch of saffron (30-40 threads)
1 tablespoon boiling water
two pinches of salt
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan, add the lentils, and cook for about 20-30 minutes, or until tender. Drain and set aside.

While the lentils are cooking, make the saffron yogurt by combining the saffron threads and boiling water in a tiny cup. Let the saffron steep for a few minutes. Now stir the saffron along with the liquid into the yogurt. Mix in the salt and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over medium heat, then add the onion and salt and sauté until tender, a couple minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, lentils, and vegetable broth and continue cooking for ten more minutes, letting the soup come back up to a simmer.

Stir in the chopped greens, and wait another minute. Taste and adjust the seasoning if need be. Ladle into bowls, and serve with a dollop of the saffron yogurt and optional crispy shallots.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Magnolia Bakery: Satisfying my childish whims with pumpkin sweets and classic treats

I’m kind of embarrassed.

No, really embarrassed.

While I pride myself on always being punctual – on always being the one person in LA who actually gets somewhere on time – this is just ridiculous.

It’s Tuesday night at 7:50 pm and Sook from Yutjangsh and I are standing outside Magnolia Bakery waiting for the doors to open for a special media party featuring the bakery’s classic sweets and new fall treats.

I stare at my face in the reflection of the glass doors that have been decorated with Halloween cutouts, and feel uncomfortably like a parent waiting to get into a sale at Walmart or Toy ‘R Us.

“Who are you?” I think as I watch my face contort with self-disgust.

And then I remember.

I’m the girl who loves sugar.

When the doors burst open shortly after 8 pm to let us in, I already know what’s going to happen. I’m not just going to be the girl who loves sugar; I’m going to be the girl who ate everything – and savored every sweet second of it.

The famous New York bakery has only been open in its West Hollywood location for three months, but already it feels like a comfortable arm chair that has been worn down to fit who ever sits in it perfectly. It’s the type of place where calories don’t seem to exist – a safe haven where reality stands still while those inside surrender to chocolate cupcakes, apple pie and a banana pudding that could change lives.

Once I’m enraptured by the pale blue walls of the old-fashioned bakery, I forget that I’ve been trying to cut back on dessert. I forget that I have jeans at home that are fitting a little too snuggly for comfort. And I forget that I’m a 27-year-old, not a 7-year-old. I snatch up my first of three sample cups of the aforementioned life-changing banana pudding, and let the frosting flood gates fly open.

After the pudding, my first priority is to sample the seasonal pumpkin sweets – specifically the pumpkin cupcake with maple cream cheese frosting and toasted pecans ($3.25), the mini pumpkin pecan cheesecake with a ginger snap crust ($5.50), and the pumpkin whoopie pie with a maple cream cheese frosting filling. Each is disarming in its own way. The cheesecake is refined – an appropriate dessert for an adult who prefers sweets that are mellow and understated. I love the way it mimics the flavor and texture of an actually pumpkin pie, but my seven-year-old heart beats faster for the more playful pumpkins treats. I love the over-the-top sweetness and pillow-like plushness of the pumpkin cupcake and whoopie pie. I would gladly trade in a traditional slice of pumpkin pie for the cupcake on Thanksgiving.

After getting my fill of fall’s favorite squash, I tease my tongue with some of Magnolia’s classic goodies that are available every day during every season. Of the many bites I try, I find myself most excited by the mini red velvet cheesecake with a chocolate cookie crust ($5.50) and the classic icebox cake composed of homemade chocolate wafers that have been lovingly lavished with fresh whipped sweet cream ($4.50/slice). Even though my palate is starting to grow weary of all the sugar, I glide my fork through the ravishing red interior of the cheesecake without hesitation. I love the silky, almost pudding-like texture that is the perfect contrast to the bittersweet chocolate cookie crumb crust. I am similarly transfixed by the chocolate ice box cake that is reminiscent of an Oreo in flavor. It’s cool, refreshing and far too easy to eat. I’m both disappointed and grateful when the shared plate moves out of my reach.

It’s a challenge for me to lay my fork to rest after an hour of indulging my every childish whim, but it’s a comfort to know that a place like Magnolia exists for the moments when I need to transport myself outside of reality. Even if it does mean recognizing the reality that I may never fit into my skinny jeans ever again.

Magnolia Bakery
8389 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 951-0636

Mon-Wed: 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m
Thursday: 7:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Friday: 7:30 a.m. – midnight
Saturday: 8:00 a.m. - midnight
Sunday: 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rincon Chileno: A satisfying walk into a new comfort zone

“I’m not in Kansas any more,” I think as I slide out of my car and scurry down the somewhat downtrodden street toward the restaurant. I’ve been in the Wilshire Center neighborhood before for ice cream fixes at Scoops, so I’m not necessarily intimidated by its somewhat scruffy appearance, but I am slightly intimidated about my dining destination for the evening.

Rincon Chileno, one of a handful of Chilean restaurants in Los Angeles, is not the type of place I usually find myself on a Thursday evening – or any evening for that matter. Usually, I stay close to home (or work) on week nights – preferring to gorge myself on familiar comforts. Those places – the Mozzas, Angeli Caffe, Nook Bistro, Nakkara – are my security blankets. They are sure things, and in comparison, the humbly dressed Rincon Chileno seems to be more of a wild card.

But I trust Bill from Street Gourmet LA. He’s selected the restaurant for our post-K&L wine tasting dinner with two representatives from Face to Face Imports, LLC, and I know he knows Latin American cuisine like I know chocolate and quinoa. I’d follow him through any block in Los Angeles or any block south of the border in the pursuit of good food – even if I did feel slightly hesitant to take that first step.

Tonight, my hesitant steps toward Rincon Chileno will be greatly rewarded. As soon as I tear into the dense biscuit-like rolls that are made with the same dough used to make the restaurant and deli’s empanadas, I know everything is going to be okay. I smear the spongy flesh with the vibrant Serrano chile salsa (pebre) and sit back and relax, my tongue already tingling with pleasure.

We start with an order of Ceviche ($10.95) – a bright plate of greens, potatoes, corn and white fish that is bathed in an intense citrus-infused broth. The citrus is assertive on the palate, but the accompanying potatoes and greens balance out the bold flavor. While the plate looks a bit unrefined in presentation, the dish itself is very well-executed.

Bill and follow the light appetizer with an order of two empanadas – one with chicken, the other with spinach and mozzarella cheese ($3.95/each). While I enjoy the tender, flaky dough that pockets each empanada filling, I far prefer the spinach version that oozes a lush river of cheese. I find myself craving more heat or spice in the chicken empanada – there isn’t anything particularly distinct or noteworthy about it.

We continue our carbo-load with two corn dishes for the table – the Humitas con Ensalada ($10.95) and the Pastel de Choclo ($11.95). The former is essentially a Chilean tamale made with real corn instead of corn meal and is usually prepared with butter or lard. Rincon’s version is dense and sticky and sweet – almost like a bowl of oatmeal in texture. It’s an intense bite, but the acidity from the accompanying tomato and onion salad is a nice contrast. After tasting the Pastel de Choclo, however, I find it difficult to go back to the Humitas.

The Pastel de Choclo is akin to a shepard’s pie made with tender tangles of chicken, hard boiled eggs, raisins, and black olives that are covered in a dense caramelized corn mash topping. I can’t get enough of the savory sweet combination and keep digging my spoon back into the communal pie pan for another hit of the well-mingled mess of ingredients. I love it.

I am less enthusiastic about our final savory courses – a cazuela beef stew and the lomo pobre ($14.95), a rib eye steak with two fried eggs, French fries and caramelized onions. The beef used in both is a touch too tough for my tastes, but I do appreciate the palate-cleansing lightness of the broth in the soup, and I can’t get enough of the slick onions served on top of the steak. I could certainly see myself adoring the dish with a more knife-friendly cut of beef – especially when the yolk from the runny egg spills into the crevices of the steak.

At this juncture in the evening, dessert seems far too taxing for my carb-filled stomach, but Bill still orders a multi-layered pastry and a mote de huesillo, a sweet beverage made with peach and barley. Neither dessert tickles my palate the same way a cup of ice cream from Scoops across the street would, but I do enjoy ending the night with one more sweet note.

As Bill walks me back to my car, our stomachs both secure with Chilean comforts, I think again, “Yes, I’d still follow you anywhere.” Next time, I’m sure my step will be far less hesitant to do so.

Rincon Chileno
4354 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90029-3543
(323) 666-6075