The Awesome Alchemical Avocado

IMG_9146Our avocado tree is flush with fruit this November!

The Cute Gardener and I have been talking recently about the word “awesome”—something that has become completely overused and diffused in contemporary society. We, as well as the rest of the human population, seem prone to give everything from the latest episode of Gotham to the morning drops of dew on a leaf to a brand new pair of shoes that moniker. David Sedaris has joked that if anyone in his presence says the word awesome, they immediately owe him a dollar towards the proverbial tip jar. There was a great TED Talk by comedian Jill Shargaa on this topic recently called “Let’s put the awe back in awesome.” In it, she says, “When you use the word awesome to describe the most mundane of things, you’re taking away the very power of the word. So in other words, if you have everything, you value nothing. There’s no dynamic, there’s no highs or lows, if everything is awesome.”

One aspect of my life where I have completely overused this word is with food. The butterscotch pot de crème at Gjelina is awesome. The lamb neck at Bestia is too. But every pork belly that I have met in the past year is not, even though I have most likely gushed that word out after each forkful being the pork whore that I am.

The very definition of awesome is “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear; causing or inducing awe.”

The one food that instantly comes to mind for me that fits this definition is the avocado. I have an overwhelming feeling of reverence for it because there is nothing quite like it—it stands alone in the fruit world as its own breed. Rough leathery skin surrounding smooth, oily and edible flesh and a large stone is not exactly what we think of when we hear the word fruit. Yet there it sits classified in a sea of sweet or juicy things on its own in the lone wolf color of green that for its genus sisters and brothers typically denotes “unripe.”

The “admiration” part of the avocado comes when it is mashed and used for its texture, which again, defies traditional classification because it is not quite cream, not quite butter, not quite pulp and not quite puree, but a silky unmistakable combination of all four. Without this unique and discernable texture, the world may never have known the fantastical deliciousness of guacamole.

IMG_9144But the truly “inducing awe” aspect of the avocado comes when it is used in a way that seems to completely go against its grain, as an additive in smoothies. There is something magical that occurs when an avocado is whipped with cold ingredients that completely mystifies. It turns everything into an ambrosial form of ice cream that is lusciously whipped yet densely creamy which lacks the customary avocado taste yet maintains its undertones of sumptuous richness. Since discovering this, I have gone completely smoothie crazy. My latest favorite recipe below is just the tip of the iceberg in this avocado awesomeness.

PEPPERMINT CHOCOLATE AVOCADO SMOOTHIE

1 cup almond milk
½ frozen banana
¼ avocado
2 tablespoons Ovaltine or cocoa powder
1 teaspoon organic maca powder
4 mint leaves
Bee pollen to sprinkle on top

Throw everything in a Nutribullet or other type of blender for 20 seconds and voila!

 

 

 

 

Dare I Say, the Best Italian in L.A.?

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Who can resist a starter of runny egg on sauteed spinach with prosciutto on toast?

I think I’ve found my favorite Italian food place in Los Angeles. I say “think” because I have been known to eat such widely declarative words before. Long ago, I said it about Piccolo, but that was pre-Cute Gardener when I had no idea how truly spoiled I was about to become upon falling in love with a man who cooks pasta at least twice weekly. I said it at Osteria Mozza after slurping up cold squid ink and uni pasta. I said it about Scarpetta after digging into a breadbasket full of buried Stromboli. I said it about Il Fico after falling in deep love with a bowl of strozzapreti. I said it about Chi Spacca after one bite of the orgasmic veal roulade, dripping in caramelized cow parts. I said it at Bestia after sucking the daylights out of lamb neck studded with the most appropriate chimichurri of mint. But now, I have definitely hit a pasta and pork nirvana and it is called Factory Kitchen.

IMG_2758First off, there’s the pasta. From the moment we drove down an alley-like street between two ominous rows of downtown L.A. warehouse buildings full of progressive design collectives, art entities and rooms for the occupancy of “surviving just fine off the radar” businesses and start ups and into the hands of a valet, I knew entering the glass doors of the unassuming Factory Kitchen was unique. Understated restaurant stuffed amongst the brownstones of industrial L.A. thriving and packed in its burgeoning popularity where every seat in the dining room has a neck-reaching view into a bustling kitchen. But from where we were seated I had the best view of all: right next to the pasta machine and the two cooks who stood guard all night cranking out identical paper thin sheets to be squared into ravioli or wrapped around densely packed inch long tubes of ground meat or folded like neck scarves into signature, unctuous dishes for the pleasure of us diners. I was the lucky recipient of the latest batch of perfectly rolled casonzei which looked like pieces of wrapped hard candy with twisted bows on each end, holding in luscious and rich morsels of veal, pork and sausage dressed sparingly in a cured pork, butter and sage sauce.

IMG_2757I knew the CG would order the mandilli di seta—a pasta resembling flat wide folds of a handkerchief and topped with ligurian almond basil pesto. He is a fan of the fat noodle and is hard pressed to resist a good Chinese flat noodle, spiced shrimp stuffed dim sum rice sheet or toothy pappardelle. But we had talked earlier in the day about how easy it is to mess up a dish like this, where noodles tend to come over cooked and mushy, swimming in sauces that fail to prop up the pasta. But in this case, the noodle was perfectly al dente and the green dressing complemented its undulating crevices in ways we may never comprehend remaining half vegetal and half buttery while overall, exquisitely blended.

IMG_2760We normally stop there- a starter and two pastas representing an ideal dinner for two. But there were two more things calling our attention. A focaccino calda di recco al formaggio or piece of silky slim flatbread without the structure and rigidity of pizza but more wavy and pillow-like, which came faintly strewn with melted Italian cow’s milk crescenza cheese and studded with shaved foraged mushrooms, olive oil and parsley.

IMG_2761We finished off with the porchetta-something we never order because we know how it can be done so badly with too hard outer rings impenetrable by the tines of a fork or rough in areas and soft in others. We respect pork too much to try its lesser-known applications. Yet, I had an instinctual urge to order it here and was thrilled that I did when what came was a platter laid with meat in circular strata that alternated between liquid, delicious fat, smoky rind, light and tender meat and dark and funky parts—all miraculously juicy and flavorful.

Thank goodness I am currently on a dessert ban. Otherwise I would have probably wolfed down the torta sarcena, a buckwheat cake with mascarpone mousse, poached pears and walnuts.

What makes Factory Kitchen worthy of my favorite Italian food place in Los Angeles moniker? Especially when I have loved so many other places and dishes in this vein? It is simply within the consistency. Everything was impeccable and that is an uncommon feat; perhaps alluded to in the restaurant’s name denoting the kind of mechanical, automatic assembly line equipped with the proper checks and balances, resided over by an iron-fisted visionary that makes churns out great food each and every time.

Honey Rose Strawberry Moon Summertime Meals

10268644_10152134790424080_5406738666010982166_nTwo nights ago, on Friday the 13th, Mother Nature bestowed us with a golden colored-full moon that is typically referred to as a honey, strawberry or rose moon. Strawberries are currently burgeoning in our garden and one of my favorite things to do with them is cut them up room temperature, scatter them atop real, thick coconut Greek yogurt and drizzle them with a bit of organic honey. This, of course, would make the perfect afternoon meal for the summer washed down with an expensive glass of rosè wine. Rosè, a wine commonly maligned, yet with a proper and respectable place during the long hot summer is something I enjoy seeking out during the three torrid months a year which complement its light and fruity characteristics.

These full moon reveries also led me to think about summertime food and how it is the ideal time to change up our eating patterns. Hot, Southern California days slither in too heavily to merit three full meals. The bounty of produce that springs from our paradise soil along with farm-raised local meats and briny jewels from the Pacific Ocean are all we need to dine light and fresh until Fall.

Taking the seasonal eating shift one step further into the restaurant experience, it is an ideal time to find single appetizer dishes that are too large for a simple pre-meal bite but small enough so that they aren’t as filling as normal entrees. Elevating these types of appetizer dishes to a meal during summer can be a delight, especially eaten alone at the bar of a bustling restaurant with nothing other than a glass of wine. For under $40 in downtown Los Angeles alone, you can find plenty of opportunities to have this type of sumptuous summer supper.

Recently the Cute Gardener and I dined at the hot spot Bestia—a trendy Italian joint complete with frighteningly sexy meat hook décor and a loud playlist of 1980s hardcore hip hop music. Everything was top notch and above average but two appetizers entirely bowled us over—both of which would completely qualify for a lone dinner at the bar with a glass of rosè.

BestiaLambNeckThe lamb neck deserves a prize. Seriously, a “golden way to rock a bone-y piece of meat” prize by the likes of Chris Cosentino or Lucky Peach magazine or some old French bastard who appreciates toiling for hours over a funky cut of sheep. For 18 hours, the neck is braised and then some magical forces of caramelization are accomplished before the brick-sized hunk hits the plate. This chunk of tender flesh is then covered in a refreshing green sauce that carries only a hint of mint amongst its lemony goodness and accompanied by a small, sparsely oiled green salad. The meat falls apart at the touch, is full of savory nuggets and sweet bits to slurp out from between the bones, providing not only an outstanding and unusual meal but also it’s also fun to eat.

BestiaGizzardsSecondly, the chicken gizzards appetizer really surprised us. We are chicken gizzard aficionados and typically order them whenever we see them (our favorites being at Kokekokko, grilled and skewered plain with a shot of sake). But these were the best I’ve had so far, tender and meaty on the inside and charred on the outside. They arrived in the form of a salad pile, individually tucked into leaves of endive and topped with a shaved flake of exquisite capra sarda cheese. The whole lot was then dressed with tangy balsamic lending a hint of summer BBQ.

Although the pastas that followed were nice and crafty, it’s these two dishes that we would return for. I am now inspired to seek out some more opportunities this summer to find other types of this one plate with wine experience until the Fall when a more “meat on my bones” mentality becomes more acceptable again in the cold.