Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All I Want For Christmas (and Every Occasion Thereafter) is a Milk and Berry Cake

I have never been a cloyingly sweet or fatty girl when it comes to desserts. My favorite treats tend to be laden with sophisticated bitter chocolates in ganache type applications or very subtle flourless chocolate cakes and simple white cream cakes. Too much sugar, too much candied crystallization or the thick, syrupy, dense butter fluffed or overly fruited world of pies and custards tend to leave me with stomach aches rather than tongue orgasms. To me, butter doesn’t belong lost in a thick shortbread type hard and crunchy dough or a boring base crust but rather sopped and saturated into a stack of phyllo that oozes when bit into like in the case of baklava.

When it comes to cakes, there are certain types that drive me crazy with desire. They are typically made by hand by some old-fashioned grandmother and frosted thick with basic butter cream over a light lemon, Dutch cocoa or authentic vanilla base. Or, they are nouveau versions with a texture perfect for soaking in ice cream or milk with genuine whipped cream frostings that are light as air and milky flavored.

A few months ago at a fancy dinner in a Benedict Canyon home resided over by a famous chef, I was served the most delectable piece of cake for dessert after a fatty foie gras and red meat meal. It was the most pristine and beautiful white cake that crumbled at the touch, curled up into chewy coarse crumbs in the mouth that soaked up the wine beautifully and was covered in the lightest pure whipped cream frosting studded with moist and ripe blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

It was love at first bite and I learned the cake came from the famous Burbank bakery Portos. So this past weekend the Cute Gardener drove us there to experience the heavenly emporium of bread and sweet stuffs in person. The place was so packed to the gills and smelled so good and even though you had to stand in line behind the throngs of people before getting up to the deli counter to pick your passion, it all went relatively fast and the smell was enough to keep you waiting. The deli cases were so packed that it was kind of overwhelming and hard to choose what you wanted. 

When it came time for me, I blurted out and pointed to a mini pina colada mousse cake with a beautiful violet flower on top, a guava and cheese strudel Danish and a Florentine cookie. The CG ordered a fluffy roulade of chocolate and vanilla cake with raspberry filling and a starchy and rich Napoleon slab topped with caramel. We also bought a loaf of Cuban bread to go with dinner and a small egg pretzel twist.

Over two nights our lovely loot was enjoyed alongside a tasting of three different kinds of rum.

The weirdest part was the price. All of this bounty for only $12.50?!?! It's as if Portos is still charging the same prices as when they opened in 1960! If there were one of these in my neighborhoods it would be a HUGELY dangerous thing. I am definitely coming back any chance I can with a long list of things in my head still to try. Oh, and I discovered that my all time favorite cake has a name: it’s called the Milk and Berry Cake and it's on Portos’ roster of classics, in case any of my lovely readers would ever wish to order me one and surprise me for any old reason whatsoever. It’s definitely what I will be eating for my birthday, and any other occasion when a cake is needed to come!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

$400 (and Worth Every Penny!) Sushi

I am a bonafide sushi snob but I never thought I would eat a sushi meal that cost nearly $400 and was worth every single penny; which is exactly what I did this past Friday night.

The Cute Gardener didn’t tell me a word about Asanebo before I saw its rather plain sign on the top of a small space in Studio City crammed into a strip mall parking lot between other equally non-descript businesses. It has become a custom of late, when I stay at his place, to just assume my role as passenger in his car at the weekend’s onset while he takes me to a new restaurant to try. But this time, he admitted to being to Asanebo over 15 times, which is a virtual non-occurrence in his life as he tends to refuse to eat at a place more than once touting the sheer number of restaurants on the perpetual “to do" list making revisits seem borne of sheer stupidity.

Once inside I was impressed with the beautiful and elegant décor, all in shades of beige and brown with wooden accents and a warm, inviting sense of Zen. Three expert staff members attended to us all evening including a sweet waitress, a knowledgeable bus boy whose recommendations we took to heart, and a man who would deliver specific dishes to us with tips on how we would best enjoy them. The Kardashian mom (absent hubby Bruce Jenner but with a younger actor-in-training type boy), other couples on date night and a continual stream of groups of four continued to keep the restaurant buzzing all evening.

Two bottles of high-quality, iced sake and a stream of eleven custom-crafted and exquisite dishes later, I officially felt spoiled rotten by the best damn sushi experience I have ever had.

I am not sure anything will ever live up to the memory of these fine dishes, each individually worthy of being called a work of stunning, Japanese culinary art.

To start, an elongated tray of homemade pickles, consisting of long, thin carrots, baby round carrots, cucumber, baby beets, Napa cabbage, long thin turnips and a powerfully flavor packed raspberry-hued green onion with miso. Each veggie was pickled in its own unique seasoning blend and brine, creating a myriad of small, exquisite punches of major flavor.

The simple yet sublime spinach and mushroom salad was served room temperature and again, dressed well in something so tongue-tantalizing and original that each bite was savored as its own special experience, again and again.

We ordered the toro sashimi and the waitress lowered her voice and said, “a special for tonight, we have toro collar.” Of course, we nodded emphatically yes and received this sweet pink flesh, fatty and buttery, that melted on impact into the mouth.

Unctuous bits of Uzaku grilled freshwater eel sweetened with vinegar sauce and cucumbers were then spiked nicely with savory grated burdock root.

Sea grunt sushi was sweet and meaty but the surprise sushi of the night was this melon colored orange clam version; rent so smoothly with the teeth and reminiscent of summer peaches.

One of the most beautiful presentations was this dish of steamed zucchini flower stuffed with cake of rock shrimp, white fish alongside tender yellow tomato.

We ordered the shishito peppers, something we both enjoy eating and often say are similar to okra but without the slime. Dressed in just the char of being grilled and a few bonito pepper flakes, it was the perfect mid meal dish while we regrouped, spice cleaned the palette and decided what our last few dishes would entail.

Lovely fat pieces of King salmon sashimi, like most everything on this menu, didn’t need any additional flavoring from soy or wasabi.

Tempura uni wrapped in shiso leaf was the only item that escaped being photographed before we ended it all, somewhat resistant, with a gorgeous fried soft shell crab appetizer. Of course, it became a dessert rather than appetizer, as we knew we didn’t want to mess up the delicate flavors of fresh sashimi with anything fried before hand.

If we hadn’t already went nearly one hundred dollars over our evening’s budget, we probably could have taken a half hour break and continued on eating. The food was that clean and that good.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Childless Mother’s Day Brunch at Three Square Cafe

I have recently concluded that I can always make a better breakfast for myself at home instead of trying to rely on the bevy of restaurants serving the first meal of the day. When it comes to eggs and bacon or sausage, fried potatoes and toast and all the combinations those ingredients make up in morning meals, I think it’s best to cook for myself. It’s always going to taste better made slowly and lovingly in my pan rather than slapped on a greasy grill of food shared, waiting to be flash cooked and prepared in a long stream of other things.

Every once in a while I falter from this belief. It usually starts with a holiday, in the most recent case Mother’s Day that leads me down the stray path to putting my faith in a restaurant’s morning plate. I start with visions of champagne and silken, runny poached eggs, exotic fresh ingredients and brioche breads, chunks of briny seafood and sweet, ripe jams and typically find myself slave to whatever the chef of the day decides to highlight instead.

This time the Cute Gardener and I strolled to the Three Square Café on Abbot Kinney, a place that I have been dying to revisit ever since catching sight of Maggie Gyllenhaal there one day spearing the most interesting looking avocado fries from her plate. Baby of the Los Angeles chef Hans Rockenwagner, it is known for certain things like the pretzel bun hamburger and a bountiful selection of fresh baked breads and pastries that are made next door at his adjacent bakery.

On Sunday morning it resembled a glorified version of a bustling café, packed to the gills with people blissed out on all the baskets of bread.

The Austrian-tinged “sausage and eggs” plate was a huge meal featuring a flavorful link, a nice pile of savory onions, two sunshiny eggs, a pretzel roll and hearty, grainy mustard.

My omelet had the sweetest green innards: fava beans, spring peas and cute baby zucchinis swimming sprightly on a bed of creamy burrata. I mostly picked out the middle of this dish though because unfortunately, the eggs were cooked overdone and slightly hardened.

This is probably the biggest reason I need to eat breakfast at home. I have a hard time finding a place that gets eggs right and I know Three Square’s chefs know how to cook a perfect omelet base just like every other chef who has screwed it up for me at restaurants. They just don’t seem to have the time and attention span in the course of a busy kitchen to give it due respect.

Hash browns were crispy and not over buttered. The plentiful wedge of focacia-type bread was moist, thick and soft with a spare and tangy sun dried tomato piece.

And of course, after washing everything down with a groovy ovular glass of elder flower-tinged Prosecco, I decided I would give the place another chance, only next time for lunch or dinner.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pepe Le Pew Food with Madame Chou Chou

She sat, gilded and adorned with all the accoutrements of a fancy French whore every day, as I would stroll past her on Main Street. She beckoned to me with her garlic perfume that would swish out her door as other patrons sat inside her dark interiors that sparkled with all my favorite things: oversized, baroque golden frames, art nouveau style signage, rustic wood benches and tabletops, European bistro chairs, sleek, bare framed mirrors and white chalk sketches of whimsical furnishings and boudoir elements on black chalkboard walls. And her name was Madame Chou Chou, which just as easily could have been her bordello pseudonym as it could have been in homage to her 1940’s Parisian grandmother; both equally inviting for a girl enthralled currently with the wonders of French food.

The upcoming California-wide foie gras ban is what eventually led me to enter her lair this past weekend with the Cute Gardener. We were determined to have one last illicit meal with the dish before July 1st kicks it off the plates for gourmands in the sunshine state. Conveniently located in walking distance from my home, we chose it for its proximity and the fact that it had other inviting dishes on its menu that we wanted to try.

Like most high-priced prostitutes though, my grand illusions were busted once I got to know her. Unlike Henry Miller with his typewriter and an actual reason/craving to jump in the gutter, I was better off sticking to watching her from afar then transforming the fantasy of knowing her into a reality.

The Cute Gardener ordered a quail starter, which looked great on the plate but was smothered with too much sauce that diffused the crispy, fry. His squash blossoms were soaked in garlic, a fact that permeated the entire evening.

The sought after foie was a tiny, thin slice on a saturated piece of bread almost cloyingly sweet from the raisin soaked dressing. Bite number one was luscious and I oohed and ahhed my way through a few more before handing over half to my other. Within a few minutes though, I had the notion that I might incur a stomachache from all the sugars.

His veal loin was better than anything else we had, unadorned and cooked well. The sweetbreads accompanying it were creamy as they should be. But the rest of the dish again was emanating strongly with garlic.

My gnocchi with lamb ragu was really a smelly pile of what looked like filthy rags of sinewy lamb and raw garlic next to fluffy, potato pillows that were far from gnocchi, and again saturated with what became that evening the most annoyingly scented bulb.

We were fed a final dose of overdone fragrance with dessert. I liked my lavender panna cotta enough after everything else had left a bad stain on my tongue but it definitely overdosed on the herb. His almond and nectarine tart was dull and indiscernible as well.

Maybe the chef was having a hard time tasting and smelling that night thus explaining the over seasoning of everything on our plates. Or maybe, like a fancy French whore, he thought dousing everything dirty in a strong, fragrant smell would deceive us into thinking we were eating fare cleanly made. As we watched the other patrons come in for seating, we noticed they were all being given breadbaskets, something we did not receive. The bread would have been nice because my man left still hungry (after miniscule portions that were highly overpriced for what they offered) hinting at the idea of stopping along the way home for oyster shooters or anything else refreshing that would cleanse his palate from the aforementioned meal.

Like Pepe Le Pew, the famous lothario skunk from my childhood cartoons, I was easily seduced, went in for the chase, and then was left panting on a barren sidewalk in the end disappointed as the booty I had so wholeheartedly chased failed to appease me but instead presented me with a literal and scorching heartburn. Heartburn-something I haven’t experienced in years that should not be the tail end of a healthy eater’s indulgence at an establishment that touts itself as in an echelon above the norm.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gray May in Malibu at Savory

Last Saturday, the Cute Gardener and I spent the day traveling up the coast from Venice Beach to Oxnard to visit a historic home, three museums and two wine tastings. It was a typical gray May beach day full of dire skies and dampened time as we lagged on our itinerary and experienced delays and car-related obstacles along the way. At the end of this day, the grey seemed to mingle with our moods, which we were hoping to save with a dinner reservation at Malibu’s Savory Restaurant on the way home.

I don’t frequent Malibu much except when I am driving on PCH through its winding horizon-line hills. I am not prone to shop at luxurious strip malls and frequent trendy and taste-irrelevant spots where the only activities are to watch a potential line of celebrities out for morning coffee or shopping excursions. The city’s culture doesn’t carry much for a Raggedy Ann artist’s type like me. But once we were seated at our table at Savory, I became pleased with the first offering of free champagne that was presented to us by an enthusiastic hostess and felt the gray slip away as we approached the interesting and eclectic menu. It's always nice to have the perks delivered to us unexpectedly that result in my boyfriend's inclusion in the Open Table program.

As there was no solid cohesion to the menu’s offerings, we leaned towards choosing items to share that would deliver us a sense of comfort and good taste to take away the bluer aspects that had surrounded the otherwise surreal David Lynchian day.

The mussels were colored a perfect peach blush and swam in a broth heavily perfumed with marjoram and the juice of freshly popped and steaming yellow cherry tomatoes. They were perhaps over-seasoned with the herb but because I am not used to having mussels beyond the garlic and wine soaked norm, it was a novelty to my taste buds and therefore rather pleasing. Porous and crusty, butter-grilled bread helped sop up the fragrant juices.

A massive, slab of beer-batter coated cod came to us in crispy, fish and chip fashion. I could swear that one bite of the fish’s flesh seemed to burst with the brine of the sea like a swift and refreshing kick to my mouth as if it had just been freshly caught. The fried coating was addictively crisp and flavored with a tiny hint of something rich and smoky, which paired nicely with the leaning-towards-tzatziki, creamy tartar sauce spiked with fresh dill.

The comfort food climax arrived with the sausage pizza. Quartered and fennel rich chunks of sausage that tasted homemade sat on a sourdough-like thin crust covered in onion marmalade and authentic tomato sauce. The pizza was a little heavy on the onion spread, just like the mussels had been overdosed in marjoram, but the overall taste was still nice. Unlike most pizzas I have had of late, this one actually got the burrata right, melted consistently into a thin coating rather than lumped irregularly throughout the pie’s topmost layer.

This was perhaps the best spinach I have had in a long time. Each bite felt pregnant with a buttery coating, not too wilted or fried, and soothing to the soul.

The receding sun managed to peek from its cloud covers as we ended our meal, bringing forth the notion that a good meal at the end of a day can make the gray go away. Needless to say it was an early to bed evening, awash in the feelings of stomachs well fulfilled.

Monday, May 14, 2012

La Modele Montmarte

I became a hardcore Francophile around age ten when I had grand visions of living in Paris as a fashion designer where I would whittle away my days making chic little black and white sketches of dresses at quaint neighborhood cafes drinking espresso and inhaling long, brown baguettes. I even changed the “k” in my name to a “qu” in high school, pronouncing it “que” in whispered hushes to the chagrin of my school teachers; a fact that my lifelong girl friends still manage to tease me about on yearly reunions. Although I ended up a beachside artist and writer instead, my visions of all things French still ring romantically in my heart when I manage to indulge in daydreams of listening to Edith Piaf in a barn in a lavender field, painting canvases with lush pinks and yellows dressed in a oil-stick stained ball gown. 

A few weekends back, I spent hours lounging around my boyfriend’s house reading a copy of Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. I bought the hearty cookbook classic for him for Christmas but realized it was really a book for me that I could read on lazy Sundays while lying around his couch. There’s something about the way that the French cook that surpasses other cuisines for me. Bread is used avidly yet in small doses to be enjoyed with great wines and meals are painstakingly created with rustic ingredients letting the true flavors of the food mingle in savory, sumptuous fashion on the tongue.

I typically always drink a negroni when it’s cocktail time but in honor of my literary hours with the cookbook, the Cute Gardener decided to delve into his bartender’s manual that evening to make me something fitting for the occasion and came up with a neat Montmarte.

Montmartre Cocktail
1 1/4 oz gin (Plymouth)
1/2 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica)
1/2 oz Cointreau
Stir with ice and strain into chilled cocktail (aka martini) glass.

It didn’t escape my attention that the drink is named after the district in Paris where two of my favorite writers Anais Nin and Henry Miller had their famous affairs in the 1930s. In a nod to their burning, nutty, and crazy love, we threw in a *walnut (instead of the recipe’s called for cherry) we had scorched on accident while making a tray of them in a toaster oven as a dinner ingredient and it became quite the scrumptious and unexpected garnish for the evening. I think this very well may be my new favorite drink!

*Burning nuts can actually be a good thing we discovered. We thought about other uses for burnt nuts, like using them to infuse alcohols like rum and gin. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cinco de Luna Thanksgiving

They say the moon makes one do crazy things. This might explain why we decided to cook a quasi-Thanksgiving meal of charcoal grilled turkey and autumnal gratin on Cinco de Mayo on a warm, spring day when the moon was proposed to be the brightest it would be all year. Why else would two semi-normal human beings decide to cook outdoors in the sun over a hot BBQ and to turn on the oven for a few hours of roasting and baking all before an hours long billiard-a-thon waiting to see that globe of luminescence hit its high point in a midnight sky while other more sane specimens were sipping cool cocktails, poolside in the sunny afternoon?

A plump sixteen-pound turkey absent of its legs had been brined for two days. It was then put onto a hot grill with hickory briquettes and pepper tree wood, and was covered and smoked until the temperature reached 145 degrees after two hours. This resulted in a flavorful, meat sitting deliciously on the edge between a hospital coma and a delightful, tryptophan nap.

For the side dish, we made an equally crazy-inspired one-pot hot dish of cauliflower gruyere gratin, which turned out so flavorful I have decided to share the recipe below:


1 small head of cauliflower
1 butternut squash
1 medium yellow onion
12 oz. gruyere, cubed
1 tablespoon, chopped, fresh rosemary
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425.

Cut the head of cauliflower and butternut squash into even chunks. Put into a bowl and add two tablespoons of olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper and mix to coat. Place all on parchment paper on a shallow pan and roast for 40 minutes. When done roasting, decrease the oven heat to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, cut one medium onion into whole slices. Heat a one-quart sauté pan over low heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Place in the onion slices and cover. Heat for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are jammy and soft.

Get a 10-inch cast iron pan. Place half the roasted cauliflower and half the roasted squash into it as a bottom layer. Pour in the onions. Place in the rest of the squash and cauliflower as a top layer. Cover that with the cubed cheese. Sprinkle in the rosemary evenly and add the walnuts. Bake for 20 minutes until cheese is bubbling and brown.

The meal was tummy-filling and helped along by a nice Halter Ranch Rhone white blend bought on an earlier sojourn to Paso Robles

We can blame the one-eyed singing and pool shooting on nothing else but the moon, which we did manage to catch sight of as the clock turned over into a new day, sitting high above the hills of Southern California.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Skewers in Sawtelle's "Little Osaka"

Nothing will ever replace Kokekokko in my heart as my favorite yakitori joint in Los Angeles ever since the Cute Gardener opened my eyes to the screaming, beer drinking and chicken parts grilling chefs who stake claim to the place on one of our very early dates.

But last weekend after a few lazy days of Cinco de Mayo billiards and the brightest moon of the year, we stumbled upon Sawtelle’s Little Osaka strip on the hunt for ramen and ended up revisiting our lust for yaki, or food grilled Japanese style over an iron griddle instead.

Robata-ya was empty when we walked into the place. But within an hour it quickly filled up with many Asian faces, a sure sign that we were in one of the area’s better-loved places known for its use of Binchotan charcoal imported from Asia which burns hotter than normal and sears in the flavor of the food stuffs upon its never ending stream of wooden skewers. With Japanese birds in multicolored pinata strings hanging in the air, casual wooden furniture and a lack of overly, loud chefs at the sushi bar offering all the ordinary fare, it seemed like a place that was a notch up from the norm.

The shishito peppers were a surprise treat. With similar innards to okra without the slime, and sweating with a vibrant, grassy green, they delivered a punch of salt to the tongue followed by a crunchy and hot, liquid explosion with each bite.

The ramen was filled with spicy ground chicken, ginger and chili sauce and chewy, yellow noodles that featured some heft but overall not the most memorable bowl. Although a woman at the table next to us was overheard swearing it was the best broth around, we decided we were snobs when it came to ramen because we haven’t been wowed by the dish yet, even though we continue our hunt.

The tongue was flavorful and not too grisly. Duck was more roasted than the Peking style it claimed. The eggplant was a hit of the night, saturated in a sweet miso coating and plump with hot juices. We had to order a second one, which is surprising considering we are usually more desirous of meat than veggie.

Robata-ya uses Jidori chicken, which produced nice and juicy hearts and livers full of flavor.

I love quail eggs but will probably stick to them raw since the grilled versions, even wrapped in crispy bacon, fail to highlight their true exoticism tasting more like a dry hard-boiled egg.

You can’t really mess up fried, fatty slices of eel and these were good.

Three different kinds of mushrooms swam in a warm, buttery broth.

The cod was simple and undressed so tasted just like any filet of white fish.

We probably should have tried Tatsu, which I recall seeing in the unassuming strip mall where we parked our car as it was written up the next day in Eater L.A.

I guess the good thing about Japanese food in L.A. is that there is such a plethora of affordable options that you can keep hitting the places until you find one that sticks and that it is always fun trying because it’s hard to screw up things grilled in their natural flavors on a stick enough to foil the exploration.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ombra-Inspired Ode to Risotto

This was supposed to be a review of a full meal at an unassuming restaurant in Studio City called Ombra, staffed by a former Valentino chef, but instead I am inspired to pen a little ode to risotto thanks to an exquisite bowl of risotto nero with squid ink and garlic aioli enjoyed there on Friday night.

The first taste of risotto I ever had was ordered mushroom flavored, take-out style in a Styrofoam container on the night my daughter and I arrived in Rome in 2005 and decided to pick it up to enjoy in our hotel room late at night as we were starving after our flight. Both of us American girls fell head over heels with the complex and classic Italian rice dish made painstakingly over a carefully watched pot and stirred constantly until that tightrope wire tense moment when the texture, doneness and blend of ingredients hits it precisely right. It’s a hard nut to crack, one that I have yet to master as a cook, and the difficulty of coaxing that exact moment of rightness leaves me in awe of cooks who do it well.

Since then, I have enjoyed seeking out as many new variations on this dish as possible and even have had the pleasure of watching friends cook it for me. I’ve had good and bad and a myriad of flavor combinations from mushroom to oyster to pumpkin to pistachio so I am always impressed at this point when a bowl surprises me in the way that Ombra’s did.

Black as night, the arborio grains were cooked to perfection; a little al dente but not crunchy, swimming in an invisible, cheesy garlic sauce and dotted with a simple dollop of crème fraiche that accentuated the overall richness of the dish.

The whole time I was eating it, accompanied by a perfectly chosen bottle of 2010 Falanghina by the Cute Gardener’s expert vino sniffer, I was hankering to go back to Sorrento, Italy. Craving more lazy days where we could lay together seaside and whittle away whole afternoons smelling the brine of the sea in between bites of food that would take hours to eat.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bun Time at BARLO


I never even knew the Hotel Erwin, a mere few blocks away from my house, contained a tiny little, sleek and silver, bar/restaurant on its first floor, accessible from the street. Everyone I know always raves about its rooftop cocktails and music scene that admittedly, on the one occasion I attempted to go up there, learned wasn’t quite for me. The Cute Gardener discovered the little restaurant BARLO Kitchen and Cocktails at the bottom through his perpetual search for a new hamburger to eat and we ended up finally trying it out this past weekend after a 5-mile hike that had us hankering for some meat.

A small bar menu doesn’t offer a lot but I saw three items immediately that fit my normal palate and I ordered them: pork buns, a pickled salad and fried green tomatoes.

The pink eggs were pretty but nothing in this “pickled” salad tasted remotely pickle-y. It was all a basic beet and egg salad with no real punch.

I was excited for the fried green tomatoes and ordered it like I do every time I see it on a menu. But it was not very good. There was no discernable difference in taste between the fried covering and the mushy tomato. And it was on a pile of similarly mushy diced tomatoes. And it was served with a warm cheese rather than a tangy, zesty, bright and cold contrasting one. Too bad.

I am addicted to most kinds of bao buns and this take on the dish made me very happy. Pork belly cooked to taste and texture like thick, savory bacon on pancake-like, thick disks tasting of the normal chewy bao bun, and a sweet sauce slathered on underneath a nice, crunchy/chewy juxtaposition of fried onions strings.

We shared all of the above and then he enjoyed a Barlo burger, apparently what the place is known for. I thought it was excellent with a surprisingly creamy layer of herbed goat cheese on the meat that was thick and well proportioned to the bun.

They do not know how to make a Negroni. I ordered two because I needed something to numb my ass from the soreness of the hike, but they were watery and fruity tasting. The Campari was thinned completely by whatever else they added to the mix. The thing was served in a short lead glass tumbler with ICE! Big no no. And I saw the bartenders confusedly looking up how to make the famous Italian drink on their iPhones together. I guess they only really needed to memorize the five house concoctions in their repertoire of familiar drinks, and according to my boyfriend, they at least knew how to get their signature offerings right.

But all that being said, I must emphasize two things. I LOVED the pork buns and they were not too costly. The two girls sitting next to me were speaking Romanian and typing on a laptop while they ate their spare little salads and collaborating on a screenplay together. So of course, I now have romantic visions of eating those pork buns while finishing the rest of my novel in progress in that little known, recess of a bar mere minutes from my home.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Unorthodox Meals: Synchronistic Sundown Carbonara

Sometimes synchronicity hits it just right. This time it was in the case of a menu for a birthday boy who is a dear buddy of mine. I wanted to celebrate my friend with a handcrafted meal with a twist so I decided to whip up a new version of pasta carbonara utilizing the fava bean bounty that was in my fridge.  Not only did he let me know that carbonara was his favorite dish but he had been reading about fava beans lately in the LA Times and was curious to try them. He also mentioned that Zin was his favorite wine just as I had set out a bottle to breathe on my countertop. I knew the meal would be a hit.

We started the evening with a walk to the beach to do a little sunset meditation session together while the cream, eggs and butter settled to room temperature. We also let a pan sit in a 250-degree oven filled with a cup of oregano sautéed fava beans and half a cup of organic green peas to warm. Letting the pressures of the day slip from our shoulders, we breathed ourselves into a state of peace and then watched the seagulls gliding on the wind and diving into the ocean to procure their own fish suppers.

Once back at home I fried up a pound of bacon, cooked a pound of whole wheat pasta and whipped together four large eggs and a fourth cup of cream. Just as I was turning on my classical music station, my friend requested Mozart, and that was what came on next! The evening was hitting all the marks in a magical fashion.

While the pasta cooked, we enjoyed a plate of bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Once the pasta was done, I chopped the bacon into bits and minced a fourth cup of fresh parsley.

The finale came by mixing together the cooked pasta with the fava beans, peas, parsley, bacon and egg/cream mixture until all well blended and coated. Then I mixed in half a cup of freshly, grated parmesan to seal the deal and a pinch of salt and pepper.

The indulgent and creamy dish hit the right notes as we listened to more classical music and discussed our intentions for the next year of our lives. Learning to take notes from the evening’s synchronicity, we decided that our goals for the next twelve months would be to follow our own inner bliss and craft our lives more in line with our own inner synchronicities. We would start to pay special attention to the signs and opportunities that came our way and would use our voices to procure that which we truly want in our lives.

In honor of the power of our voices, we ate a dessert designed to open and invigorate the throat: dried figs dipped into fresh mint infused honey!