Oh, hello. It’s been a while. Life has been moving at warp speed since we returned from our recent trip to Los Angeles to bring our daughter to school. And no sooner have we unpacked our bags than we need to pack them again. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about our time on the west coast, which was remarkable for many reasons. We got our daughter her first car. We shared precious memories before saying goodbye for what may be many months. And we got to eat some great food. I mean, some really great food. I won’t delay here—there are too many amazing places to tell you about. However, I do want to say this: after my week on the left coast, I’m convinced LA must be one of the best food cities in the country right now. The proof is in the pudding…butterscotch budino, to be exact.
Our first adventure began as all good adventures begin: with breakfast. I’d read about Sqirl in bon appétit and Food and Wine magazines and was excited to check it out in person. We hiked over to Virgil Avenue on the eastside of LA, in a slightly remote area bordering Silver Lake. Of course, there was already a line out the door. We placed our order, grabbed a wobbly table along the sidewalk and waited for our food to be delivered.
Jessica Koslow started with jam and her meticulously crafted, locally sourced preserves have become her claim to fame. She serves up some amazing savory dishes too, like mind-blowing rice bowls and stunningly creative sandwiches. But we’d come for the jam and so jam it would be. A thick slab of brioche, toasted until just slightly burnt, then slathered with creamy ricotta and topped with one of those insanely flavorful preserves–strawberry and rose geranium here–was simple, yet remarkable.
We had another hunk of toast smothered in a delectable Black Mission fig jam made with red wine,
and couldn’t resist more bread spread with nut butter, topped with a Guittard chocolate ganache and sprinkled with a finish of fleur de sel. A carb-loader’s delight.
To balance all this sweetness, we tucked into a spicy and comforting pot of shakshuka, topped with a soft egg and a shard of baguette. Sqirl is a most brilliant way to start the day. And you can bet we brought a couple of jars of jam home with us.
Dinner that evening was a bit more refined, but no less inventive. Our daughter’s restaurant request was to go to ink., run by Chef Michael Voltaggio of Top Chef fame. Dark and sexy inside, the wait staff was supremely polished and accommodating. Unfortunately, my photo taking was hampered by dim candlelight. Though not photogenic, trust me, every bite was impressive.
The menu at ink. consists of small plates designed for sharing. Listed in order from lighter fare to more filling choices, each dish is a creative explosion of ingenuity and design. Take, for example, potato polenta, dotted with knobs of unctuous bone marrow and topped with sour cream and chives.
We were blown away by “foritos,” the chef’s take on Dorito chips, dusted with ranch flavoring and served over a bowl of the most incredible corn purée that I wanted to spread all over me. Another huge hit at our table was the egg yolk gnocchi: ethereal nuggets of pasta, filled with egg yolk that oozed with each bite. Served in a rich and intense mushroom butter sauce, we were dreaming of this dish for many days to follow. And here was Wagyu beef cheek, tender as a baby’s bottom, served over a spiced purée of eggplant and topped with smoked chicharrones. ink. is an exceptional dining event.
New day, new feasting experience—we made our way to Grand Central Market in downtown LA. Open since 1917, the market’s mission is to celebrate the cuisines and cultures of Los Angeles. And what a celebration it is! Food stands of every variety and purveyors of every ingredient. This market has recently been revitalized by the addition of some gourmet vendors and it is quite the food scene: lines at every stand, every table filled. We weren’t quite sure where to begin. But first, breakfast.
Who else would you trust to prepare your first meal of the day than the eggslut? The row of customers waiting for food was long and winding but congenial, as everyone compared notes on which sandwiches to order. “Is this your first eggslut? Oh, you’re in for a treat!” It was obvious that the guys behind the counter really care about this food and that their patrons are loyal. Our anticipation was building…
…and then it was our turn to order. My daughter got the Bacon, Egg & Cheese: hardwood smoked bacon, medium egg, cheddar cheese and chipotle ketchup in a warm portuguese bun; I went with the Fairfax: softly scrambled eggs topped with cheddar, caramelized onions and sriracha mayo, also in a warm bun. I’m not usually a breakfast sandwich kind of person, but this one took the cake.
Hubby opted for a handmade bagel and house-smoked sturgeon at Wexler’s, a deli stand nearby. Old school, Jewish soul food, as they call it–it reminded us of our beloved appetizing back home.
We were supremely stuffed, but we couldn’t let that stop us. On to explore the many ethnic vendors around us: from Sticky Rice, known for organic, free range Thai comfort food,
to old school Chinese at the China Cafe (chop suey, anyone?).
We couldn’t resist sharing a carnitas gordita with the works at Ana Maria. This masa cake was stuffed to the brim with braised pork, beans, lettuce, sour cream and guacamole and only cost an unbelievable three dollars and fifty cents.
Finally, my sugar-addicted daughter dragged me to the counter of McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams. She ordered a shake and, after sampling a couple of their amazing flavors, I caved and got a sugar cone piled high with salted caramel and mint chip. Best ice cream I’ve tasted in years—bold flavors, fresh from the dairy.
Can you believe we actually still wanted dinner after gorging ourselves at the market? It was inevitable, because every where we went, people whispered in our ear, “Go to Mozza, you’ve got to eat at Mozza.”
Mozza, as in Osteria Mozza (high end Italian) or Pizzeria Mozza (casual pizza), is the dynasty run by the celebrated Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery fame and Mario Batali of orange clog fame. Of course, there was no way we were getting a reservation last minute, but, lucky for us, there’s a first come, first served mozzarella bar at the pizzeria. We didn’t wait very long before being plopped down at the far end, right in front of the very professional, oven-slaving staff. What a great show they provided throughout our meal.
We began by sharing a shaved and perfectly dressed tre colore salad. Piled high on the plate, arugula, frisée and radicchio was garnished with a snow shower of parmesan. Heavenly.
We followed that with two pizzas. The first was topped with fresh slices of Prosciutto di Parma, nutty leaves of arugula and a creamy egg; the second, a Mozza signature pie, was decoratively festooned with flowery squash blossoms and velvety dollops of fresh ricotta. Never underestimate the value of a good pizza—the crust on this one is crispy, light and exceptional.
Sublime pizza was followed by the house specialty for dessert: butterscotch budino, an intensely rich pudding, finished with whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt. The rosemary pine nut cookies on the side are a nice touch. No way is this your typical pizza joint—we had a very memorable meal.
The food culture in LA is alive and thriving. Besides these amazing restaurant choices, we saw innovative food trucks wherever we went…
…always with long lines of customers. Temptations abound!
Another restaurant that came highly recommended to us was Bestia. Housed in a warehouse in the Arts District of the city, this multi-regional Italian eatery specializes in house cured meats, wood-burning oven baked pizza and freshly made pasta.
We arrived early and enjoyed a couple of inventive cocktails in their beautiful courtyard while we waited for our table,
then moved to our post near the bar and open kitchen.
The space was dazzling. And the food didn’t disappoint either. Of course, we started with the house specialty: the charcuterie platter. Scrumptious salami, smoky duck prosciutto, creamy mortadella and lardo, with a side of grainy mustard, pickled vegetables and grilled bread, made a perfect opening to our meal.
Okay, I guess we got a little carried away, because I was too busy eating to remember to take pictures. We had one charming salad with little gems lettuce, lovely smoked shards of ricotta salata and a walnut vinaigrette and another with charred calamari and octopus over a bed of arugula with balsamic. And I do need to mention this squid ink strozzapretti with chunks of lobster and corn in a light tomato base that was the highlight of our dinner.
Last, but never least, these light and amazing zeppoles, made of nutty chestnut flour, were hot out of the oven and served with house made coffee gelato and cream. An excellent ending to another excellent meal—this food was lovingly crafted from beginning to end and we look forward to returning to Bestia soon.
The day had finally come: it was time to move the kid into her dorm to begin her last semester of college. But first, some fortification. (No, not Californication.) We were finally going to hit the legendary In-N-Out Burger for lunch. Did somebody send out a memo that this was the place to be? The parking lot was crushing with cars, both to park and for the drive-thru; the line inside to order bulged to the doors.
I’m embarrassed to admit that, as much as I pride myself on being in-the-know when it comes to food, I had no idea there was a “secret menu” to choose from. My food peeps let me down. As I wasn’t privy to the concept of “animal style” or “3 x 3,” we just went old school and ordered three number twos and grabbed a booth as soon as it opened.
I’ve had better fries in my day, but one bite of that perfectly cooked cheeseburger was explanation enough for this chain’s popularity. The cheese was melty creamy and the tomato, lettuce and onion crisp–can’t wait to go back and order like the cool kids.
Our daughter was finally settled in her new digs and, after a long day of schlepping and unpacking, we were all ready for a hearty meal. Ramen was the comfort we were craving, so we took a drive south to SilverLake Ramen. The small storefront with tiny tables was already packed inside and people were milling about in the parking lot out front. We wrote our own name down on the help-yourself wait list and fortunately only waited about 20 minutes until our turn.
That wait was worth every second. Our charming and adorable waitress served us drinks and got our order in right away. We sipped our unfiltered Nigori sake and began with a bowl of perfectly spiced tuna and crunchy vegetables atop warm rice–fresh and flavorful.
And then there was the ramen. Tonkotsu, to be exact. The rich broth was packed with umami. The pork belly was fatty and freakin’ delicious. The egg, perfectly cooked. We slurped down every last noodle and wanted to lick the bowl. Simply soul stirring.
Our trip to Los Angeles was gratifying on so many levels. Besides the food being immensely interesting and delicious, it was comparatively affordable. Can’t wait to go back (and I think that will happen more often now that my girl may stay) and experience more. In the meantime, we’re off to Spain for culinary adventures of a different sort…Hasta la vista, babies!