Monthly Archives: September 2012

Taster’s Choice

Bike riding on the beach with friends in Santa Monica, summiting Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills and taking in the stellar views, strolling down Abbot Kinney in flip-flops with your dog and an iced latte; this is the Southern California good life and I love it. One restaurant that I think really epitomizes this lifestyle is The Tasting Kitchen in Venice. This place exudes casual elegance. The decor is both modern and rustic chic with a tree growing in the middle of the dining room. The plates are cool and vintage-looking. The atmosphere is fun; relaxed yet sophisticated, like a great dinner party at a friend’s beach house. And most importantly, the food is across-the-board excellent.

You should start your meal with a cocktail or two. Bartender Justin Pike was named LA’s top mixologist last year and prepares killer libations such as the Staycation (tequila, watermelon shrub and soda), the Summer Assassin (bourbon, allspice, maple and cava) and Coco Joe’s Punch (a tiki-style drink with rum, cardamon and citrus). The dinner menu, which changes daily, features rustic, seasonal and ingredient-driven cuisine from super-talented chef Casey Lane. I suggest that you take your cue from the name of the restaurant and order one of the tasting menus. If you order a la carte, I recommend the Beets with Creme Fraiche and Horseradish, the Gigli Pasta with Luciana and Squash Blossoms, the Tortelli Pasta with Hen Sauce and Maitake Mushrooms, and the Salt Roasted Branzino if available. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the Doughnut with Buttermilk Gelato, Figs and Walnuts. The restaurant also has a great weekend brunch.

The Tasting Kitchen is located at 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice.

Amuse Bouche: Lobster Bisque

Porcini Crudo with Prosciutto and Cherries

Aragosta alla Griglia (Grilled Lobster Tails)

Beets with Creme Fraiche and Horseradish

Butter Lettuces with Tarragon and Point Reyes Cheese

Lentils and Rapini

Tortelli Pasta with Hen Sauce and Maitake Mushrooms

Gigli Pasta with Luciana and Squash Blossoms

Salt Roasted Branzino

Roasted Chicken

Cherry Almond Gelato

Deconstructed Ricotta Cheesecake

Caramel Bread Pudding

Doughnut with Buttermilk Gelato, Figs and Walnuts

Chocolate-covered Cookies and Sugar Cookies

Great cocktails

The Tasting Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Venice

The Cheesiest Place in the Valley

Artisan Cheese Gallery is my favorite cheese shop/restaurant in the city. I go there often for lunch, not only because I love the food, but because it’s fun to do a pre-lunch tasting of exotic, unusual and rare cheeses. The people who work there are really nice, unpretentious and passionate about dairy. They possess an encyclopedic knowledge of cheese and will provide you with tastes of various high-end cheeses while informing you that one is made on a farm in Vermont, where it is washed with cider and aged in whiskey barrels, while another is produced in small batches in a remote village in Southern Belgium by a secret order of monks who raise miniature cows. It’s educational and great fun! You can buy cheese to take home, but my favorite thing to do is have them prepare a lunch-sized cheese (or cheese and meat) platter of my favorites from the tasting, along with candied nuts, an assortment of dried fruits and a basket of fresh bread.

If you’re not in the mood for a cheese platter, the sandwiches and salads at Artisan Cheese Gallery are some of the best in the city and each feature one of the store’s excellent cheeses. My favorite sandwich is the Duck Confit, made with fig jam and a Swiss cow’s milk cheese called Le Marechal, and served on ciabatta bread. I also love the Spanish Turkey Sandwich, made with turkey breast, a sheep and goat’s milk cheese from Spain called Campo de Montelban, chopped Marcona almonds, roasted sweet red peppers, and aioli, also on ciabatta bread. As for salads, you can’t go wrong with the Aged Gouda Salad with sliced apples, salted Marcona almonds and an incredibly good honey balsamic dressing. There’s a great assortment of wines, craft beers and artisan sodas to enjoy with your meal, and if you want to end on a sweet note, there are giant gourmet soft chocolate chips cookies, red velvet sandwich cookies and other tasty treats.

Artisan Cheese Gallery is located at 12023 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City. Every so often, they have a wine and cheese (or beer and cheese!) tasting evening. These events are incredibly fun and sell out quickly.

The Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Duck Confit Sandwich

Spanish Turkey Sandwich

Aged Gouda Salad

Cheese Tasting

One of my favorite places in the Valley!

Artisan Cheese Gallery on Urbanspoon


Filed under Studio City

Clam, You’re Good Lookin’

I was first introduced to the awesomeness of fried Ipswich “whole belly” clams as a student in Boston. Prior to this initiation, my experience with fried clams was limited to the fried clam strips I often ordered as a kid at Howard Johnson’s. Fresh fried Ipswich clams are an acquired taste and totally different from the strips, which are often frozen before being fried and are missing the best part — the plump succulent belly. A good basket of fried Ipswich clams will have sweet, briny and juicy clams, which have been dipped in a delicious seasoned batter and fried to perfection until crispy and golden. When accompanied with wedges of fresh lemon and a good tartar sauce, there is nothing better in the World. Unfortunately, they’re extremely difficult to find in LA. Here are four local places I’ve found where you can actually get the elusive shellfish treat:

Blue Plate Oysterette

Blue Plate Oysterette (1355 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica) This is a cool looking place and reminds me of some of my favorite oyster bars in New England. I was excited to see they had fried Ipswich clams on their menu, but I was ultimately disappointed with the dish. It was a very small portion for $18 and I didn’t like the taste of the batter they used or the fact that they fried their clams along with lemon slices.

The Hungry Cat Fried Clam Roll

The Hungry Cat (1535 N. Vine St. in Hollywood and 100 W. Channel Road in Santa Monica) Although their menu changes daily, The Hungry Cat has a Clam Roll made with fried Ipswich clams which seems to be offered most days. For $20, you get a toasted traditional split top roll filled with fried clams and cole slaw, along with a side of really excellent fries. It’s a pretty good sandwich, but I prefer my clams straight up.

Sonny McLean’s Irish Pub

Sonny McLean’s Irish Pub (2615 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica) This Boston-themed Irish Sports Bar totally surprised me by having the best fried clams in the city. The clams are so amazing and reminiscient of the clams you get in Boston that I wanted to jump up and shout “I PAHKED MY CAH IN HAHVAHD YAHD”! Plus at $14, their generous-sized appetizer of clams, which is pictured at the top of this post and served with tartar sauce, lemon and really delicious coleslaw, is the best deal in town. Since it’s a Boston-themed pub, I suggest enjoying these clams with a Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

Roll ‘n Lobster Truck Fried Clams

Roll ‘n Lobster Truck If you don’t live near one of the few LA restaurants serving fried Ipswich clams, you can wait for the clams to be brought to your part of town. Roll ‘n Lobster is the newest LA food truck specializing in lobster rolls (I believe there are at least four of them now), and the only one that serves fried Ipswich clams. For $18, you can get a clam basket with fries. Although it’s not a huge portion and a little on the oily side, I found the clams here exceptionally plump and juicy.

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Sonny McLean's Irish Pub & on Urbanspoon
Blue Plate Oysterette on Urbanspoon


Filed under Food Trucks, Hollywood, Santa Monica

Let’s Spoon

Fat Spoon is my favorite restaurant in Little Tokyo. Sitting right next door to the perennially packed Daikokuya Ramen, it’s a fun and inexpensive little cafe specializing in Japanese curry and pasta dishes. Japanese curry is one of the most popular foods in Japan and is quite different from other types of curry. It’s thicker and sweeter than its Indian cousin and usually milder as well, although it can be made spicy upon request. Fat Spoon offers a wide variety of curry dishes served atop rice or noodles, including ones with shredded Jidori chicken, pork cutlets, seasonal vegetables and seafood. My favorite curry dish there is the Hamburger Curry, which I recommend getting in the Hawaiian “Loco Moco” style with a fried egg on top.

But Fat Spoon’s menu is not just limited to curry dishes. Their appetizer of Mini Kobe Beef Corn Dogs is a must-have. They also offer several salads and pasta dishes. In fact, Fat Spoon’s most acclaimed dish is not one of their curries, but rather their Uni Pasta, an incredibly delicious bowl of spaghetti with an uni (sea urchin) and mushroom cream sauce. They also have a great Pasta Carbonara with pancetta, egg yolk and parmesan cheese, as well as a tasty Tarako Pasta with salted cod roe, cream, dried seaweed and chopped green onions. For dessert, I highly recommend the Baked Sweet Potato which has been transformed into an edible bowl holding a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with caramel sauce. It’s truly outstanding! After your meal, you can burn off some of the carbs walking and shopping the streets of Little Tokyo, one of the coolest neighborhoods in the city.

Fat Spoon is located at 329 E. First Street, Los Angeles (Downtown, in Little Tokyo). UPDATE: I was shocked to find out that Fat Spoon has closed, especially since the food was so good and it was always crowded when I was there. The owner says it might reopen, perhaps on the Westside. Fingers crossed!

Mini Kobe Beef Corn Dogs with Curry Ketchup

Hamburger Curry Loco Moco Style

Uni Pasta

Chicken Curry with Brown Rice

Baked Sweet Potato with Vanilla Ice Cream

Custard Pudding

Fat Spoon on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Downtown