Friday, June 29, 2007

Lee Kam Kee

We were burned out from a construction meeting and really hungry. I instinctly took an off ramp into Alhambra and then driving down Valley, spoted this Vietnamese place called Lee Kam Kee, 2505 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra CA 91803, 626-282-7720.

We walked in around 11:40 AM and there were only two other groups in there. I get worried when there aren't that many customers when you walk into an eatery.

We ordered fried shrimp spring egg rolls, pork vermicelli and a chicken salad plate.

WOW, so fresh and delicious. By the time we ordered, the place started to fill. "Hey, we the only non-asian speaking table in here". Ahh, a good sign!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Arctic Hotspot

What an unexpected surprise! Artist Jose Lopez and I decided to get some coffee and nearby was a place he'd recently discovered so we went. Arctic Hotspot, 2509 E. 4th Street, LA CA 90033, 323-264-7912 is in Boyle Heights and is in a really great neighborhood of historic LA, east of Downtown. No, it's not East LA, it's Boyle Heights, there's a difference or at least I've been told to pay attention to this fact.

Jose had a coffee and a ham and cheese croissant. Walking in, I glanced at the chalk board menu on the front door and saw "Cherry Almond Fizz". That's what I ordered. it was so refreshing, a perfect balance of juice, ice and almond flavor. When I finished it, I felt I could take on anything they threw at me today!

The folks here are really cool too and its only been opened for a year. They cater, plan to have Internet service and have a great interior vibe.

Ice Cream Tuesdays at Wilshire Restaurant

Expectations can be a nasty thing when you are excited about an idea and a new place to eat. The idea: from 6 to 10:00 PM, Tuesdays only, a special cuisine ice cream menu. The place: Wilshire Restaurant, 2454 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica CA, 310-586-1707. My boss gave me an LA Times article announcing this once-a-week event. I was excitied for days. Wilshire Restaurant is a high-end restaurant where dinner averages about $60 a person before drinks. There's valet parking in an area where there's little street parking. Reservations highly recommended.

The ice cream was delicious. The presentation was fun and elegant. The combinations inventive and tasty. We ordered Chocolate pudding cake with pistachio ice cream as well as a four cone sampler.

It's a summer night but they have the outdoor heaters on. The moment the ice cream lands on your table, it begins to melt. "Ready, GO!!!" There's no chance to savor anything. You gotta hurry up and eat which is unfortunate since the chef obviously put a lot of thought into the combinations of flavors and textures. It was delicious, though. The other odd thing about this place is it's dark regal decor surrounding these color concrete tables that are unusually long. There's a lot of realestate between you and your dinner partner. No whispering hear, you must enunciate and project.

Lastly and most important, they advertise and it was highlighted in an LA Times article last week that they have an amazing banana split. Ouch! Don't tell me that and decide to take it off of the following weeks menu! Alas, my heart was split but I was flexible. Otherwise, if you have a $100 to go splurge, this is your place.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mozzarella Monday at Jar

Nancy Silverton is a well known creator of edible amazement. We are lucky enough to have her in Los Angeles. A while ago, she started Mozzarella Monday at JAR, 8225 Beverly Blvd. LA CA 90048, 323-655-6566, which my boss told me about. My boss, Maya Emsden, loves food and has been around the world to eat great food, so it's with a wealth of experience that she recommends something to me when she does.
(Nancy Silverton is now working at Mozza, which I entered on this blog in the past.)

Naturally, almost every tapas had mozzarella in it. This is what we ordered, each priced between $9 to $12:

1) They brought an appetizer, a short wrap with pine nuts, relish and arugula
2) Eggplant involtini, mozzarella and romesco
3) Buratta, roasted asparagus, quanciale and hazelnuts
4) Buratta, shallot confit, bacon, charred marinated escarole
5) Buratta and meatball sandwich on toasted semolina roll

Rather than describing each dish and bragging about this experience we had, I'd rather just recommend Mozarella Monday to anyone who loves food that is fun, tasty, hearty and adventurous. With drinks, we spent about $70 for two. Well worth it but not something I can go to once a week.

I will say, however, that the meal inspires a romantic mode. This menu and the Jar experience swirls you into the evening, full of "fancy" and deep sweetness. That's as good as gold.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ana Maria

One of my most favorite foods that represents LA to me is the gordita at Ana Maria, Grand Central Market, 4th and Hill in Downtown LA. It's in the middle of the market and during lunch, will have a crowd in front of it. The photo you see was taken around 11:45 AM. There's already three layers of line. Amazing, isn't it?

Standing in line at Ana Maria is both entertaining and frustrating. The preparers hustle their butts off. It's crazy back there. They tend to take orders faster from those who speak Spanish or those in suit in ties, of which neither category fits me. They aren't mean about it but it's obvious. They will take your order eventually. Once, I waited ten minutes in front of the line before someone decided to take my order. You must be patient. The gordita is worth the wait.

The gorditas are wrapped in a fried thick tortilla like pocket. There's salsa, cream, lettuce, onions, tomato and cilantro with the Al pastor (seasoned shredded pork). Today, I ordered it with Al Pastor but I usual get it with chicken. When I ordered it "Al Pastor", the Latino man in back of me said "Al Pastor?" Like he couldn't believe the little Asian dude knew what Al Pastor was. He gave me an energetic smile and we waited for my order. Nice guy, tough. We both agreed that Ana Marie was some of the best mexican food in town.

It's not a large item but it fills me up. I learned years ago to just order one gordita. It still surprises me that one can fill me up. It's got a lot of magic. I'm often the guy who everyone at the table gives their leftovers to. I'm kind of proud of that.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Phillppe, the original

Several years ago, it was settled. Who started the French Dip? Was it Cole's or Phillippe's idea? Phillippe's won. it's located at1001 North Alameda Street LA CA 90012, on the east-end of LA's Chinatown.

Phillippe's is an institution and a kind of history museum of sorts. Sawdust on the floor, staff with a great sense of humor and one of the best candy stands in the City.

Here's my lunch from this afternoon. A turkey with bluecheese (I'm kind of sleepy now, oh oh), double dipped and then I put a lot of the Phillippe's mustard on it. You can buy the mustard in jars. I think it has horseradish in it?. It's one of my favs. It reminds me of wasabi.

I also ordered the beautiful magenta pickled egg, which I also slap the mustard on. It's as intense as it is tasty.

Also, tapioca pudding, potato salad, and chili was on plate today. I often select the beef stew but not today. It's really good and hearty. The soup is thin but the vegetable and beef portions are on the large side. It's classic Downtown LA.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sweet Lady Jane

Sweet Lady Jane, 8360 Melrose Avenue, LA CA 90069, 323-693-7145,, is one of the places in LA that always brings great joy to my heart. I don't go often. I trust it will always be there. I go sparingly. I realize how special it is and I don't want it to become familiar. I want to approach it timidly each time, discovering its nuances and witnessing culinary art with a hot cup of delicious tea.

Last night, we ordered a rasberry cheese cake. The first bite danced around my taste buds like an amazing piece of music. I smiled and blurted out, "Wow, there's a lot of stuff happening in here". The staff smiled and nodded as if to say, "yes, good, you got it."

You'll get it too. I can practically guarantee it!

Sake House (Miro)

I've passed by this place for at least five years, maybe more.

There's this part of me that feels that I will never experience a wonderful Japanese sake house outside of Japan, so why bother? (I have a lot of baggage and issues) Oh well. Finally, someone recommended it to me, oh yeah, it was an article about sake. So I walked in with some band mates one night this year, still convinced it wasn't going to deliver.

Sake House, 809 South La Brea Avenue, LA CA 90036, 323-939-7075, did deliver. Not to sound racist but my guard went down when I realized that the waitresses where all Japanese and much of the clientele was Japanese. (Where'd all you guys come from, the Westside? Torrance?) Anyway, the decor is so nostalgic. There's a nod to 60's and 70's Japanese Pop films, shita-machi vernacular, two high-def screens, and the bgm has an occasional JPop playing, like Tubes, Misia or JAM.

The side dishes, all the favs, are there. Ika-yaki, tako-yaki, sushi, etc. They even have ochazuke. How cool is that? Last night, it wasn't on the menu but I asked if they could make a natto-maki and they did (thank you!!!). My friend ate it but she said she won't be ordering that anytime soon. It's an acquired taste. I explained to her that it's a culinary civil war. Half of Japan eats it for breakfast, the other half doesn't recognize it as a food. I love it! It's got a a hearty okra sensation with sticky rhythms.

Oh yes, the sake. They have a decent sake selection. I recommend ordering glasses of each with friends (a taste test) and noting which ones you like and don't like. Stumble out, sober up and return to fully enjoy the one you discovered before.

HINT: If you aren't sure, asked which sake is the most popular. That way, you can be sure they replace that sake more than the others and it is more likely to be fresh. SAKE MUST BE FRESH, cold sake over hot any day of the year, and lastly, always drink with friends and/or enemies.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Metro Cafe

There's this small hotel at 11188 Washington PLACE, Culver City CA 90232, and on the first floor is the Metro Cafe. I have had breakfast there many times. There are locals that eat there but more often than not, it's the folks who stay at the hotel, often tourists from Europe.

They have amazing soups, omeletes and french toasts (on brioche bread, thank you very much).

The french toasts are huge, smothered in butter and syrup; bready, juicy and crisp. The omeletes are cooked to go and the homefries are not too oily and tasty. Today, I ordered the Serbian American Omelete which includes soft scrambled eggs (it's all in the wrist), cured meats and mozarella cheese. Awesome!!!!!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Madame Matisse

Hey, thanks to everyone who emailed me to bitch about me not putting anything up for a week. It is nice to be missed.

Well, we went to celebrate Angelene's B-Day today. Sculptor, Megan DeArmond and I made of list of places that we felt she would enjoy and Madame Matisse made the cut. Located at 3536 West Sunset Blvd., LA CA 90026, 323-662-4862. Not exactly French like I was thinking French but wow, great food.

I asked what was the most popular salad and they said the "Matisse Chinese Chicken Salad" was the most popular followed by the "Multi-grain salad". They serve breakfast all day. We were a party of 11 and they set us outdoors under some canopies and a tree. It felt summery and dare i say it, "delightful". I hate using that word but it is the truth. The folks who work there are super cool and attractive. (ha, ha, ha).

The soup of the day was an asparagus puree. Sorry, I don't have a picture of it. I was so hungry, I ate it before I realized. It was amazing. Oh, I drank a bottle of Perrier, I thought that was appropriate.

Cheesestore of Silverlake

I have always enjoyed cheese but had and still have a limited knowledge of cheese. There's so much history, pedigrees and idiosyncrasies. One summer, when I lived in Japan, my friend writer and photographer Isabelle Daulete called me. She said, "Alan, will you be home tomorrow afternoon? I need to visit you". Isabelle was from Switzerland and we often shared meals with each other and exchanged what we were homesick for. She continued, "I just met a friend at the airport, who had a stop over in Russia. The rest, I will tell you when I arrive."

The next day, Isabelle showed up with a big paper bag. She sat me down and began to place the contents of the bag onto the table. It was a loaf of Russian Rye, just baked two days ago and some brie that Isabelle purchased at the international market in Tokyo. We opened up a bottle of red wine and for the next hour, ate everything.

This was the moment I began to understand cheese. Up to that moment, growing up with Kraft American cheese slices, Philadelphia cream cheese and of course the wedges of Laughing Cow cheeses left me uneducated. Sure, there was the never ending brie and nameless cheeses at art openings but I was clueless. It was that moment with Isabelle and her Russian Rye and summer melted cheese that my appreciation of cheese began to grow.

Sorry for the long story but that's the "feeling" I get, every time I visit the Cheesestore of Silver lake, 3926-28 West Sunset Blvd, LA CA 90029, 323-644-7511,

The people there have always been cordial and ready to answer the most novice of questions. For those who are lactose intolerant, i only hope you have a place filled with joy that equals a shop like this. It is like "heaven", "cheese-heaven".

I have one friend, Jorge Pardo, artist/architect/soccer fanatic, who is by far the greatest cheese lover I know. He really enjoyed the shop today and made me feel like it is indeed as good as it seems.