Karen Hatfield Inspired New Year’s Bread Bath

IMG_9390While most well meaning citizens of the world are busy embarking on New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight, eat better, exercise more and indulge less, the Cute Gardener and I decided to go the masochistic route as the non-conformists we are and celebrate 2015 with a Karen Hatfield-inspired bread bath.

Karen Hatfield is the prettier half of the husband wife team making some of the best food Los Angeles has to offer. Husband Quinn’s Hatfield’s Restaurant provided one of the dinners early on in my relationship with the CG that made me swoon the most. It is where I had an extremely memorable coconut soup, lamb lollipop and earl grey milkshake before jumping on a flight mid-summer to Santa Fe to see one of my best friend’s get married; a multi-course meal that will forever be connected to whimsy and romance in my mind. It is also where the CG and I ducked in post-dinner elsewhere for an unconventional dessert of exquisite agnolotti and popcorn at the bar one eclectic evening. Good times.

Hatfield’s decided to close its doors this past month to much local chagrin but I think it was a smart move. The CG was already talking about how, after being there multiple times, the food was losing its shine. Not because it was no longer good, but because it was no longer new. The couple decided the restaurant had run its course and are now working on a new venture called Odys and Penelope which is garnering much anticipation. Like true artists they allowed a vision to materialize in Hatfield’s, gave it their all, and are now moving on to the next project. Restaurateurs should be so lucky.

Odys and Penelope will be a few doors down from Karen’s pastry chef passion pit The Sycamore Kitchen. Having never been to the trendy bakery/cafe, we decided to spend New Year’s weekend trying out the goods. At eleven a.m. on a Saturday the line to the order counter was twenty people deep and all seats were taken. The twenty minute wait gave us plenty of time to view the salivation-starter baked goods case overflowing with dense, sweet loaf breads of chocolate, lemon and pumpkin, top hat high quiches, shiny iced fennel flower shaped cookies and thick rosemary shortbread triangles. Normally we aren’t seduced by this kind of display but if Karen makes food anywhere near like her husband we knew we would want to try everything. After ordering our lunch, we added a chocolate chip rye cookie, salted caramel pecan babka, onion and chorizo roll and flaky buttercup to go.

IMG_9384Our meal was heavenly. The woman knows how to bake. Even though I am a pork belly whore by nature, I felt the star of my Double BLT was not the tender, flabby, luscious pork stuffed with avocado, perfectly cooked bacon and butter lettuce into the sandwich, but the soft, doughy, white bread that acted as a perfect sponge to the balsamic-tinged mayo that brightened the traditional dish into something meriting praise. The CG’s grilled short rib sandwich was a runny gooey pile of yum on an equally great piece of bread seared up nicely on the outside. If Karen did bread this good, I couldn’t wait to try my sweets.

IMG_9388The chocolate chip rye cookie didn’t last five minutes after arriving home. It was a crunchy mess with melted disks of chocolate on the inside, accentuated by the sweet-detracting acerbic nature of rye—perfect for a grain lover like me. Later that evening, we participated in a Roman-orgy worthy carb fest. Leftover regular and marbled rye from Diamond Bakery and Brent’s (another two favorite bread joints in L.A.) surrounded tomatoes on a platter for use as carriers of the CG’s homemade chicken liver mousse.

IMG_9386The onion chorizo roll was heated so that the fat from the meat mingled with the warm, sweet onions within the crispy bread exterior. We cut the buttercup into fourths so that we could lick the sweet insides of sugary butter prior to popping the rest of the croissant like, crystal sugar coated bliss into our mouths. We sipped champagne along with this gluttony until the main course was through.

IMG_9393Finally, we transitioned to caramel-noted bourbon to accompany the dessert babka—another bread bomb smothered with thick salted caramel that, once cut into, revealed ant farm like trails of glistening cinnamon.

Being two people who are not prone to eat bread on a regular basis, we sure got our fill in one evening for the entire year and it was worth every bite.

Finally, the Perfect Pastrami

IMG_7919I admittedly wear a pair of gimlet eyeglasses when I talk about my experience with Jewish delis in that the ones I see through them are a limited selection of places I have tried in my life in the Southern California zone. I am sure Jewish deli purists could point me to the real veteran joints in places like New York City but for now I am merely talking from my myopic experiences in the land I know.

My history is small and mainly consists of a youth spent eating in the open dining room of Sherman’s in Palm Springs. In a town where restaurants turn around faster than real estate deals it’s been one of the only places I grew up with that maintained its roots. Although it served the normal obscenely huge sandwiches loaded with meats and slabs of tongue with pickles on cold white plates, I usually opted for the desert-centric and Sherman’s-created Oasis salad, which was a beautiful thing with avocado, bleu cheese dressing and moist, chewy dates. Later on in the desert, a trendy Jewish deli cropped up called Manhattan in the Desert where I would eat nothing but their cream cheese blintzes in a special strawberry sauce while sipping mimosas on Sunday mornings. And when I would come to Los Angeles and venture out to Langer’s or Canter’s for a business meeting, it would always consist of chicken noodle soup and a trip to the pastry counter for rugelach before heading into their old school decorated bathrooms to take strange photo shoots of my friends or my feet on the classic retro tile. In all of those times, I never had a piece of meat or slice of rye and strangely so because those are two of my favorite things – although I have a feeling it had something to do with a half sandwich being the size of a small horse’s head.

IMG_4408

This past year I met my first proper Jewish deli experience at Brent’s in Northridge. It was one of those cold Christmas holiday days where you have already eaten so much food and fallen off your normal health track that you just keep going until all the relatives leave. We arrived at Brent’s and the parking lot was already filing up before noon with patrons spilling out of the front doors. Upon entering, I immediately knew it was all the best things I love in a Jewish deli: dessert cases floating with insanely large macaroons and marbled breads, lots of chattering patrons eating belly-warming dishes, bowls of matzoh ball soup with matzoh balls the size of dodge balls and really long chunks of tender shredded chicken, milky plastic tumblers with crushed ice to jam up straws and sip out through the lips, tangy dill pickles, greasy tablecloths hiding even worse things underneath, and all in a dining room jammed with low tables smelling and decorated like a family living room.

But the best part was the pastrami sandwich, more manageable than I have seen at other places in size but still hefty with thin perfect, peppery slices of burgundy and pink meat. On a nice soft rye with some grainy mustard, the taste stayed in my mouth for days making me accustomed to a new kind of craving. I think it’s the best pastrami I have ever tasted – perfectly verging on a thin line between wet and dry and cut in a way that formed a delicate and flaky pile that didn’t compete with its soft doughy bed.