Matt and Ethan are using the summer to eat all over LA; rustic or modern, cheap or expensive, fast or slow, it doesn't matter... we just want quality.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Lofaso's Creation

Donned in slacks and button downs, Matt and I headed over to Black Market Liquor Bar. Antonia Lofaso, a Top Chef contestant, just opened her own place that's all about sharing small plates. Our last visit to a restaurant with small plates, Pica, set the bar high, but Black Market sure stepped up.

Right on Ventura, it's a convenient spot, but you might pass it if you didn't know that it's there. It's quite dark inside; candles give off a soft glow perched on the brick ceiling... this is definitely a gastropub. We're overdressed, but who can tell? The waitress guides us through the menu with print that is much too small, especially considering the lighting situation. The menu is comprehensive and deep, consisting of dishes from different parts of the world with differing flavors.

First comes the crispy collard greens with a soft egg on top; the runny yolk and pr
osciutto combine for a salty richness. Next came the charcuterie platter, which was excellently sourced. The meats were of high quality, and the pickled in-house veggies were a well-regarded touch.
I must interject and digress about possibly the most eccentric yet pleasing aspect of the whole place: the soda. They have dozens of different types and brands. No Coke or Sprite is found here; instead, they have sodas like Mr Q.Cumber, or Blueberry. A wide variety of beer may be necessary at a pub, but who says soda can't be cool?

Alright, back on topic. One of the best dishes of the night was the softshell crab po-boy. Fried to golden perfection with a cool asian slaw, I could've ordered two more. Peel-and-eat shrimp were seasoned heavily with salt and pepper with a lemony tang to them. Crunchy and messy, always a good sign.

Better than any of the food itself was talking to Lofaso herself after the kitchen calmed down a bit later into the night. We talked of her previous work at Spago, the restaurant she gives credit to teaching her everything she knows about cooking. She seems very pleased with the praise and press she's getting. Her food was all around fantastic and she doesn't need me to tell her that, nor do you. Check it out for yourself by making an online reservation; you'll love the delicate food and classy ambiance.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lowkey BBQ

NPR sends out a featured restaurant every week via text message. Smoke City Market in Van Nuys was that restaurant a few weeks ago. It was also a coincidence we were car shopping, so Smoke City was right in the center of all the dealerships on Van Nuys. It's a small place, and I wouldn't have found it if it weren't for NPR (and Google Maps on my iPhone).

You walk in, and it seems like a place you'd find in the South. A quiet, dimly lit room, long bench-tables with beer buckets on top holding supplies, and people munching over wax paper brings an mysterious, yet enticing sensation. There seem to be only two people working as it's not crowded today. A pretty cashier and a big husky guy behind her at the carving station. Yes, they cut the meat to order by hand: impressive. You look over the menu high above the counter, and you don't know what "Texas Caviar" is. But not to worry, she explains what it is, and of course, you get it. It's black eyed peas with diced roasted peppers and herbs in a sharp, vinegar-y dressing. Get the Pastrami, just do it, and he'll start to slice your meat right as the words come out of your mouth.

Interestingly, they serve the meat plain with just some slices of white bread. They tell you to eat with your hands and add only their homemade barbecue sauce if you want something else on the meat. Of course you can have their slides, but don't go making a fancy sandwich with the meats. Savor the quality by eating it plain.

I'll definitely return to enjoy the cool serenity of, if you think about it, a pretty minimalist establishment. However, I can tell you now that I'll be back before my 4 year lease is up.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fresh Out da Sea

You would not expect to find some of the freshest and most traditional sushi in a Studio City strip mall.  Well Chef Nozawa or "The Sushi Nazi" as he's known, serves traditional Japanese classics at his restaurant Sushi Nozawa.  You receive no menu, you must ask for one.  If you opt out of the menu, (which you should) you get the Nozawa's special: "Trust Me".   Nozawa prides himself on providing the freshest fish possible by going to the Fish Market every day in the very early morning.  Whatever looks best to him that particular day ends up on your plate that night.

Signs all over the restaurant simply say "Trust Me" and so that is what we did.  The first course was a raw tuna salad in a light vinaigrette.  Also worth noting is the house made wasabi and ginger.  The second course came swiftly following the first, as Nozawa watched vigilantly to see when we finished our previous course.  Next came slices of Yellowtail and Toro over hot sticky rice.  What's also different about this place is that the rice is always served hot.  If your chopstick skills aren't up to par, your hands will suffice.
Ginger and Wasabi

Yellowtail and Toro Sashimi
Raw Tuna Salad

Only midway through, 2 Crab Handrolls and 4 pieces of Albacore sashimi arrived.  The crab was  not overpowered by the sauce.  That's a trend Nozawa sticks to; he serves his fish raw with little to detract from the fish itself.  He wants the quality of the fish to shine through.  Yet another course, 2 Toro Handrolls and 4 Halibut sashimi were delivered by the only waiter at the restaurant.  Delicious as always.  After we cleared our plates, our server asked us if we wanted another course; Matt was ready to quit, but Ethan pushed him into one more course.  Probably the best sashimi of the night came here.  We were graced with Black Cod sashimi and Scallop Handcone.  We weren't hungry enough to fully enjoy the rich Scallop Handcone after 4 full courses, but the Black Cod was simply awesome.
Toro Handrolls and Halibut Sashimi
Scallop Handcones and Black Cod Sashimi

It's up to you how much to order, but beware of the price.  You won't know how much it is until your bill comes at the end, and "trust us" it's expensive.  However, like we said in our last post, it's worth it.  Quality comes at a price and you're sure paying premium here.  There are no fancy flavors or colorful plates here, just extremely traditional sushi served the way it's meant to be.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pay For Quality

After watching the news and seeing that Carmageddon was actually a blessing in disguise, causing less LA traffic than normal, we decided to head to Santa Monica's Huckleberry.  We arrived in the back lot where parking is free and abundant.  Heading through the back door, we were swamped with people.  The line was long, however it only took a few minutes to order.  While waiting in line, you can see all the delicious pastries in display cases enticing you.  Although most probably tasty, they were definitely marked up based on location and prestige.  We opted for 2 moderately priced donut holes; they sure were well-made.

Our ratatouille and fried egg sandwich arrived at the table, just after we snagged a table in the bustling dining room.  The ratatouille was filled with fresh vegetables and it really let the quality of the produce come through.  An egg on top added some protein and richness.  The thick bread on the bottom was crunchy and freshly baked, a nice touch.  A hearty and energy-packed fried egg sandwich was a great way to start the day.  It had nicely cooked sunny side up eggs that added creaminess to the sandwich along with the aioli.  Niman Ranch bacon added a nice saltiness and crisp texture to the sandwich, and the gruyere was nutty and melted.

Huckleberry serves up a terrific breakfast that showcases fresh ingredients and simple flavors.  The cost of ingredients inflates the prices beyond a casual breakfast, but for a special occasion or treat, Bob Barker would agree The Price is Right!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Lonely Trucks

We were looking around twitter trying to find a good food truck to eat at, and we saw that 4 trucks were going to be at the same location in Culver City.  We made sure to leave enough time even if there was traffic and the food trucks were packed.  We had experienced 1.5 hours with Nom Nom and Grill 'em All trucks in the past.  Well, there was no traffic and there was close to no one at the food trucks.  By that we mean there were maybe 10 people at most eating from the 4 different trucks when we first got to the large parking lot for Centinela Feed and Akiba Temple #badbusiness.

Nom Nom, The Munchie Machine, José O'Malley's, and Crepe'n Around.  We started with bahn mi from Nom Nom.  The pork and lemongrass chicken bahn mi were both good as always.  We didn't eat at Crepe'n Around or The Munchie Machine, although The Munchie Machine had a creative hangover/dank menu.  Trying to find out the attempted play on words of the truck's name Matt's sister asked the guy at Crepe'n Around "What's the pun?"  The befuddled Mr. Crepe answered her question with another question: "Are crepes fun!?"  Realizing he clearly couldn't formulate a simple answer to a seemingly simple question, she walked away laughing.

We wanted to try food from another truck, so we decided on chili and a beef quesadilla from the gringo truck (José O'Malley's).  Don't be thrown off by the overly tacky light up signs and flags that top the truck; the food is enjoyable.  It's nothing special or creative, but it tastes good.

Even though there was not much energy, we always like a food truck adventure.