2.24.2008

Angelini Osteria... Viva l'Osteria!

My dad loves to eat out, perhaps even more than I. He also loves to cook, but when he visits me we essentially design the itinerary around each meal. If dinner has not been plotted yet, we discuss it and decide during lunch. 

Yesterday, before an afternoon movie, while we noshed on a simple, French lunch of country paté and merguez sausage sandwiches (and maybe a glass of Bordeaux) we discussed - what else, but - that night's dinner plans. Dad was concerned that it was a Saturday night and we had nary a reservation.
 

After tossing a few ideas around and being denied any reasonable reservation times we settled on a 9pm reservation at the counter at Angelini Osteria. I had been there once previously with little fanfare, but it was years ago - and I have always heard great things. I also have such a love for Ita-Cho, right next door, that I have often ended up running in there, even when I intend to go to Angelini.
Things have changed, however.
 

Dad and I rolled in right on time, at 9pm and were immediately led to our two spots at the counter. The space is intimate, warm and happy - every table filled. At first I was a little bummed we didn't get a table, but after a few moments, Dad and I both agreed, we had the best seats in the house. There are only 6 seats at the counter, making it very intimate and easier dealing with sound levels. We were able to see back into the kitchen, which is always fun. We also received lots of attention since we were in a lot of the staff's faces. But not too much attention. You know what I mean.
 

We immediately ordered a couple of glasses of Prosecco to sip while we perused the menu. Along with an enormous bread basket with an assortment of breads, we were handed their regular menu in addition to the menu of specials - an entire page. We opted to start with the Fegatini Chicken Liver with Green Beans and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar ($10) followed by the Beet and Burrata Salad. Both were simple and perfect but the chicken livers were DIVINE. We actually were blown away at how delicious this dish was. It was very rich and set my taste buds into high gear, but yet such a simple dish, with so few key ingredients.

 
The burrata was very fresh and wonderful - always paired fantastically with some slightly sweet, fresh beets. This dish was simply finished with a fine olive oil, coarse sea salt and fresh chives.


At this point we had also ordered a nice bottle of 1998 Vietti Barolo "Castiglione di Falleto" ($57) which was working impeccably with everything.
 

For entree time Dad opted for the Whole Branzino, Roasted in Sea Salt with Aromatic Herbs ($29). The warm and friendly manager, Gino Rindone, brought the fish out, with it's accouterments, and proceeded to deftly and ceremoniously liberate it from it's salt shell, filet it and then present the ready-to-eat meal in front of my dad, all with a smile. The Branzino was exceptionally moist, delicate and seasoned to perfection. Dad loved it.


I went with the Wild Boar Tenderloin
that was on the specials menu. It was served with sauteed mushrooms and a potato puree. The wild boar was drizzled with a port-balsamic reduction with a sprig of fresh rosemary on the side. This dish was very rich and very decadent. I delighted in this dish, which while I devoured - I savored every bite. I even took the littlest bit I couldn't eat home with me for a midnight nosh. The boar was cooked rare and thinly sliced. It melted in my mouth. I swirled the meat, a mushroom or two, and some potatoes around in the reduction to make each bite complex and divine. As you may imagine, this dish was great with that Barolo as well.
 

We had a blast sitting at that counter, sipping our red wine, chatting with the servers and the manager - who even gave us little tastes of this and thats coming out if we oohed and ahhhed. We chatted for a moment with the couple sitting next to us, talked about the food, life, the universe and everything to each other - and even that time I wouldn't eat the f*%!#ing spaghetti squash when I was a little girl, and had to sit at the table all night until I did.
 

I love my dad.
 

We really had a great time and a great meal at Angelini Osteria. You can count on my return, and I will request a seat at the counter when I do.

Angelini Osteria
7313 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: (323) 297-0070
http://angeliniosteria.com/


Angelini Osteria on Urbanspoon
Angelini Osteria in Los Angeles

2.13.2008

Yang Chow. Not my cup of green tea.

 
Okay, I will first state that while I do consider myself to have a somewhat educated and discerning palate - that I am a veritable neophyte in the Chinese cuisine arena. I have always enjoyed the occasional Chinese food night which conjures thoughts of either a delivered dinner where I eat with my chopsticks straight out of the takeout containers while watching the ABC Sunday night movie in my cozies OR dining out in a dimly lit restaurant with neat streams, bridges and fountains inside that serve dishes with words like happy, lucky, delight and family in the title (which I miss... where did those go??).

Since I've grown up (ahem) and no longer indulge in the ABC Sunday night movie and I haven't encountered any wonky, little spots with water features inside, I've found that Chinese food night has taken a major hit. Even now I very rarely order Chinese food, but do occasionally enjoy an evening at Mandarette. I love their scallion pancakes and bbq pork flat noodles. And once in a blue moon I'll have the weekend morning Dim-Sum times in Chinatown - but not near as often as I should. I think maybe the problem with the Chinese food deficit in my life could be that it is difficult to find a good glass of wine with my meal. Food for thought...

With that said I'll get on with my story. Last Friday night Dixon & I were to attend the Collecting Collections opening at MOCA. I figured since we were heading downtown - and rarely are in the area - we should try something new. I was thinking Chinatown. I did my research, weighed my options, and settled on Yang Chow. And so, with visions of their famed Slippery Shrimp dish that I had been hearing so much about swirling about in my mind, we headed downtown.

Yang Chow is right in the heart of Chinatown, on Broadway at Alpine. It has an unassuming facade with a sign that's hard to miss. Upon opening the door one is led into a bustling environment. There appear to be three separate dining rooms, all on the small side and intimate enough. The wall above our heads was plastered with 736351971 8x10s of various celebrities and politicians who have come through the place at some point (I guess it's good to know where the politicians spend their money). The decor is modest, understated and straightforward, slightly sterile - and a bit too bright for me with my pre-MOCA opening, Friday night make-up. I noticed that there were not a lot of locals in the place - more of a bridge and tunnel crowd.

Upon being seated we were greeted with a pot of tea - a blend of oolong, jasmine, and green. We promptly ordered a couple of Tsing Taos and checked out the menu. Dixon was feeling a little under the weather (and was a bit of a kill joy, I might add) so we didn't order a zillion things. For Dixon, we began with a soup - which actually turned out to be the star dish of the evening. The soup was Spicy Szechuan Wonton and it was fantastic. It was on the appetizer list (surprisingly not listed with the other soups) and was more than enough for two. The wontons were soft and yet chewy with a nice give and stuffed with pork. The broth was thin in consistency but incredibly robust and packed with szechuan spice and some sesame oil. We both enjoyed it immensely.

 
We also had an order of the steamed pork dumplings which were perfectly plump and tender, Dry Sautéed Vegetable Delights (asparagus and green beans with (tons of) chopped garlic and ground chicken)) and, finally, the famed Slippery Shrimp, a neon batch of slightly sweet, slightly spicy, slightly crispety crunchety butterflied shrimp.

Fun fact: The dish was introduced at the original Yang Chow, which opened in Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles in 1977. I hear the dish got it's name during it's first preparation. The
corn starch coating made the partially cooked shrimp very slick causing them to slip off the plate.

The green bean and asparagus dish was quite good - not overcooked - with a snap to the beans. The shrimp was fine, but honestly I don't understand what everyone is jumping up and down about. Really it was a bit silly and too sweet an entree for my taste.

I will add that the staff was fast and friendly enough and the food came out at a clip. The portions were ginormous and the prices were great.

But really the experience caused something between confusion and disappointment for me. We make the trek to Chinatown. I read all about this being the definitive Chinese food spot. It has a dish with a STORY. But I couldn't find anything exceptional about the food. While I felt it was Westernized and a bit heavy and oily, it certainly wasn't the bad, cheap, greasy Chinese food we all have experienced at some point. But it wasn't SPECIAL. In fact it very much reminded me of the food in the restaurants from my youth with the toys in my Shirley Temple, and the fountains and streams and bridges. If they added those elements I'd make the effort to return as often as possible and probably try everything on the menu just for the fun, kitch factor. But until then I remain on a quest for the exceptional and sparkly Chinese food night.

Yang Chow
819 N Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: (213) 625-0811
http://www.yangchow.com/

Yang Chow
Yang Chow in Los Angeles

2.10.2008

A toast to toast


At the farmer's market today I was very excited to buy some fresh herbs to plant, specifically chocolate mint. My foodtastic roommate, Madeline, and I began a love affair with chocolate mint last Summer when my mom was in town and planted us an herb garden with purchases from the Sunday market. Madeline would make the most wonderful snacks and treats accented with the bounty from our little garden. She especially loved the chocolate mint - which I believe was a new discovery for her. She put it in and on water, tea, coffee (yes, coffee), salads, and toast to name a few. I quite liked it in a Summery pasta salad or chopped up and sprinkled over ice cream.

Chocolate Mint

Well, we have since moved from the house with our herb garden. We actually tried to bring the chocolate mint that was potted but it was never the same and very recently I decided it was truly over for our special, transplanted treat. So you can imagine my sorrow when I was told by my favorite herb guy at the market that chocolate mint won't be in season and available for another two months - and that his spearmint was only just now available. I did purchase some nasturtium however - another favorite at our house - which I planted this afternoon. Nasturtium is great. It has a slightly peppery and very fresh taste reminiscent of watercress. I've found it to be wonderful in salads and cold pasta dishes - perhaps a nasturtium pesto or even risotto... I imagine it would be a great compliment with salmon.
 
Nasturtium

I digress...


Let me begin by mentioning that Madeline has this way of taking very simple dishes and making them magical. She makes this insanely thick, strong coffee with raw milk, sugar and a bit of salt (salt?!). The coffee is fantastic. I'm not really a scrambled egg person but whatever she does to hers is so special and yummy, decadent, rich and perfectly, slightly underdone. I've tried to emulate both of these morning delights of hers with varying success. She still does them best. One night for a small gathering of our friends she made one of the most delicious, tender and juicy roast chickens (with perfectly crisped skin) I've ever had - all of our friends were in agreement. We're talking about coffee, scrambled eggs and chicken here, not Babette's feast. It's amazing.

This brings me to the toast.

During Summer, 2007 (a season that will go down in history/infamy for Madeline and me for numerous reasons) my concept of toast changed forever thanks to Miss M. It's also one of the few things I've gleaned from her that I feel I have confidently mastered. Today - with thoughts of chocolate mint - I returned from the market, put away my produce, put fresh flowers around the house, planted the nasturtium, and decided to make some toast to eat while I did the Sunday crossword.

The freshness and seasonality of the ingredients are key here...

(My favorite) Ingredients:

1 batard or rustic loaf with good crust
1 heirloom tomato (red, yellow, orange or "black" are all fun for colorful times)
1 hass avocado (ripe)
1 clove of garlic, peeled
approx. 1 tbsp of super nice extra virgin olive oil
fresh basil leaves
chocolate mint
some nasturtium
1/2 Meyer lemon
fresh cracked black pepper
coarse sea salt


Preparation:


Slice the tomato and avocado and sprinkle salt over them. A squeeze of lemon is nice as well.
Simply cut (or tear) yourself a chunk of the bread and toast it to crispyness.
Take your clove of garlic and rub it all over the toast.

Drizzle the oil over the toast.
Layer the herbs, tomato and avocado in an aesthetic and user-friendly manner over the toast (so you get all the flavors in each bite).
Salt & pepper to taste.



Other ideas:
You can't go wrong with a smattering of all sorts of fresh herbs you may have around.
Add shallot or red onion thinly sliced.
Add splash of balsamic vinegar.

I know it seems simple, maybe too simple. But try it. It's great in the morning with coffee and eggs, as an afternoon snack with a glass of Lillet, or perhaps a preamble to dinner. And although I may be jumping the gun a little, nothing tastes more like Summer.


“No bread. Then bring me some toast!”

Punch, 1852







2.03.2008

Tasca

 
I love wine.

I love graze-y, noshy, snacky, wine-filled, conversation-heavy evenings. On frequent occasions I love a destination that is not my or one of my friend's houses that can accommodate such an evening. Surprisingly there are fewer options than one may imagine - especially with quality food (I am not talking about a glass of "house red" and wings here). Obviously A.O.C. is a great option but it usually ends up being a whole THING - kind of dressy, kind of expensive, kind of a scene. There is Vinoteca, in Los Feliz, which is lovely. But it's more of a wine bar in a literal sense - a bar that serves primarily wine with an extensive wine list. They do serve food and it's not horrible - but it's not so great either. Mediocre at best.


Late last Summer I learned about Tasca. I went on a date (I know... it's rare, but it does happen occasionally) with someone who seemingly frequented the place. We were there for dinner. We sat at a table. Date ordered a bottle of wine (after we had a couple glasses of prosecco) and then proceeded to order a slew of menu items, primarily small plates, that came out staggered at a nice pace. We had the Artisan cheese plate with fig & quince paste and fruit & nuts ($12), the charcuterie plate ($14), white anchovies (man do I love an anchovy) served with tomato, hard boiled egg & aoili on crostini ($9), the Boudin Noir - black sausage with sauteed apple & onion ($12), Gambas Al Ajillo - sauteed shrimp in garlic sauce ($11), charred rapini ($5) and a salad of Burrata, heirloom tomatoes, Serrano ham & watercress in a balsamic reduction ($12). I guess we ordered a lot.

The food was perfectly fine if not wildly memorable. I did particularly like the white anchovies and the Boudin Noir. The cheese and chartcuterie plates were just a little weak - uninteresting cheeses that were not entirely ripened, Spanish-inflected but still mediocre choices of cured meats, etc. The shrimp was a little drowny in the (slightly heavy) sauce. The salad was great but I have become admittedly alarmed that it has remained on the menu to this day - when heirloom tomatoes are not in season.
 

The wine list is quite nice. Simple, clean and well priced with a wide selection available by the glass and quite a few nice bottles in the $50 range.

The space is intimate, warm and inviting with nice, subtle lighting and lots of candles. There are about a dozen tables lined along one side of the room with a bar that stretches the entire other side of the room. The music is a little abrasive - or maybe just not my style (Eurotrashy beats) but isn't too loud. The staff is delightful and obliging. The crowd is varied, local, casual, happy, and - it would appear - regulars.

I've been back to Tasca quite a few times since the date last Summer with different people in different contexts - friends, chef-y roommate, Madeline, a possible romantic interest, and even by myself. The more I go the more I dig it. I prefer to sit at the bar and try different wines by the glass with different dishes. On one of my recent visits with - who else, but - Dixon, we tried their roasted tomato soup ($8). It had a beautiful presentation, in a terrine, but was somewhat lacking intrigue and a bit sweeter than I would have liked.


 
We then ordered the baby artichoke salad served with "heirloom" tomatoes over arugula in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette with shaved parmesan ($11). This was a very simple, fresh salad that I quite liked.

 
The most exciting menu item of the evening was the braised short rib served with butternut squash agnolotti ($12). The meat was rich and tender and the agnolotti was decadent, soft and sweet with a brown butter sage sauce drizzled over it. Yum.

 
We tried a few medium to heavy reds throughout the evening. I was fond of the '04 Chateau Le Fleur Bibian Bordeaux ($7) while Dixon went a bit heavier with the Parrone Cabernet Sauvignon ($6). When they have it in stock the Tempranillo ($5) is a great choice as well.

It's nice. I can roll in in my jeans or in a fancy, girlie ensemble. I can be with a friend, multiple friends, a date (ahem), or solo. I can sip and snack. I can graze. I can eat a proper dinner. Hell, last night I just stopped to meet a friend for a couple of glasses of wine. I'm not saying I've found my Regal Beagle, but Tasca has something I've found rarely in LA and something I very much appreciate - a sense of place.

Note: Parking is a bitch but there is valet.

Tasca

8108 W. 3rd St. (at Crescent Heights Boulevard)
Los Angeles
(323) 951-9890
tascawinebar.com


Tasca
Tasca Wine Bar in Los Angeles