Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle - Point Loma

March 2013 Are you a fan of both craft beer and the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou?  Well then, I have just the place for you.  A bait shack and beer bar located on the west side of Shelter Island, overlooking the San Diego Bay.  Not only is the tiny paneled dining room smartly turned out in dark blue with a collection of undersea themed movie posters, a bookshelf full of National Geographic back issues and vintage diving equipment - but the craft beer selection rivals any other establishment in town.  That is not surprising considering the owner, Dennis Borlek, was one of the original cooks at the Liar's Club and managed Hamilton's before moving on to the Monkey Paw and ultimately landing here.
Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle When we walked up we were greeted by Dennis, dressed in an elaborate pirate outfit - who stamped our hands with a squid logo.  We entered the dimly lit space and felt like we were on a submarine - it's about the size of an RV, with the only light coming from a picture window overlooking the bay and one large yellow industrial light fixture hanging from the ceiling.  The bar in front of the window is a perfect place to enjoy the view - especially at sunset - but there are a few blonde wood tables too.  Very few - in fact I think three is the exact number.  There are a few tables outside as well with a view of the city - and yes - an actual bait  shop opening onto the pier.  
Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle I'm guessing it gets crowded on weekend nights, but on Sundays they close at 8, so it was pretty low key with just one or two other tables occupied. We sat by the window and enjoyed a Russian River Damnation and a Bear Republic Red Rocket with a classic blue cheese wedge salad, a burger and an Italian sausage sandwich.  They make the sausages in house, and I think they are probably what they do best - though the pulled pork sandwich with housemade kimchi sounded promising too.  They also do Baja style hot dogs, including a loaded version with kimchi and pepperjack.
Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle
I had a burger craving, so I ordered the Fathom Burger - it was a good traditional burger - but it was a little bit difficult to eat since it was served on a sausage roll.  The Italian sausage with marinara and provolone was fantastic and the wedge salad was a classic specimen - chilled and crisp with tangy dressing and chunks of bacon and cherry tomatoes.  It would be nice if they offered a few nibble style things to go with the beer - maybe some nuts, pickled vegetables or olives, or even a good grilled cheese.  As it stands everything on the menu includes meat, so bear that in mind if traveling with vegetarians.
Burger at Fathom BistroAll in all though, the best thing about Fathom is that it feels special. It reminds me of one of those tiny ski chalets on the mountain that feels like a secret spot.  They play great music, they have a killer beer selection and serve good food in a cozy atmosphere.  It's a great spot for a date (it was in fact part of a "date day" that I had planned for James) particularly considering you can walk along the water before or after you stop in for your beer.  It would also be a fun place for out-of-towners since it kills two birds - the view of the city and the craft beer scene in one swoop.  You could even stop by the Bali Hai afterwards for Mai Tais - assuming you have nowhere to be the next morning...

Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle
1776 Shelter Island Drive
On the fishing pier toward the west end of the Island
across from the Best Western.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Because Everyone Loves a Good Sandwich

Sandwiches!
Clockwise from top left:  lobster roll at B&G Oysters, Boston; the Sam at Stein's Deli in NOLA; Steak Sandwich at Gjelina in LA; Bahn Mi at Out the Door in SF; Grilled Cheese at Hog Island Oysters in SF; the Schnitzelwich at Tabor in Portland; the Lobster BLT at B&G Oysters; Turkey and swiss with avocado and tarragon mustard at Rubicon Deli in SD, the Tabor cart in Portland.

Nothing but nothing beats a good sandwich for satisfaction. Inspired by Bon Appetit's latest issue, here is my own top ten list of favorite (non burger) sandwiches both outside and inside San Diego. What are some of yours??

 1. The Shrimp Toast at Son of a Gun in LA
 2. Momofuku pork buns in NYC
 3. Hog Island Oyster grilled cheese in SF
 4. Fried Chicken at Son of a Gun
 5. The Sam at Stein's Deli in NOLA 
 6. Bahn Mi at Out the Door in SF
 7. Schnitzelwich at Tabor in Portland
 8. Roli Roti Porchetta at the Ferry Building Farmers Market in SF
 9. Lobster BLT and lobster roll at B&G Oysters in Boston
 10. Steak sandwich at Gjelina in LA

 Favorite sandwiches in San Diego: 

 1. Triple Threat Pork sandwich at Carnitas’ Snack Shack
 2.  Fried Chicken on a Cream Cheese & Chive Biscuit at Tiger! Tiger! (Sunday only)
 3. Crab sandwich at Point Loma Seafoods
 4. Turkey with swiss, tarragon mustard and avocado on a dutch crunch roll at Rubicon Deli
 5. Roast beef with goat cheese and red onion at Con Pane.
 6. No. 9 (bbq pork) bahn mi at K sandwiches (ask for double meat & extra pickle.)
 7. Porchetta at Ariccia Italian Market in La Jolla
 8. Provencal vegetable sandwich at Cafe Zinc
 9. ABLT at Prep Kitchen in Little Italy 
 10. Fish Torta at El Pescador.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Son of a Gun - Los Angeles

Son of a Gun - Hollywood Have you seen the cover of the new Bon Appetit yet?  I just got mine in the mail and I was bowled over all over again by the gorgeous fried chicken sandwich on the cover - which I recognized from dinner last week at Son of a Gun.  It was one of those things that everyone in the restaurant was ordering, and we had to have one too as soon as we laid eyes on it. In fact, everything on the menu sounded so amazing it was hard to choose - so we made it as easy for ourselves as we could by ordering almost everything on the menu.
Son of a Gun - HollywoodWe didn't have a reservation and the restaurant is tiny - with about ten tables on one side and a small bar and  communal table on the other, so we so we got there right at six to get a spot.  We weren't the only ones - when we first drove by, about five people were in line but by the time we walked up, it was at least three times that many.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood We happened to be seated next to an adorable couple out on a date - below is a photo I snuck of their order of the King Salmon with jerk spice, kiwi, palm sugar vinaigrette and habanero.  They said it was delicious and they also recommended the Burrata with Uni.  We didn't try either one, but I'll take their word for it.  You can also see a bottle of the house fermented shandy sitting on the table here - drinks are as big a deal as the food here and they have a killer cocktail menu.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood
It was apparent that the male half of the couple was absolutely smitten with his date, and when we started chatting with them we learned this was only one of many stops they would be making, as they were doing a progressive dinner. When I asked where else they were going he showed me his list. (I had to keep it a secret from her because each stop was a surprise.)   This was in fact their second stop - the first had been Osteria Angelini, and they were on their way to Fig & Olive, then Spago and on to Craft, with a last stop at Mozza to pick up Butterscotch Budino *to go.* The date had been going since 9 AM - it started with croissants at Proof bakery, then there was a trampoline session at Sky High Trampoline Park, and a stop for a massage at a day spa before their dinner began.   Quite a day!
Epic Date Schedule we encountered at Son of a Gun :) The Kale Caesar salad - below left, was another dish that practically everyone seemed to be ordering -showered with finely grated parmesan and tossed with crisp toasted walnuts.  The avocado and citrus salad was refreshing and delicious too - nothing unusual but it's hard to go wrong with a combination of tangy, sweet citrus and buttery avocado.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood This was the smoked mahi fish dip with celery, radishes and crackers - it came with club crackers on the side.  This is the kind of thing I should make at home but never do.  The shaved celery and radish was a nice refreshing touch and it had great flavor - lots of horseradish.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood Next up came their justly famous lobster roll.  I was already aware that it was pretty small - but it is really tiny - just a couple of bites. They use potato chips to hold the lobster salad in.  The sweet lobster salad and buttery roll were delicious, but hard to share.
Son of a Gun - HollywoodMy personal favorite dish was the Shrimp Toast sandwich - pictured below. Shrimp toast is usually a crisp buttery slice of bread topped with a mixture of chopped shrimp and mayonnaise and baked until golden brown. This was turned into a sandwich with the addition of a top layer of buttery crisp bread and accented with a Sriracha sauce and a bit of cilantro.  It was insanely rich, but I could have easily eaten another one.   It would be the perfect couple of bites with a cocktail.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood Soon after that came the famous fried chicken  - topped with a sharp vinaigrette based slaw spiked with jalapenos and red onion and served on a toasted brioche bun smeared with a rooster sauce mayonnaise.  It was probably the best fried chicken sandwich I've ever had - and though I haven't tried Bake Sale Betty's up in the Bay Area, I've had a few.  Here in San Diego they serve a credible one on a biscuit at Tiger Tiger, and the MIHO Gastrotruck dishes up a similar version - but this one was special.  I definitely prefer the lighter bun, and the combination of the sharp coleslaw & fried chicken provided a nice contrast.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood There were a few other dishes in between that were ok, but not something I'd order again.  The brandade with "grainy mustard butter" arugula and fried egg was not as flavorful as it should have been, and the BBQ shrimp with warm potato salad and pickled bacon did not live up to its imaginative sounding name. One surprise stunner of the evening though was this brussel sprout dish, with chinese sausage, cinnamon, peanut and egg.  The crispy brussel sprouts mingled with the broken egg and sausage, and accented by the sweetness of the peanut and cinnamon became one of the best tasting and most original dishes we tried - very David Chang.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood We didn't have room for dessert, but the few options on the menu sounded good - especially the house made tin roof ice cream.  Some ladies next to us recommended the lime frozen yogurt, which was served in a bowl with a graham crumble and a smear of torched meringue on the side.   Reservations are hard to come by because of the size of the place, but if you get there early or late, or have time to wait, it's pretty easy for a small party to get seated at the bar or communal table. To my way of thinking, the ideal way to spend time here would be to sit at the bar with a friend or a date, have a few cocktails and graze on some of their more interesting small bites - in fact I'm planning to do just that as soon as I can!

Son of a Gun
8370 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048

open for lunch & dinner M-F
dinner only on weekends.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Bar Stella | Bar Keeper - Los Angeles

Bar Stella - SilverlakeThe next stop on our whirlwind LA tour was Sunset Junction in the heart of Silverlake.  This little corner at a bend in the road is  home to the east side branch of Intelligentsia - famous for it's perfect espresso and Granada tile, The Cheese Store of Silverlake and Cafe Stella.  I had been to each of those before, but I hadn't noticed Bar Stella - hidden away a few steps down from the Cafe toward the street.  Jora and Desi had been here a few months earlier and wanted to recreate their experience, and once I entered I could see why.
Rose and cheese-stuffed prosciutto wrapped date from the Cheese Store at Bar StellaThe ritual (because we definitely plan to repeat this again) involves stopping in the Cheese Store of Silverlake for cheese stuffed dates, grilled on the panini press.  Those are carried, wrapped in paper, to the bar, and set out to wait for drinks to arrive - then consumed with a delicious beverage while still warm and gooey.  I can vouch for the fact that they pair nicely with a glass of chilled rose, but I'm sure any one of their cocktails would be equally delightful.  (The C. Arthur was strongly recommended by the young man seated to my right.)
Bar Stella - Silverlake
It's hard to imagine a better place to while away an hour or two, and that's exactly what we did.   We chatted with the bartender and a few other patrons, listened to some good mellow music, enjoyed the afternoon light filtering in through the doorway from their small Moroccan style patio, and soaked up the pleasure of spending an afternoon with favorite girlfriends in a lovely spot.
Bar Stella - Silverlake We also plotted our next move - which would include dinner.  Since the trip was planned on short notice, we hadn't been able to get a reservation anywhere - so we figured our best strategy was to show up somewhere early.  We contemplated Lucques, L&E Oyster bar and Mozza, but we all really wanted to try Son of a Gun, so we figured we would try that first and head somewhere else as a backup.
Bar Stella - SilverlakeOn our way into Bar Stella, we popped in to Bar Keeper, just around the corner - it's a boutique liquor store and cocktail supply shop with a huge selection of bitters, a wall of top shelf liquor choices, and lots of vintage cocktail glasses, shakers and accessories.  They specialize in bitters - displayed below - and Desi picked up a bottle of Yuzu bitters that she handed to the bartender and asked him to make her a drink.  He came up with a refreshing gin concoction that she absolutely loved.  Win win.
Barkeeper - Silverlake So, let's recap.  Other than a short stop at Broome Street General Store for a delightful visit with Elizabeth , Elodie and delicious baby Francesca, we spent our day eating, shopping, drinking and eating, in that order.  Oh and eating some more, if you count our stop at The Pie Hole on the way home.  Yup, it was pretty much bliss from one end to the other!

Next up - Dinner at Son of a Gun, then back to San Diego!


Friday, March 15, 2013

Cookbook - Los Angeles

Cookbook - Echo Park Cookbook is a small grocery and food shop in Echo Park and a sister to Cortez. It's tiny, but packed wall to wall with great stuff, including fresh bakery breads, Marin Sun Farms meats, fresh pastured eggs, and a selection of fruits and vegetables from local farms including leeks, kale, beets, meyer lemons, avocados, fresh herbs, etc. They also stock pantry goods like Rancho Gordo beans, Maestri pasta, June Taylor jams, Mast Bros. Chocolate, Sightglass coffee and Straus dairy and carry a small selection of prepared foods.
Cookbook - Echo Park
Originally, the idea behind the name was that they would feature dishes inspired by or drawn from different cookbooks each week - but it seems like that has fallen away in favor of the practicality of offering their customers what they want - such as the Beans and Greens made with Rancho Gordo's Good Mother Stallards (recipe here).
Cookbook - Echo Park They were especially well stocked with great looking produce on the day we were there.   On my last visit a few months ago the selection was not quite as good, so I'm guessing it varies from day to day.
Cookbook - Echo Park The best part is their prices are not overly inflated.  They charge maybe $.50 to a dollar more than Whole Foods or a farmers market for the produce and pantry items. By contrast, Broome Street General Store's prices are marked up about 30% across the board.
Cookbook - Echo Park Next door to Cookbook, there is a small boutique called Cookbook 2, where they sell a few home goods - primarily the clay cazuelas and pottery items that they use at Cortez.  There are also some solid wood bowls, Japanese spice grinders and paring knives.  It's not obvious that it's there - we wouldn't have known about it if our friends at Cortez hadn't told us about it that morning.  You have to ask them to unlock it for you and let you in.
Cookbook - Echo Park (next door boutique) We all really liked these pottery tumblers that they use as coffee mugs at Cortez.   They not only look cool, but keep the coffee really hot.
Terra cotta mugs at Cookbook - Echo Park
I picked up some of their house made granola, a bag of Rancho Gordo cranberry beans, a package of Maestri bucatini and a jar of the avocado honey we enjoyed at breakfast at Cortez (which I just discovered they also sell at Whole Foods.) It was a good haul!

Cookbook
1549 Echo Park Avenue
Los Angeles
(213) 250-1900

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tomboy | Dream Collective | Clare Vivier - Silverlake

 Tomboy, Dream Collective, Hive & Clare Vivier - SilverlakeThough eating was close to the top of our list of reasons for going to LA last weekend, our primary goal was to visit one of my favorite little corners of the world - at Micheltorena and Sunset - to do a little shopping.
Tomboy - Silverlake This little strip just happens to host my favorite boutique of all time - Dream Collective - Jora's favorite kids' store - Tomboy, and the Clare Vivier store - which sells my favorite line of bags and leather goods. Tomboy is especially well-curated for a children's store, with lots of cute imported handmade goods, Beatrice Valenzuela shoes in kids sizes, textiles and clothes from Bobo Choses that won't "bling" your kid out like some other children's boutiques. It's the kind of place where you wish a lot of the stuff came in your size.
Dream Collective - Silverlake Dream Collective is the costume jewelry line of Kathryn Bentley, and her shop - just next door - revolves around her jewelry collection and complementary items like Beatrice Valenzuela's shoes, hand dyed clothing, stained glass art made by her husband David Scheid, and other luxe bohemian delights.  I love David's glass in the front windows, and you can see one of his pieces hanging on the wall on the left.
Dream Collective - Silverlake The cases contain her two jewelry collections - the costume line called Dream Collective and her eponymous fine jewelry line. The Dream Collective line draws on primitive cultures for inspiration, and the delicate fine jewelry is made with 14 karat gold and natural gemstones such as turquoise and tourmaline.  It's all gorgeous.
Dream Collective - Silverlake The bottom two shoe shelves feature a wide selection of Beatrice Valenzuela's soft leather handmade shoes and booties - not many in size 10 though I'm afraid.
Shoes at Dream Collective - Silverlake Clare Vivier's shop - right on the corner - offers an assortment of her elegant and simple leather bags, as well as a curated selection of items including Chateau Marmont candles, Rodin cosmetics, simple jewelry and leather accessories.
Clare Vivier - Silverlake Clare Vivier also stocks Heather Taylor's linens.   I'm coveting the purple and blue cocktail napkins - which seem to me like they could be used for all kinds of things.
Heather Taylor Home linens at Clare Vivier - Silverlake
If that isn't enough - next door to Clare Vivier is a shop called the "Grilled Cheese Shop" - which I haven't tried, but hello!? How could you go wrong?  And there is a salon in between Dream Collective and Clare Vivier called Hive which sells the full line of Davines hair products.  Last time I was in town I popped in there to pick up some sample size shampoo and conditioner because I had forgotten mine, and landed on the Nounou line, which has since become my all time favorite.
David Scheid Stained Glass from Dream Collective
Needless to say, there were a lot of great options, but the only thing I brought home was this David Scheid piece from Dream Collective.   I'm kind of in love with it.  It wasn't the last thing I fell in love with on this trip though - more on that coming soon.  :)

Tomboy 
1406 Micheltorena St
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Dream Collective
1404 Micheltorena St
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 660-2000

Clare Vivier
3339 Sunset
at Micheltorena

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Zuni" Roast Chicken with Bread Salad

I wish I had a better picture for this post, but my husband didn't know the rule about not taking photos of food with the flash - plus that poor breast lost most of its skin! I guess it's still better than no picture at all though. This dish is so easy and so good that it almost seems more like home cooking than restaurant food. That is one thing I noticed about the Zuni cookbook as opposed to the Boulevard cookbook. Boulevard is great and all, but some of the recipes take something simple and just complicate it for the sake of complicating it. It might taste good, but it doesn't taste better for being that way. Maximum result for minimum effort is always a good rule of thumb in my book.

The original recipe is written for someone who has never cooked chicken before in their life. I am not going to make this assumption, or this recipe would be eight pages long (in the book it is four pages long) I will assume that you have some understanding of the general process.

This will feed 4-6 people (two chickens). One chicken probably feeds three people - but don't be afraid of leftovers, they are delicious! Read the recipe all the way through before beginning - some of the steps go back and forth, so you need an understanding of both the chicken and the salad to know when to do what. The recipe starts with the dry brining of the chicken the night before you plan to cook it.

For the chickens:
2 whole smallish organic free range frying chickens - not larger than 3.5 lbs. (you may have to order these, whole chickens this small are hard to find)
sprigs of fresh thyme and fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons of salt (I used kosher, but the recipe calls for sea salt)
pepper
    For the bread salad:
    1-2 loaves of day old french bread - depending on the size. You should have a large salad bowl full (I used the par baked Il Fornaio bread sold at Trader Joes)
    1/4 cup of pine nuts
    1/4 cup of currants
    1 bunch of scallions, sliced diagonally - including some of the green part
    3-4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
    At least 4 cups of arugula or other bitter greens (one of those bags of organic arugula would work)
    red wine vinegar
    champagne vinegar
    olive oil
    salt
    pepper
    chicken drippings

    1. The night before cooking - rinse and thoroughly pat dry the chickens with paper towels - take the giblets out of the cavity and discard.
    2. Set the chickens on a piece of parchment paper on a half sheet pan, (the paper keeps them from sliding around and absorbs moisture) and sprinkle each chicken with 1 tsp salt and some pepper - rub it into and under the skin and into the cavity. Slip the thyme sprigs and sage leaves up under the skin of the breast and the thick part of the thigh, and into small slits in the legs. Cover with another sheet of paper (or paper towels) and put in the refrigerator to dry overnight.
    3. When ready to cook - heat the oven to 450.
    4. Cut most of the crust off of the bread and half the loaf lengthwise.
    5. Toast under the broiler on a baking sheet until lightly browned. Flip over and toast the other side.
    6. Tear the bread into irregular chunks ranging between 2 inches and 1/2 inch - put in a large shallow bowl.
    7. Put the currants in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar to soak.
    8. Mix a tart viniagrette of 1/4 cup of olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons of champagne vinegar, with a bit of salt in a small bowl or cup. Drizzle over the bread and toss thoroughly. Taste for tartness and seasoning and adjust accordingly.
    9. Keeping the oven at 450, put a clean half sheet pan (at least one inch deep) into the oven and let it pre-heat for a few minutes.
    10. Using tongs - pick the chickens up and put them on the pan in the oven. They will sizzle when they hit the hot pan.
    11. Roast for 30 minutes - they should be sizzling and browning but not burning or smoking.
    12. Flip them both over using the tongs again (you will probably have to take the tray out of the oven to do this) and cook for another 20 minutes.
    13. Flip them over again, and cook just long enough to crisp the skin, about 10 more minutes.
    14. Total cooking time at high heat should be about 45 minutes. Smaller chickens may be fully cooked by this time, but if yours are close to 3.5 pounds, they may need a few more minutes. Reduce the heat in the oven to 300-350 degrees and leave them in while you work on the bread salad.
    15. Put the pine nuts in a dish in the oven to heat for a few minutes.
    16. In a small frying pan, saute the scallions and slivered garlic in about a tablespoon of oil until soft but not colored.
    17. Add them to the bread mixture and toss.
    18. Also add the vinegar soaked currants and the warmed pine nuts.
    19. If the chickens are done, tip some of the drippings into the bread. If not, tip them into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer on the stove before adding them.
    20. Pile the bread salad into a large baking dish, and put in the oven for about 30 minutes. This might be a good time to rest the chickens if they have been in the oven up to this point - or to reheat them if you took them out earlier.
    21. Serve the first course of your meal, or have a cocktail!
    22. When you remove the bread salad from the oven, toss it with the arugula, add salt and pepper to taste, and more drippings or viniagrette to taste. I added some additional vinegar to give it a bit more tang - I found that it absorbed a lot, and could have used even more. Don't be shy with the greens - they wilt and shrink when tossed with the warm bread.
    23. Pile the bread salad on a platter, cut the chickens into quarters, and place on the platter with the salad and serve.
    I will be making this again in a couple of weeks for my supper club - it's a Cooking Light Supper club so I will lighten it a bit subbing broth for some of the drippings and oil - it will probably be just as good if not better!
    I also highly recommend picking up the cookbook itself. It has won a number of awards, and the history of the restaurant and story of the author is quite interesting. I bought it on a whim, just for this recipe - but I see several recipes I want to try that look well-suited for home cooking - it is definitely a keeper!

    Monday, March 11, 2013

    Cortez - Los Angeles

    Brunch at Cortez - LA This past weekend some girlfriends and I took a little day trip to Los Angeles. My usual MO has been to go up and spend the night - which is great too - but the day trip actually works pretty well, especially with a group of friends who make the drive a a pleasure instead of a chore.  We started the day with brunch at Cortez - a cafe in Echo Park run by the same lovely folks behind Cookbook - a small grocery and take out shop a few blocks away.
    Brunch at Cortez - LA The menu at Cortez is small, but everything on it sounded fantastic.  If you're familiar with Boulette's Larder at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, it was like that, only more California and less French, with half the price and pretension.  (I've been fantasizing a lot about opening a food business lately, and this was eerily close to what I imagine it would look like.)
    Brunch at Cortez - LA
    I had the farro and lentils with harissa and egg - which came with a big tangle of fried shallots.  Something like this runs the risk of being bland or heavy, but this was neither - the perfectly cooked runny egg mingled with the harissa and farro to form a hearty but not gut-busting breakfast dish.
    Brunch at Cortez - LA  Desi and Jora had the merguez sausage on flatbread with yogurt, pickles and greens - and Jora added an egg.  The lamb sausage was mild and the pickles added a nice sharp accent.   Elise had the white beans with smoked tomatoes, chard and an egg - which also had great flavor.
    Brunch at Cortez - LA We shared some roasted kabocha squash with sage browned butter and shaved cheese, and the flatbread with avocado honey and olive oil.   To drink, we had blood orange juice (I did anyway, I was still recovering from a wicked hangover) and cappuccinos, and Elise had beautiful fresh mint tea - just mint steeped in boiling water.  The flatbread with honey and olive oil was pretty much the perfect indulgence.  It reminded me of the sopapillas at Tomasitas in Santa Fe.   I liked it so much I bought some of the honey at Cookbook later.
    Cortez - LA
    I was also really taken with the design of the place - it's a small room, with two long communal tables and a small bar in front of the kitchen. It feels open and airy with the simple wood & brick interior and high ceilings.  The accents - copper, citrus, dried herbs - strike the perfect note of modern California chic, and I  liked that it doesn't look just like every other hipster retro-pharmacy/train-station style joint out there.
    Brunch at Cortez - LA
    After we ate, the place cleared out and we started chatting with Stephen and Jitson.  (I don't know what it was about this trip but we just made friends wherever we went.  LA has become so friendly lately!)  We even got them to pose for a photo.  When I originally asked if I could take pictures, Stephen said sure, just follow and tag us on Instagram!  (@restaurantcortez)Brunch at Cortez - LAWhile we were chatting, they mentioned that Jonathan Gold had recently savaged them in the LA Times - I pulled up the review and read it on the spot.  I usually like his reviews, but I think he may be off base on this one.   He went for dinner - which may be a substantially different experience than brunch, but he waxed rhapsodic about the food, calling one dish "just short of stunning" - so clearly the food was not the problem.  His main complaint seemed to be that the portions were too small and the wine ran out too soon.  A choice quote:  "You are going to cut the two globes of merguez sausage neatly into halves, wrap your bit in a bandage-sized scrap of flatbread and hope that you have not taken more than your allotted half-teaspoonful of yogurt sauce."  Their response:  just ask for more!  He also rather snottily references "screechy  jazz" and claims "if you belong here, you know who you are."  Oof.  The most irritating part is that it seems the review is mostly for effect - since he comes into Cookbook all the time, and has never uttered a complaint about the atmosphere there or seemingly felt out of place.  Regardless - I  doubt his review will deter anyone who would otherwise be inclined to go there for dinner,  and I for one can't wait to try it!

    Stay tuned for more of our adventures on the East Side!

    Cortez 
    1356 Allison Ave in Echo Park - just off Sunset
    Los Angeles, CA
    (213) 481-8015


    Wednesday, March 06, 2013

    Roast Coach | Coffee & Tea Collective | Dark Horse - North Park

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    While there's certainly no shortage of coffee bars in San Diego, until recently there's been a bit of a shortage of good ones.  Three lovely new spots in the urban zone are helping with that.
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    You'll find the Roast Coach girls at their hand-built wooden stand in front of Sea Rocket Bistro on 30th near Upas and their brand new second location downtown at 330 A Street.  They do pour over coffee and delicious iced drinks like the "Southern Hospitality" pictured here - a blend of cold brew, fresh mint, chicory, sugar and cream.  Check out the menu here.
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    Most days they also do fantastic Aabelskivers - round pancakes cooked on a special gas griddle right there on the sidewalk.  There is always a sweet one and sometimes a savory - these were filled with lemon curd & blueberries.  They have a few pastries available from a local vendor, but I seldom get there early enough to get a good one.   The pour over coffee is like rocket fuel. Their Ethiopian Sidiamo actually prompted me to switch to pour over brewing at home and I haven't looked back.
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    A few blocks away on El Cajon Boulevard, Coffee & Tea Collective is upping the bar for espresso in the area... most of the time at least.  Though all the pieces are there, the coffee sometimes isn't as good as it should be.  The cortados and macchiatos are often a little too milky and not hot enough - but the espresso itself is good, the cold brew is delicious and they are pros at the pour over technique.
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    The space is lovely and the people are very nice - I keep going back because I like the environment so much.
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    This was a macchiato - a good one.
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    I especially like their ever-changing art exhibits.  The work is interesting and usually for sale  for reasonable prices.  Funny story - I bought something from a recent show and it turned out they had already sold it to someone else - they had to tell Jora to tell me to bring it back.  At least I got a free coffee out of it.
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    I have also enjoyed the beans I've bought from them, especially the Bolivian Yanaimo. (I may be spelling that wrong.)  All of their beans are medium roast and have great full flavor.  Since I personally like my coffee a smidge on the darker side though, I've been buying my beans at Dark Horse Roasters on Adams Avenue.  They opened just a few months ago in a tiny space on Adams near the post office in Normal Heights.  They sell their own house-roasted beans and serve pour over & cold brew and a few pastry items - including vegan donuts.  Their Sumatra is my current jam. :)
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    If the hipster scene at these places just isn't your thing - there is always Peet's in Hillcrest.  It was my mainstay for years, and pretty much the only place I would order an espresso.  It had slid a bit in recent months, but they have a new barista there who made me the best coffee I've had in as long as I can remember the other day.  It was a good thing, seeing as how it was a quadruple macchiato. "Yes, quadruple."  For some reason I always have to repeat that.   It was syrupy, not the slightest bit bitter, with good crema and just the right amount of foam. Most importantly, it made the drive to work immediately afterwards a pleasure, not a chore.  I'm sure the lovely chat with Vince and invigorating morning workout helped  - but there's just nothing like a perfect coffee to get your day going in the right direction - which is why I'm so glad to see these places popping up.
    Camp Confab 2010 I also want to give a shout out to a couple of other great local coffee options: Dave Wasserman's  Joes on the Nose coffee truck appears at most of the local farmers markets and does catering gigs too.  He makes a great cup and some delicious island themed iced treats like the Aloha mocha with coconut whipped cream.  He's also a really nice guy, and was the first person to give me a cup of brewed coffee that tasted good without cream.  Paul and James of West Bean appear at local events (like the Camp Confab, pictured above), supply local restaurants and run an online store, though they have yet to open a cafe.  I need to try their beans again now that I have the proper apparatus for brewing.  The old percolator just doesn't extract the full flavor from their freshly roasted beans!