Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Two Restaurant Rule

Do not read on an empty stomach.

It begins like this: I'm waiting for the elevator at work talking to my colleagues about the
Farmer's Market. It's a Friday afternoon, and so we are all headed there for lunch. We are unanimously on a Brazilian food kick - so the plan is to meet at Pampas Grill. 

The elevator arrives, and I climb inside with a woman who works on our floor. Though I've seen this woman time and time again for the last three years, we've never spoken more than the word, 'Hi' to one another. Usually in the restroom. But she turns to me and says, "Brazilian?" So I explain where we are headed and how we've been looking forward to this lunch all week. 

The woman is prompted to tell me her Rule: She commits to trying two new restaurants every month. Generally they are chosen based on reviews she has read, I think she said in the L.A. Times. This got me thinking.

Two new restaurants a month. I'm pretty sure Jamie and I do this without trying... It's not like this is a difficult feat in Los Angeles. But still - I decided to be more aware of it, if not more deliberate.

It has been a couple of months since the aforementioned elevator ride, and sure enough, Jamie and I have eaten at many restaurants new to us. (And after last night's adventure to the Westside Tavern, I decided it would be fun to document where we have been.)

STREET is Susan Feniger's latest foray, and as she describes it: "Even though I've had formal training as a chef, the single greatest influence on my life's work has been through the food I have sampled from street vendors throughout the U.S. and around the world. These unsung chefs cook food that excites the palate with unexpected flavors and exotic ingredients."


Jamie ordered the Singapore Kaya Toast (thick coconut jam on Malaysian white toast with soft fried eggs drizzled in dark soy and dusted with white pepper) and I enjoyed the Mediterranean Breakfast (toasted olive bread with warm feta, sliced avocado, cucumber, fried sage and marmalade -- it comes with marinated tomato, but I obvi held it). Our friend Sarah ordered the All American (eggs, Smokey Mountain bacon, wood oven country potatoes, toast and marmalade) and for the table, I ordered Jaggery Sugar Stuffed Paranthas (sweet flatbread griddled with butter until the sugar inside turns to caramel; split open and topped with fried bananas.)

If aesthetics matter to you, this place should pass your test. Though maybe I'm partial because of all the burnt orange in the place... There's indoor and outdoor seating, half the menu is vegan-friendly, they have an impressive selection of rare beers, and according to Out Traveler, Feniger is the finest lesbian chef in the world!

Shout out to Kathleen for sending us to STREET!

Jen and Sarah under the orange umbrella

Simpang Asia is an Indonesian Cafe and market down in the Palms part of town. Our friend Caroline - who also likes to try new restaurants! - had her birthday dinner here. I had the Nasi Uduk Jakarta (aromatic rice enriched with coconut and a hint of lemongrass, turmeric yellow fried chicken, tofu and tempeh, shredded egg, and veggie tamarind soup) and Jamie had the Nasi Rames (spiced chicken curry, tofu and tempeh, and beef rendang). We also tried the Siomay Bandung (steamed fish cake with egg, tofu, cabbage and potato, served with peanut sauce). Though I did not care for the soup, everything else was unbelievably delicious. I would go back there for the rice alone! 

One cool thing about this place is the grocery store right beside it. It is a traditional Indonesian market with everything from teas to noodles to milk fish. At the risk of appearing culturally insensitive, we took a lot of photos in the market.

From L to R: Joe, Lori, Jason

For dessert we all shared the two desserts they offer: Pisang Bakar (grilled banana with chocolate sprinkles and cheese) and Roti Bakar (Indonesian sweet grilled cheese bread with chocolate sprinkles and condensed milk).

Pisang Bakar

Earlier in August, my family was in town from Colorado. One evening we all met in Surf City, USA - Huntington Beach - and spent a LOUD evening overlooking the PCH and the ocean. This place also had indoor and outdoor seating, killer fire pits, and your traditional SoCal Mexican fare. I had some shrimp enchiladas and Jamie went for the cheese enchiladas. (Jamie: remember when you asked the waiter to hold the cheese, and he said deadpan, That's what an enchilada is.) 

The best part of the evening was watching my three year old nephew Brian absorb the frenetic energy of a beachside bar on a Saturday night and go a little nuts. 

Brian (L) and Daniel

Thanks to our friends Paul and Jess, we went to a "talent show for the best makers of food and drink in California." Quaint and (my favorite) enclosed by exposed brick, this little place is a part of the hip stretch of Fairfax. Burgers, dogs, beer and Scoops - simple and done well. I had a Spicy Dog with caramelized onions and fried sweet potato wedges, and Jamie got the Chicken Apple with sauerkraut; Paul and Jess went for burgers. I attempted to enjoy a beer that evening (because of their extensive selection), but as usual, I didn't like it and had Paul finish it. 

Chicken Apple (L) and Pork

Scoops, if you have never heard of it, is a gelato place in Hollywood/Silverlake with unique flavors including Brown Bread, Strawberry/Balsamic, and Pistachio/Saffron, as well as some "traditional" flavors such as Horchata, Peanut Butter/Chai, and Salted Caramel. (Not to mention it's pretty great for celebrity sightings... during my last visit there, Weird Al showed up with his kids.) Well, The Golden State has a small selection of Scoops right there at the counter - so we were able to follow our meal with some deliciously odd frozen treats.

Jamie didn't come to this German Gasthaus
 with me, but I think I ate enough sausage and sauerkraut for the both of us. The infamous beer selection was wasted on me, but the bratwurst and German fried potatoes went down nicely with my old lady vodka drink. To any local readers: try this place (and call me if you're going). But be warned: the parking situation can be annoying. There is a small lot and it's bound to be full when you get there.

I deem this one 'winner of best restaurant in a mall though not really in a mall.'
They deem this: 'chef-driven yet affordable interpretations of California Tavern Cuisine alongside a complementary selection of fresh cocktails, craftsman beers and thoughtful wines. Encompassing 10,400 square feet and 300 seats, Westside Tavern is designed to be used as a casually upscale gathering place."

It's totally connected to the Westside Pavillion (which allows for plentiful, free parking) on Pico at Westwood. This place is special to me for reasons other than the menu and the parking, though. Jamie and I went last night and met up with some of my nearest and dearest friends from back east - a couple of whom I hadn't seen in far too many years. (Shout out to Amy, Michelle, and David!) 

The best thing about last night's group - aside from the amount of laughter we shared  - was everyone's appetite and willingness to sample A LOT of the menu. I'd say we ordered about 12 things "for the table" in addition to our individual entrĂ©es:

- Farmstead Cheeses & Cured Meats Board
- Crispy Ricotta Filled Zucchini Blossoms
- Grilled Three Cheese Sandwich with Tomato-Basil Soup
- Nueske's BLT with Soft Fried Egg
- Spring Pea & Ricotta Pillow Pasta with Wild Mushrooms and Bloomsdale Spinach (this was my main dish and one of the best pasta dishes I have probably ever tasted)
- Lamb French Dip 
- Balsamic Steak & Roasted Onion Salad (Jamie's beloved dinner)
- Grilled Salmon with Sweet Corn and Summer Squash
- Warm Sticky Toffee Cake with Mascarpone Cream
- Peach Cobbler with Butter Pecan Ice Cream
- Bread Pudding with Vanilla Malt Ice Cream
- Some yummy cocktails


Tonight we are off to Little Toni's in North Hollywood. Though it is practically in our backyard, neither of us has ever been. 

I can't wait to try the pizza!!!