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Archive for the ‘dining’ Tag

See Food Dining   Leave a comment

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I’ve seen enough Viking Cruise-sponsored Masterpiece Theatre episodes on PBS to have sailed around the world. At least it seems that way, so when the opportunity arose to actually book a Viking ocean cruise, my husband and I grabbed it.

Unlike the river cruises, Viking’s liners on the open seas, in this case the Mediterranean, are larger. With 888 passengers, plus more than 400 crew members, the new Viking Sky is a mini-city with a Norwegian flair.

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Like other cruise ships, dining is a major activity. With six dining areas, plus the option for room service, the Viking Sky doesn’t disappoint. A recent tour of one of the galleys helped put a few things into perspective. First, there are 13 kitchens with more than 100 chefs, chefs de cuisine and sous chefs, who work 10-hour shifts to ensure that everyone on board gets more than they need to eat.

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Everything is made fresh, from the breads and pastries to pasta. Chef de cuisine Wayan explained that formulas are used to determine how much of each food item is needed on a daily basis. This involves a heavy reliance on past experience and nationality of the guests, among other factors. For example, the kitchen goes through 3,200 eggs per day!

Much more was shared on the tour and each meal on our 8-day cruise has been exceptional from crispy calamri to grilled sea bass, from fork-tender Chateaubriand to a hamburger. The combination of well-prepared dishes and exceptional service has made each meal a special dining experience.

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Roman Pizza   Leave a comment

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Mani ai Pizzeria’s doors open at 6:30 p.m. We arrived just as a small line was forming. This is a no-frills pizza joint that serves great pies and entertains, at least we were entertained by the pizzamakers. There was neither tossing nor twirling of unbaked dough, but a calm, systematic approach to churning out 15 made-to-order pizzas at a time.

2017-02-23-19-57-11We shared a mixed salad, a liter of the house red and a Margarita pizza. That was our first order before we were mesmerized by the assembly-line process with a personal touch.

Pieces of dough are pulled from a large mound and formed into the size of tennis balls. These are rolled flat and stacked. Initially, there were two men making the pies. One rolled, creating a flurry of flour, one checked supplies and fed the wood-burning oven. The maestros then methodically cover some with sauce, most with cheese – a lot of cheese – and then the specific topics that included mounds of mushrooms, zucchini blossoms, raw sausage (it cooked in the oven), more cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. The marble slab looked like a carpet of pizzas.

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I wondered if the first ones in the oven would be the last out. This wasn’t the case. The guys know their stuff. The pizzas are served unsliced. The crust is thin and easily folds  in half. The ingredients are fresh and flavorful. We enjoyed ours so much we ordered a second just so we could keep watching — and eating!

 

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No Great After Taste   Leave a comment

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Sweetbitter is a combination love story and homage to restaurant life, particularly servers. It’s far from reverent and certainly doesn’t offer a warm-hearted view of the front and back of house scenes. It demonstrates that working in a restaurant is often a lifestyle and not just a job.

Told from 22-year-old Tess’s point of view, Stephanie Danler’s novel is unflinching when it comes to sex, drugs and ego trips. Tess arrives in New York City from the Midwest. With only limited diner experience, she lands a job as a back waiter in an upscale Manhattan restaurant. She’s unsure of herself, has no true motivation, but still simply seems ready to get on with her life, whatever it may be.

The novel’s four sections are broken down by seasons beginning with a sweltering summer. As each progresses I was increasingly disappointed. Summer and fall had my full attention as I expected Tess to develop interests and become more confident. By the winter and spring segments, I was disappointed. Yes, Tess makes some self-discoveries, but they’re minor in the scheme of things.

Part of the problem is that Danler never makes Tess’s obsessive fixation on Jake, the bartender, tangible or credible enough. His relationship with Simone, an older server who, inexplicably, fascinates Tess, is a mystery waiting to be solved; but it lacks tension. Instead, predictability takes control, which is far more bitter than anything sweet Danler has to offer.

Sweetbitter
(Barely) Three bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
352 pages

Fine Dining   Leave a comment

Dinner with Edward is Isabel Vincent’s poignant tribute to an unlikely friendship that evolved for several years over elegantly-prepared meals.

Edward is the 93-year-old father of one of Vincent’s friends; his wife of 69 years has recently died. Vincent is in the midst of a rocky marriage. She is initially reluctant to meet Edward, after all he’s of another generation and she isn’t interested in taking on the role of caretaker. However, once they meet she comes to learn as much about herself as she does about cooking, dining, relationships and manners of a bygone era.

They begin to meet weekly at Edward’s apartment where he always has a martini glass waiting for her in the freezer and a gourmet meal to serve. Their conversations touch on recipes, Edward’s sweet memories of his deceased wife, Vincent’s job as an investigative reporter for The New York Post, her husband and daughter – among many other subjects.

Such a memoir has the potential to be sappy, but Vincent avoids this pitfall through the honest, albeit terse, descriptions of her own emotions and the imagery she creates based on the memories Edward shares with her. This is not a romance in the physical sense, but in an emotional one.

Each chapter begins with a menu Edward prepared. It always includes a dessert and the wine served. It isn’t a good idea to read this on an empty stomach.

More than anything, Vincent shows that the sustenance food provides goes well beyond what’s on a plate.

Dinner With Edward
Four Bookmarks
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hills, 2016
213 pages

Cluck Cluck   2 comments

The idea of gourmet fried chicken may seem to be an oxymoron. It isn’t. It’s simply a great rendition of this comfort food. I’ve previously written about Bouchon which several years ago began offering the crispy fare, using its sister restaurant Ad Hoc’s recipe, on Monday nights. This is why I was pleased that my recent visit to Los Angeles included the first day of the work week. My enthusiasm was quickly dispelled when a private event closed Bouchon abandoning us to seek different dinner plans.

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Fortunately, there’s more than one hen house in Southern California. Monday also happens to be fried chicken night at Little Beast in the Eagle Rock area.

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Little Beast fills the space of a comfortable, craftsman style house. The menu features small plates and seasonal dishes. Happy hour includes drink specials and half-price appetizers. We ordered the charred peaches with burrata. Grilled halved peaches are smoky and summer sweet. The soft, creamy cheese provides a nice balance, while croutons add texture. Slices of prosciutto help send this over the top.

Back to the raison d’etre. Fried to a golden caramel color, four pieces of chicken share the plate with cole slaw and two thin, but surprisingly, flakey biscuits. The crunchy coating is peppery and the meat is juicy. The slaw is made with a vinegar-based dressing featuring sliced almonds. The biscuits can be slathered with the accompanying whipped butter and amber honey.

The servings are large, which makes Tuesdays the day for leftover fried chicken.

 Little Beast

Four-and-a-half Plates

1496 Colorado Blvd.

Los Angeles

Taco Tour   1 comment

Back-to-back taco tastings at two Los Angeles taquerias may not constitute a true test, but it did provide a fun opportunity for comparison – plus alliteration. Both Mexicali Taco & Co. and Yuca’s have garnered a lot of ink in The Los Angeles Times, mainly thanks to critic Jonathan Gold; all of it well deserved.

I first heard of Mexicali Taco several years ago in a Gold review. What I recall is that the owners travel to Baja a few times a week for the tortillas. While I think there are plenty of good tortillerias in East L.A., I appreciate Mexicali’s efforts. They are worth it. We ordered carne asada tacos. The meat comes almost naked on a plate, wrapped only in a soft tortilla. A grilled scallion is added for can only be color. It was the carne we were after, but a small salsa bar features a few different heat levels, pickled onions, radishes, slaw, cucumbers and lime. The charred diced meat is surprisingly tender.

However, Yuca’s carne asada is a bit more flavorful. These feature grilled pieces of meat with fresh onion, tomatoes and cilantro. They don’t need anything else except two corn tortillas, which don’t hold up well. Yuca’s offers a few outdoor tables, otherwise plan to eat in your car – if you can’t wait to get home.

The best of the taco world, where these two are concerned, would be Mexicali’s tortillas because they hold up well and have a distinct corn taste, and Yuca’s melt-in-your-mouth carne asada.

Mexicali’s Taco & Co. 
Four Plates
702 N. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles

Yuca’s
Four Plates
2056 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles

A Tale of Two Servers   2 comments

redbird sign I recently returned to enjoy dinner at Scarpetta in Bevery Hills. It was as good as I remembered, although I think one element was even better: the service.

Our server, Christian, enhanced our meal with his knowledge of the menu and attentiveness. He knew the ingredients, the preparation and offered to make changes if needed.

The next evening we dined at Redbird, the new restaurant in what was once the rectory of St. Vibiana’s in downtown Los Angeles. The press about chef/partner Neal Fraser’s new digs has made getting a reservation feel like winning the lottery. However, thanks to the service, we didn’t feel victorious.

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Our questions about the menu were answered by our (nameless) server rote-style stating what we could read for ourselves. A few items were unknown and he did fill in those gaps, but without the passion Christian radiated at Scarpetta.

I ordered Ora King Salmon served with roasted beets, farro verde and pomegranate. The fish featured the most beautifully-crisped skin I’ve ever tasted. However, the farro was ripe with the distinct infusion of goat cheese. Had I known, I would have made another choice or at least requested a different side dish. Half the fish and beets were gone by the time our server returned to check on us. It was evident I wasn’t eating the farro.

I inquired about the offending ingredient and the server needed to check with the kitchen. He returned praising my discerning palette — admittedly, it wasn’t much of a stretch. I continued to enjoy the fish, which, again, was cooked to perfection. A manager offered apologies, explaining that  staff is trained to ask about dietary restrictions. My dislike of goat cheese is based on personal preference; I can’t, in good conscience, call it a restriction. At that point it appeared it was my fault for not informing the server of my aversion. Even if I had, he hadn’t been aware of its presence. I was offered another side, but at this point my entrée was nearly consumed.

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A friend suggested a complimentary dessert. That didn’t happen. Instead, the farro was boxed up for me to take home. I’m confident Christian would have handled things much differently.

Scarpetta                                                                                                                                                                                 Redbird

225 N. Canon Dr.                                                                                                                                                                  114 E. 2nd St.

Beverly Hills                                                                                                                                                                           Los Angeles