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Archive for the ‘Los Angeles’ Tag

Tacos Plus   Leave a comment

 

sal sign

A neighbor who frequently visits Los Angeles shared the names of a few tacos stands he frequents while there. While I didn’t go to any of his recommendations (I’m saving the list for next time), I did enjoy Salazar which isn’t a stand, but a casual eatery serving impressive tacos.

sal tables

This is a dirt-floor establishment with plastic chairs and metal tables. It’s a covered patio complete with live trees, cacti and a Southern California vibe that comes, in part, from the restaurant’s bones. It used to be an auto shop.

The focus now is on hot, fresh from the kitchen corn and flour tortillas and tacos that drip with flavors. The regularly-changing menu also features chilaquilles, machaca, and four different types of tacos – among other items.

sal machaca

The clever plating of the machaca is as appealing to the eye as the meal is satisfying to eat. Braised beef is served in a cast-iron pan set on a thick-wood cutting board. A fried egg sits atop the shredded meat. I ordered tacos, but I enjoyed scooping out the pieces of beef that had caramelized on the bottom of the pan. (I was obviously with a good friend who allowed, perhaps even encouraged, me to do so.)

saltaccos

The tacos were the real treat, particularly the carne asada. Corn tortillas were piled with cubes of marinated steak topped with cilantro and diced red onions. I liked the chicken asada and al pastor for the fresh flavors, but the carne asada are my favorites.

Salazar
Four plates
2490 N. Fletcher Dr.
Los Angeles, CA

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Above it All   Leave a comment

As names go, 71 Above is not exceptionally creative. It’s an obvious, albeit appropriate, appellation for a restaurant on the 71st floor of the tallest building in downtown Los Angeles.

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The views include the ocean far off to the west, the hills, other skyscapers, the Staples Center, Dodger Stadium and freeways – lots of traffic-clogged freeways. Each window table has a compass to help establish direction. Fortunately, the menu is mush easier to navigate.

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Eight first courses and eight second courses are offered. The firsts range from soup to Brussels sprouts, from steak tartare to grilled salad. Ricotta gnocchi was on the menu, but unavailable. Two of us opted for the charred Brussels sprouts served over a small amount of plain yogurt. This combination resulted in a creamy and smoky sauce. This dish could have easily been shared, but I’m glad I had it all to myself. The grilled salad featured two heads of bibb lettuce topped with green olives, golden raisins and shredded grana – a parmesan-like hard cheese.

71steak

For the entrees, we each ordered something different: chicken, pork loin and flat iron steak. The latter, my choice, was the best of the three. Grilled to a perfect medium rare pink center and topped with chimichurri sauce, it was also a colorful plate. The pork, served with pears and mashed parsnip, was a little on the dry side. I didn’t sample the chicken, but it looked juicy and I coveted the grilled cherry tomatoes on the dish.

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71 Above
Four+ Plates
633 W. 5th St.
Los Angeles

Elementary, My Dear Holmes   Leave a comment

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We planned to arrive in time for “cruffins” the cross between a muffin and croissant, because why settle for one when a combo will work? The decision to get to Mr. Holmes Bakehouse in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles early was based on my brother’s experience in San Francisco. There, it’s not unusual for lines to wrap around the block.

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According to the lovely person behind the counter, the LA cruffins don’t even come out of the oven until 9 a.m. — unlike their northern California counterparts where they’re history before 8 a.m. “I think people like to sleep-in here,” she said by way of explanation.

Although the cruffin remains a mystery to me, I wasn’t disappointed by the pastries we sampled.

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The California Croissant and the blue cheese bacon danish were our savory choices. The California featured smoked salmon, nori and wasabi all encased in a buttery, flakey croissant. It was a baker’s version of a sushi roll – it even came with a small packet of soy sauce.

I’m a fan of bacon and bleu cheese, the addition of diced dates made me even happier.

The Matcha croissant, featuring Matcha green tea, was a new-to-me flavor. The churro croissant featured another spin on familiar goodies: cinnamon with dulce de leche filling. It’s a surprise that the cookie dough croissant, filled with cookie dough mousse, was not overwhelmingly sweet.

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The pastries we had were impressive, and now I know I can sleep longer the next time I go to Mr. Holmes.

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
111 S. Ave. 59
Los Angeles, CA

Bestia, the Besty   Leave a comment


Reservations at the highly-rated Bestia in industrial Los Angeles are hard to snare. Although unable to reserve a table, we did, nonetheless, get two seats at the chef’s counter. (Thanks to my brother.)

Some people might not have appreciated the view. However, we were thrilled to have our line of vision occupied by the well-orchestrated crew preparing colorful, creative salads. Interestingly, we didn’t begin our meal with a salad. We ordered one later.

Our well-versed server suggested sharing several small plates. His subtle nod of approval when we decided on the crab crostino suggested we were off to a great start. Ordinarily, squid ink aoili, crab and Thai basil might vie as the leading flavor. Instead they all win.

I can’t resist bone marrow. It’s served here with spinach gnocchetti that we scraped it into.

Next, agnolotti, one of six pasta offerings; house-made, of course. The mini ravioli-like “parcels” were light and savory. Coated with brown butter and filled with braised oxtail, it was silky and surprisingly light. Toasted pistachios and currants added texture and sweetness.

Finally, the chopped salad, a combination of Brussels sprouts, endive, mint, salami, and fried lentils — all thinly sliced, er chopped.

We had to have dessert. Really! Imagine bananas Foster with peanut butter ice cream. I couldn’t. The ingredients, only a playful mind could conjure, was childlike in the best possible way: fun, crunchy, salty and sweet. The ice cream is made in-house.

Bestia is in a reclaimed warehouse. It’s loud, lively and its accolades are well deserved. I can’t wait to return.

Bestia
Five Plates
2121 7th Place
Los Angeles

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.

Beast sign

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.

Beast chicken

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