Finding Santa’s Graffiti Brings Gratitude While Ringing Out Culinary 2013

IMG_7822The other day while driving home from downtown Los Angeles after seeing the space shuttle at the California Science Center I noticed a curious piece of Santa’s graffiti alongside the road. A bulging heart of bougainvillea hanging over the industrial beige and grey, oft-chaotic traffic-laden freeway knocked me off my normal reverie for a moment reminding me to find beauty in the ordinary. It also made me realize that I live a bit of a charmed life. No, I don’t have lots of money or prestige or laundry lists of accolades but I have an amazing family, a bevy of quality friends and a boyfriend I love who I enjoy discovering the joys of eating with on a regular basis. In honor of the beginning of a New Year, one in which I am sure to open many more locked pieces of my ever-changing palate, I thought it would be nice to notate the highlights of 2013’s culinary landscapes for my readers in hopes of turning each of you on to a pleasurable piece of the collective pie.

So here are my favorite foodie moments of 2013 and of course, each comes with a huge recommendation to all who might wish to try them:

  • Being with best friends and loved ones at the Roosevelt Hotel dining on my 4th favorite Southern California burger from 25 Degrees in the afternoon with cocktails before sending them off to a John Williams concert at the Hollywood Bowl. (And for the record, this is my current favorite burger list: Plan Check, Comme Ca, Stout, the Cute Gardener’s burger made in our own home kitchen, 25 Degrees, Father’s Office).
  • Cheese gougeres at Bar Marmont (which also boasts my favorite gold leaf/butterfly appliquéd bathroom.)
  • A multi-course dinner at BierBeisl Beverly Hills where I met my all time favorite popover and was gifted an aperitif by the Austrian Chef Bernhard Mairinger who could not believe the CG and I actually ate our entire meal.
  • A decadent French lunch at Bistro Jeanty with its butter colored walls blanketing us as we ate snails, puff pastry soup and pate at noon followed by 48 hours of wine tastings in Napa.
  • Jazz at Café Cordiale in Sherman Oaks with my honey.
  • Discovering a mulita (cheese tortilla with corn rather than flour tortillas) and the thick, homemade masa tortilla courtesy of Don Cucos.
  • Putting another notch onto my “I love Pasadena” list with home-y pasta at Celestino, which also furthered my bucket list item of wanting to be adopted into the Drago family so I can go to holiday meals cooked by all the brothers.
  • Falling head over hills with Elia Aboumrads headcheese and other mutilated meats at Gorge, followed in very close second by Brendan Collins from Waterloo and City.
  • Coconut gelato pie at Gusto served by a waitress who was so thrilled that we ordered moscato so that she could open the bottle and sip from it herself. I lick this dessert in my sleep frequently – fluffy, cold, soft, refreshing and sweet oblivion found nowhere else.
  • Pressed cold, marinated shiitakes at Hinoki and the Bird.
  • Pig ears with green verde sauce after ice-skating and a trip to Penzey’s Spices at Hostaria del Piccolo.
  • My birthday dinner at the Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento for various reasons of which highlights included: walking through blocks of ghetto in high heels to experience, one of the best beef wellingtons I have ever had, the CG getting me extra oysters, a once in a lifetime $200 dinner all just for me, being gifted a bag of green mint homemade pasta by the general manager and all of this taking place on the night before I foraged oranges from the state capitol.
  • Littlefork’s pickled watermelon radishes and marinated mushroom salad.
  • Cocktails and cured meats at PIGG, Chris Cosentino’s now defunct meat market, after leaving the over-hyped Alma still hungry.
  • Finally getting a chance to eat at Patina and loving every minute of the white tablecloth, old school classy, cheese cart for dessert fanciness.
  • Moroccan carrots and apricot affogato at Pizzeria Mozza while celebrating my move in with the CG – apropos since next door at Osteria Mozza is the place we had our very first date.
  • The Stromboli in the bottom of the breadbasket at Scarpetta, not to mention the rest of the food.
  • Trivia night at Tam O’Shanter even though the Welsh rarebit was weird. It was a one time only experience and I live for those – plus we won a round of drinks based on the CG’s knowledge of movie soundtracks.
  • Apple basteeya dessert at Terra in St. Helena.
  • Discovering the odd yet addictive Beard Papa cream puffs in Asian malls all over Southern California.

I also learned a few things. For instance, never try BBQ in California – wait until you go to Kansas City or North Carolina. Never think you’re going to find a decent French macaron anywhere but Paris. And the world is a lot bigger than VONS and Ralph’s – my groceries are now most solely procured at either the Chinese or Armenian supermarket.

I am ready for 2014 to bring it on and open my taste buds another few degrees on my lifelong journey through fantastic food.

 

Marie Antoinette-Inspired Gluttony at Bistro Jeanty

IMG_2587One of my favorite things about Sofia Coppola’s 2006 version of Marie Antoinette was the over-the-top decadence the young, naïve queen partook in on a daily basis when it came to food. Who needs vegetables when you’re young, beautiful and rich and have access to the finest pastry chefs, cupcake bakers and Champagne makers in all the land? Of course, we all secretly wish that we could eschew the balanced meals once in a while for a feast of all our favorite treats.

Following in Marie’s footsteps, my own version of nonchalant foodie indulgence usually occurs in a French bistro and is always best during the daytime when you’re lent a feeling of sinning in sunlight while all the world goes on somber and serious around you, working and doing other adult-like things that you are not momentarily privy to.

In Napa we found this experience on our first full day when we decided to have the one lunch of the trip at Bistro Jeanty boasting a Chef Philippe who is indeed actually from the Champagne region of France. Upon entering the charming little space I was met by walls of butter yellow, which has become my superstitious sign that I will love a French bistro.

From the moment we sat down gluttony ensued. We ordered everything at once and watched as our table became laden with the dishes, compelling us to move our noontime cocktails over to adjacent tabletops.

IMG_2581As if we needed bread to start a bread heavy meal! But in wine country it never hurts to get extra sponge material in the body to help sop up the tastings. It arrived warm with crispy outsides and beautifully soft interiors alongside an adorable ceramic pot of grainy mustard. The doughy innards were also the perfect material to soak up the remaining lobster cream sauce at the bottom of an emptied dish of pike fish quenelles.

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Three large bones came filled with marrow in the perfect consistency to spread on the large, toasted baguette slices. It was not too watery and not too thick and easily spoon-able; something that takes talent to get truly right. The bordelaise sauce added a nice jolt of tang to the overall bite.

IMG_2585Two sweet slabs of girlie pink and meaty pate came served with a wooden box of cornichons. The creamy consistency, kin to really good headcheese, was divine.

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The star of the lunch and the reason we had come was the savory and belly-warming tomato soup in a bowl topped off by a delicious dome of puff pastry. With each bite pulling in some of the puff along with the cream-heavy richness of the soup, we were in true foodie bliss – letting ourselves “eat cake” in broad daylight without regard to who saw us. We were after all on vacation!