Foodies in Love

IMG_8273This elegant little block of tofu doused with a perfect amount of soy and striped with tender piles of meticulously placed chives represents the Cute Gardener. He is neat, ordered, minimal and aesthetically clean.

IMG_8274This chaotic bowl of ramen with awkwardly large noodles trying to elbow for room amongst the greens and wobbly eggs punctuated by strands of fatty pork represents me. I am messy, cluttered, rich and juicy.

Together these dishes make one of our favorite at home meals – food being the common denominator in our sea of differences that have always fueled our relationship with curiosity, wonder and mutual adventure. As we celebrate our third anniversary I thought I would pay homage to some of the best things I’ve learned or come to understand about our foodie life together.

  1. The CG will never share my love of white foods, i.e. bananas, coconut, etc.
  2. I will never share his love of sucking the goo from a crab head.
  3. When it comes to a bird, he likes stripping the carcass whereas I like digging the marrow from the bones.
  4. The CG received the gene that makes a person hate cilantro. I did not.
  5. If you want a cake or cookie in this household, you better ask the CG otherwise you may get something resembling rabbit food and granola without proper fat and termed raw.
  6. I make better homemade pizzas but his look prettier.
  7. Cooking the entire Dorie Greenspan Around My French Table is taking me a lot longer than I had envisioned when I gifted the book to him for our first Christmas together.
  8. Whereas the flavor of peppermint is like garlic and the sign of the cross to the CG, my kryptonite remains any form of poultry skin not fried to a non-flabby crisp.
  9. I am in charge of the baked salmon and other things in the oven; he is the king of the stove top.
  10. Rye bread doesn’t last in our household, especially if it’s from Diamond Bakery on Fairfax. He prefers it lighter without seeds and I crave dark loaves with seeds. Sometimes we get marbled.
  11. I am most assuredly spoiled because I get dinner cooked for me at least five days a week but I don’t take it for granted.
  12. Backyard produce has made grocery store produce unbearable to me.
  13. Bourbon is to be respected.
  14. For red wines, he likes his complex and balanced while I prefer funky, dark and big.
  15. We have found that there are very few restaurants that make us want to return more than once and so many good ones to choose from that it seems normally silly to do so. But there are exceptions that include Asenabo for simple yet sophisticated Japanese, Hatfield’s for buttery agnolotti, Scarpetta for scrumptious spaghetti, Papilles for Chef Tim Carey’s new-nightly dinner menu,  Il Fico for belly comforting pastas, Osteria and Pizza Mozza, Brent’s for the best pastrami in Los Angeles, El Faro for dollar fifty pastor tacos, TLT for pork belly nachos and Kokekokko because we will never tire of skewered chicken parts and cursing, beer slinging cooks.
  16. We will always enjoy non-American food for the Fourth of July.
  17. We will never eat out on Valentine’s Day preferring to whip up a feast at home.
  18. He was right when he told me I should ban dessert at restaurants because I would forever be disappointed.
  19. I was right when I told him he should do the same with BBQ anywhere on the West Coast.
  20. It is mutually understood at this point that we will never meet a pork belly we don’t like.
  21. You don’t have to like the same foods to be compatible but you have to be a foodie to be in love with a foodie.
  22. We are very lucky.

I say that last one, “We are lucky,” while knocking on wood because when you find your food soul mate you never want to lose him.

Dare I Say, the Best Italian in L.A.?

IMG_2754

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.

Scarpetta Had Me at Stromboli

IMG_0647A breadbasket is a breadbasket, right? Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s not so good. But even in its lowlier moments, you willingly dive into it upon sitting down at a restaurant knowing there’s nothing warm or crusty that can’t be fixed with a little helping of butter or olive oil. At least this is the way I thought before opening the breadbasket at Beverly Hills’ Scarpetta and finding the prototypical pre-meal ritual elevated to a religious experience. At the bottom of its cloth-lined berth beneath the toasted foccacia cubes and exquisitely dense French loaf sat four thinly sliced pieces of heavenly Stromboli. Like a pearl at the bottom of an oyster it was unexpected and generous. It also tasted like a gourmet sliver of soft, doughy, pepperoni and cheese-laden heaven. It was also accompanied by a savory eggplant caponata … and this was only the beginning.

Scarpetta has been on my dining wish list for a while, ever since first encountering owner Chef Scott Conant’s warm and comforting wisdom as a judge on Chopped. I figured his Italian food restaurants of large nationwide acclaim would be great if they were mirrors of his personality. The Cute Gardener confirmed my assumptions as he had dined there shortly before we met and was still hankering for their appetizer polenta with mushrooms. We even snuck into their swank bar for a delicious cocktail one night before meeting friends for dinner across the grassy courtyard at Bouchon so it was high time we finally made it there a few weeks back.

If the Stromboli hadn’t of sealed the deal for me, the aforementioned polenta with mushrooms certainly did – it was the most decadent and creamy version of the staple Italian peasant food that I’ve ever had. It didn’t matter that the wait staff that evening was a bit off – it was after all a busy and boisterous Friday evening in Beverly Hills in a large fancy space meant for seeing and being seen amongst a myriad of the rich and beautiful filling the dining room with the clang of high heels, gold, crystals, and a bevy of faux body parts. It didn’t matter that we were seated near the kitchen and could see the smoking patio with all of its inhaling denizens just outside our vision. It wouldn’t have mattered if the walls had fallen away around us in the middle of a snowstorm for that matter. All that mattered was the food –every plate was special: perfectly cooked, flavors expertly coaxed, and portions just enough to tease you into wanting more yet sating you completely by the last lick of complex sauce off a fork.

Some highlights:

IMG_0648Roasted scallops came with a caramelized char and then dimpled inward towards a creamy middle. The tiny summer squash melee was spiked with brightness that oozed into the miniature halves of juicy cherry tomatoes creating a tangy sauce.

IMG_0650A quirky spinach pici, or thick hand rolled spaghetti, was extremely fun to eat with varying widths and nodules that soaked up the earthy morels and braised duck leg meat that tenderly splayed between its strands.

IMG_0654A dark chocolate cake came like my favorite dark chocolate bars – bitter, dense, and chock full of cacao that was soft on the outside and hot in the middle. Burnt orange gelato made me miss my time in Sorrento when I had stayed at an equally posh hotel as the one I sat in now albeit overlooking a sea and sipping limoncello.

This dinner occurred with friends so we didn’t have our usual intimate, mealtime banter over each dish which gives me an excuse to encourage the CG to keep Scarpetta on our dining list so that we can do it up romantic style on another trip to rekindle my flame with my newly beloved Stromboli.