Monday, October 22, 2007

Bourbon & Branch: Speakeasy and drink easy!

I've been wanting to share my experience at Bourbon & Branch for a long time...especially since they have my favorite black Ann Taylor shrug and have been impossible to reach. But that's all part of the allure of the place. To get in, you make a reservation (not an easy feat to get a good time) and then knock on a plain wooden door in the middle of a not-so-nice downtown area of SF. You say the password (ours was 20's inspired) and then they let you in.

It's like stepping into the Prohibition Era. Gorgeous cast iron ceilings, candeliers, soft candelight, cozy booths, and ornate pink velvet wallpaper adorn the place. It smells like a dusty, musty, wonderfully old attic, and is smaller than I expected. The bartenders are clearly pros, shaking and mixing like well-choreographed modern dancers. The crowd is mixed-- some young, some older, all hip and relaxed looking as they turn to look at the incomers.

The menu, to my delight, matched the stumbled-into-a-time-machine ambiance. It is lengthy and is LOADED with cocktails, almost all of them antique recipes. Also an amazing list of bourbons, whiskeys, and other spirits. The cocktails all have the list of ingredients, plus a comment on its historical context or origins (i.e., for the White Lady I had, below, "A favorite at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, 1929"). In other words, my perfect heaven-- a combination of history and cocktails, what bliss!!! What better way to see through the lens of a past era that many have pointed out is so similar to ours, as to sit in this jewel box of a bar and drink the same cocktails that were drunk nearly 100 years ago?! I ordered two of the cocktails over the course of our visit, and they were FABULOUS.

The first was the White Lady. It came shaken up hard in a sugared martini glass, frothy and foamy, light as a feather and with delicious, lemony cocktail flavor. It went down super-smoothly and was totally refreshing. It had only a simple few ingredients: gin, cointreau, sugar (I think), fresh lemon juice, and egg white. Yes, egg white, which lent it that fabulous foaminess. I looked it up later and it goes by other names such as the Delilah, Chelsea Side-Car, and Lillian Forever. It is basically a sidecar made with gin instead of brandy. So good I vowed to make it at home and pray the gin kills any potential salmonella.

The second I had was a Widow's Kiss, a favorite in the 1890's (for real!!!). It was wonderful and reminiscent of a crisp fall day by the fire-- golden in color, warm in flavor and effect. It contained calvados brandy, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine and angostura bitters, and I believe it was stirred. Not a cocktail I would ever think of making myself, although now I would. Yellow chartreuse is a liquor originally made by monks in France, and is a bright yellow true to its name. Benedictine is also monk-y. It's a type of cognac with many herbs and spices in it, believed to be the oldest liquor ever made according to Wikipedia. I did a little research and found some interesting articles on the drink. Here's a good one. Fabulous, fabulous.

B&B was a wonderful experience and the drinks and ambiance were both absolutely charming. I can't wait to go back. In the meantime, I am excited to explore some of the old-time cocktails that I saw on the menu there for a little taste of the past.


Monday, October 15, 2007

The Little Door opens to me again, yay!

I had the pleasure of returning to The Little Door again last week. It was wonderful as always, and this time packed with clientele including some celebs, judging by the Pap who we found waiting outside after our meal. (I gave him my best angle.) I could not resist once again having the seared foie gras...just the thought of it was irresistible. I also had a glass of a wonderful Torri Mor Willamette Valley 2005 Pinot Noir. Man, was that good. Thought I'd try it since I recognized the label as one of my favorite Pinot Gris choices from my wine tasting party. It did not disappoint-- jammy, smooth, fruity yet dry goodness that I always come to look for in Oregon wines.

I also had a deliciously simple arugula salad which was on special. In a lovely nod to the season, it had "wonderful pomegranate seeds" on it. It also had a light, zingy champagne vinagrette and tasty, shaved Onetik cheese on top. I learned on the internets that this is a Pyrenean sheep blue cheese which comes from Basque country and goes particularly well with red wines. (I can confirm that allegation.) The salad was awesome, crunchy, and refreshing. I would try to recreate it at home in a second.

My companions all loved their dishes, which included the intriguing pistachio crusted goat cheese tart appetizer. In the end we split two of the flourless chocolate cakes. I was lucky enough to take the remains of one of them home.

Another fabulous meal at Little Door-- cheers to that!


Saturday, October 6, 2007

Vermont on Vermont

L.A. is so gorgeous right now, I can hardly stand it. The cool breeze/sunshine thing that I adore is in full swing.

As I've been walking through my lovely Los Feliz neighborhood today running errands, it definitely strikes me to write about my dinner at Vermont (on Vermont Ave. in Los Feliz) last week.

The first thing I noticed as I met my fellow diners was that this place has a great, cozy little bar attached. Good to know, especially since it has an intriguing cocktail list and a wine list with lots of good ones by the glass.

The ambiance in the restaurant is grown-up, elegant, and far more subdued than in the bar, which has a red-light hipster vibe to it. I was amused that the two entities co-exist in their little state of Vermont. The menu had yummy looking appetizers. I had the mussels, which were delicious. The gentlemen both ordered a tempura spicy shrimp roll which they loved.

The entree focus is definitely on protein at this place. I had a crispy white fish that was fantastic. Others at the table ordered a steak which was also very nice and halibut. Everybody was pleased with their choices. I was excited that the portion size, though a bit on the large side, was manageable and the plate was beautifully arranged. The fish was simply done but served piping hot and saltily delicious with its crispy outside and flaky inside. YUM!

To drink, I had a superb Edelweiss martini, which was essentially a vodka martini with elderflower essence. We also had Chimay beer, one of my favorite belgian brews, and some blanc de blanc bubbly that was light and delicious. For dessert, I ordered the only down-point of the meal-- a flourless chocolate cake that was heavy but not rich enough for my taste. Then again, I had just had The Little Door's flourless chocolate cake previously, which was incredible, so I couldn't help but compare the two. Next time I'll probably skip dessert and go for another Edelweiss.

All in all, a lovely setting to bring parents, clients, or others you wish to impress for a solidly good protein-centered meal with nice drinks to match, for reasonable-leaning-towards-pricey prices. I will definitely go back, and I for sure want to check out that intriguing little bar attached. (I hear they have an open mic night on Mondays, too...interesting...)

Food: Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket (3)

Ambiance: Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket(3.75)

Overall: Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket (3.5)

To read Yelp! reviews, click here.

For an explanation of our ratings system, CLICK HERE!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Little Door - and apologies for being MIA!

So, so sorry, dear readers/eaters, for being MIA. The ebb and flow of work-life hit a bit of a riptide for me (and I know Emilia has had a similar spell)...but now I'm back and I hope to continue to add delicious tidbits to this long-neglected little journal in the near future.

The past month has not been a big eating out month for me, but I did have a wonderful dinner at The Little Door at 3rd and Crescent Heights in Hollywood recently.

The place is gorgeous-- a truly romantic spot. It's got a French-Mediterranean vibe with lots of soft lighting, chandeliers, and a massive outdoor dining spot draped in the canopy of a tree. When you walk in, true to its name, you go through a charming little door. When I went on a weeknight, the place was packed. The tables are big and rustic, but the food is very gourmet and elegant.

I started with the marvelous roquefort-stuffed grilled figs wrapped in prosciutto, which came with a perfect mesclun green salad and port wine reduction drizzled around the plate. Truly rich and delicious. I then had another appetizer (since they looked sooo good I couldn't resist having two for my meal, a thing I do often). This one was a fabulous, fabulous seared duck foie gras with poached peaches, on top of a light and fluffy, slightly sweet pistachio pancake. I tasted other dishes such as seared scallops, pork with North African spices (which I found kind of ironic), and a beet salad. All were yummy and my companions seemed to enjoy them.

The wine list was exhaustive and we drank a nice Pinot Noir and finished with some bubbly. I also had a super-rich but seriously great flourless chocolate cake, which was tough to pick over the cheese plate but so good. I ate a bit and was in heaven. I took the rest home and proceeded to eat a couple of bites every night after work for a few days, and was in heaven. Really, really good. They don't mess around.

All in all, a wonderful place that I hope to return to soon. Word of warning, it is sort of silly expensive. But even so, I was not disappointed!

For reviews of The Little Door, click here.

Food:Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket(3.75)

Ambience:Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket (4)

Overall:Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket(4)

For an explanation of our ratings system, CLICK HERE!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Oh Wine Bar My Wine Bar!

No clue why I ran with a Dead Poet's Society theme tonight - but I'm just gonna go with it.

Today was my first day of work at a new job. Formerly I was commuting far far away every day, away from my lovely town of SF and all of the culinary delights it has to offer. Today I stopped the commute and started a new job just a 20 minute train ride from my house.

After work, to celebrate, my friend L. and I stopped at one of my absolute favorite wine bars in SF - The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. Patch's mom mentioned the ferry building in her email - it is truly the foodie highlight of this amazing city. Some day I will devote an entire post to the ferry building, and its amazing farmers market, and the oyster bar, and the store full of mushrooms, and cowgirl creamery.....some day. Today we focus on the wine bar at the Wine Merchant.

The wine bar always has a flight, and goodness knows I LOVE a flight. Tonight they were sauvignon blancs, and I wasn't in the mood for that, so I passed. But I have had a lovely rose flight there before, and I have to admit that my friend L. and I have been known to order a taste of one of every red on the menu. The menu isn't THAT big....but. Its a lot of wine, lets leave it at that. The Ferry Plaza wine bar has a great selection of really interesting stuff. Tonight we had a glass of french rose champagne that was to die for - very slightly sweet, a little dry, and the nicest little bubbles I've ever seen. We moved on to a glass of Spanish red, and I really need to take better notes when i'm out drinking wine. I have no idea what this was, but the servers here are really nice and knowledgeable and can help you find something you will be sure to like. Plus they sell all of the wines in the shop behind the bar. The shop is great with a terrific variety of stuff.

Finally, I love this wine bar because it takes full advantage of the many delicious food options in the building, and serves them as nibbles with the wine. Tonight L. and I shared a big hunk of gruyere from cowgirl creamery, a twisted loaf of french bread from ACME, and some amazing heirloom tomato and garlic olive tapenade. That plus two glasses of wine is a perfect dinner for me.

This is not a rating review - but this is a fabulous wine bar. If you are in town I recommend you go there for a delicious taste of San Francisco. I don't think I ever feel quite as "at home" anywhere as I do at this little place. Now that I am working so close to it, I have a feeling I'm going to be there a lot........

drink up!


Patch's Mom Takes SF By Storm!

The apple does not fall far from the tree, and I was reminded of this when my mom went to San Francisco this past long weekend for dad's business conference. She didn't have to attend the seminars and such, so she and some of the other ladies in attendance decided to go Emilia-and-Patch style and eat their way through the city.

Mom had rave reviews about the places she ate and sent Emilia the following excited email after she returned to the East Coast (slightly edited for privacy) which I share because my mom has impeccable taste in food and as I have learned growing up, her reviews and recommendations are as flawless as her criticisms at sub-par food or service are merciless:

From: Patch's Mom
To: Emilia
CC: Patch
Subject: Restaurants

Hello Emilia,
That ferry building is amazing. I was telling Patch about breakfast at the communal table at Boulettes Larder and how I walked around the market on Saturday and bought the most amazing "almond square" at the Heidelberg Bakery stand. Petite Lulu also has very good goat cheese and spinach croissants that they will heat up for you. I shared one with my friend. I went to Sausalito and ate at Sushi Ran which is next door to the movie theater in town, away from the tourist crowd. That was a great find.
In San Francisco, I ate at Colibri, a mexican restaurant on Geary I think and the food was very good and interesting, not mentioning their amazing range of top shelf margaritas. I also had a great lunch at Cafe de la Presse right near the doors to China Town. I had a tarte flambee which was a lavash bread with smoked salmon and horseradish cream on top. Yummie and just the right size. The Chimay beer on tap reminded me of Belgium.
We also had dinner at Bacar and it was good but too hyped up. I think that I would have liked to try Jack Falstaff instead. We had a very nice dinner at Fringale where the head waiter/manager, Andre is a French Canadian guy. The food was delicious.
-Patch's Mom

This weekend I am headed up to SF where Emilia and I have exciting things planned, including a glorious ocean-view hike, the legendary Middle East Feast at G.M.'s house, and a trip to Bourbon & Branch, an old fashioned speakeasy where you need a password to get in. And of course, a BBQ which we are throwing for many friends at Em's house, and will undoubtedly include Emilia's fabulous BBQ fixings. I can't wait!


Friday, September 7, 2007

Diet Hansen's - It's Diet, But Try It!

I am an anti-diet soda (and anti-diet any food, really) person, so I avoid Diet Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, WHATEVER like the plague. All those weird chemicals, especially aspartame, scare me. More scary is the appetite-stimulation effect which I believe comes from aspartame, from my personal experience only. I'm sure science will confirm soon. I think there are some articles out there that back up the idea that this could be true. Anyway, all I know is that when I used to drink diet stuff, I was always thinking about eating and constantly craving snacks, and once I stopped a few years ago I had a lot more control.

Also, diet soda tastes gross, no matter what you tell yourself. There is nothing like the real thing. I feel the same way about low-fat or no-fat stuff. I'd much rather have a real piece of cheese or a real little dollop of sour cream than fake stuff.

However, one "diet" product I do like is Diet Hansen's soda. It uses Splenda, which while not nearly as tasty as sugar, doesn't give me that same drinking-liquid-metal feeling as aspartame. And the flavors are lovely. I usually stock up on the Black Cherry, Tangerine Lime, Ginger Ale, and Creamy Root Beer.

For photos, go to:

The Black Cherry is very sweet but with lots of good cherry flavor (plus that overly fake sugary taste, but what can you do.) It's a really nice mixer. I have used a splash of it in my pomegranate martinis to great success. (That's vodka, pomegranate juice, a sugar rim, and a splash of the Hansen's.)

The Creamy Root Beer is actually the most normal tasting of them all. It doesn't have the bite of real root beer (though all of these sodas have a distinct sharpness to them because of the way they're carbonated) but the root beer flavor is right on with plenty of vanilla.

Tangerine Lime is basically a poor man's Sprite. Still, it's tart and yummy.

My absolute favorite though, is the Ginger Ale. Not only because I'm obsessed with gingerale, but because it is a particularly piquant one. Must be the ingredients they use to flavor it, and I quote: "African ginger, Mexican limes, Californian Lemons and Madascan Vanilla". Damn, that's like the United Nations of gingerale flavor! It is a bit lemony, but it works, and allows me to drink gingerale without having that teeth-going-soft-from-sugar feeling.

There are also Grapefruit, Kiwi Strawberry and Peach flavors. I bet the Peach has a lot of cocktail potential, too. Comment if you've tried 'em. Keep up the great work, Hansen's! (PS: I get mine at Trader Joe's but I have also seen it at Albertson's.)


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mamacita - un estomago muy feliz.

Yes, my stomach IS feliz after a truly delicious dinner at Mamacita. Two of my friends from Minnesota are in town, and they both love Mexican food, so I decided to take them to a high-end Mexican restaurant in the loud and fun marina district of SF. I have been to Mamacita a few times before, but overall this was my best experience!

The restaurant itself is in a cozy spot on Chestnut. It is a small but warm place, with Moroccan-esque lanterns and photos of Mexico everywhere. The one down-side to the layout of the place is that the bar is right in the middle of the restaurant. Sometimes when you are eating, especially on weekends, it feels like you are eating while a bunch of people drink around you.

Luckily the food and drinks are good enough to make up for the strange layout......

We started with some truly delicious margaritas. Limey and salty, we had a frosty pitcher (on the rocks of course!). This wet our taste buds for the oh-so-delicious meal that was to come.

Our first appetizer was fresh, creamy guacamole. This is one of the best guacamoles I have ever had - and that includes my own, which I think is pretty damn good. Mamacita uses the creamiest, most butter-like avocados. they are smooth but with the right amount of chunks, and a mild garlic flavor. I prefer mine with a little more heat but the flavors in this guac are first rate. It is served with perfect, fresh chips, and a smaller container of salsa. The salsa made the most of the great summer tomatoes - really delicious and fresh tasting. We had to ask for more chips to mop up that yummy stuff!

Our second appetizer was the best thing we had all night. Mamacita's chilaquiles are BY FAR the best I have ever had. More fresh tortilla chips are tossed with chipotle crema, roasted shredded chicken, gypsy pepper rajas and queso fresco. Here was the heat!!! The chips become soggy but still a bit crisp under the extremely tasty creamy sauce. These things were ridiculously good. I could eat these for dinner every night of the week - they were THAT good. If you go here, get these. You will not regret it!

For our entree we split two dishes - the carnitas tacos with grilled corn, salsa verde, crema latina (I think they made this up, but its just crema, which is basically watery sour cream), avocado, and questo cotija. These were good, very good. However I thought the meat itself could have had more flavor and fat. I have had the carne asada tacos here and the meat was VERY flavorful, I would get those next time. But the toppings on the carnitas tacos were great and all in all the taste was really good.

The second dish we split was my second favorite of the night - chicken enchiladas with guajillo chile sauce, crema, cheese, and more of that delicious guac. These were hot hot hot. The sauce was delicious, the chicken tender, the cheese melty and tasty, and the enchiladas were good-sized. Really freaking good. I am looking forward to trying the beef enchiladas next time I am there.

The last thing we had is something I always get here - a side dish of sweet yellow corn sauteed with red mole. Tonight there were fresh tomatoes in the dish as well. It was really good - the corn is never overcooked, and always has a nice crunch to it. The mole sauce is sweet. It is really tasty and every time I eat this I think, I should try making this because I could eat it every day.

I know I have an extreme love for Mexican food, but honestly this is one of the few restaurants of any cuisine where I want to order absolutely everything on the menu. I have tried the fish tacos and ceviche on other trips and they were also great. All of the salads and appetizers look fabulous. It is always hard for me to decide what to get here, so I love the family-style sharing aspect of the restaurant. I could eat everything on this menu. Nothing looks bad to me.

Some things to remember about Mamacita - make a reservation! They keep some tables open for walk-ins but the wait is LONG and the restaurant is small and it is not worth it. Call ahead. Also I would avoid going here on the weekends if you can, because it is literally the loudest restaurant I have ever been in. It is hard to hear yourself think in here on a Wednesday - on a Friday or Saturday it is nearly unbearable. Another thing to remember is that this place, while family style, is ideal for groups of two or in multiples of three. All of their entrees are served in threes - three tacos, three enchiladas, etc. If you have four people you end up cutting things up into little pieces which is annoying. Or you end up having to order way too much food. Maybe this is a marketing tactic - I don't know. But for two or three people, or even five or six where you can get away with ordering more food, it works out ok.

I really love this restaurant. I think the food is excellent. I know I need to try Maya and Mexico-DF to compare the other high-end Mexican options in SF, but for now, for Mexican food made with the highest quality of ingredients, Mamacita takes the.....pastel. Or the torta. Lo que sea!

Food - (4)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Experience - (3.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Overall - (3.75)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our ratings system, CLICK HERE!

For yelp reviews of Mamacita, CLICK HERE!

Now I am going to bed with a food coma.....the only thing that puts me to sleep more than a giant meal at mamacita is a giant meal at mamacita followed up by cupcakes from citizen cake!

adios mis amigos!


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Lack of Posts from your Hosts

Hello all. Em and I have been quite busy in the last couple of days, so we have not had a chance to post. For this we apologize. Rest assured that we are still eating (not wasting away yet!) and delighting in things that will soon make their way onto these virtual pages. Emilia has many excellent forthcoming reviews on delectable restaurants in the Bay Area, and I am planning a super not secret dinner party extraordinaire with my Bittman-chosen dishes. (First step is finding out which of my friends like squid. So far, so good!)

Thinking of you,

Friday, August 31, 2007

Summertime Food

I love eating in the summer. Hell, I love eating during each and every season, but the fresh produce and the warm air of summertime lend themselves to good eating weather. Last weekend I headed up to Inverness to spend the night at a beach house rented by my good friends, J. and E. The house was amazing and they didn't ask me to chip any money in for my stay, so I decided to repay them in fine food. I packed up the car with a cooler, some bags, and three bottles of wine, and headed for the ocean.

I decided to make my olive tapenade, which is actually Thomas Keller's tapenade, but it is the best one I have ever tasted. I love it because the flavors are so fresh, and if you use good quality olive oil it is so delicious. This is great as a sandwich spread, on crackers or veggies, or on fresh bread with cheese. I don't want to post the entire recipe here since I'm sure it is copyrighted - but if you want to shoot us an email at I might be persuaded to send it to you ;). The big difference between this tapenade and others I have made is that he makes a garlic confit first - he boils garlic in canola oil for about 40 minutes, at just a tiny boil, until the garlic is soft and infused with the oil. Then he mixes a tablespoon of that, chopped up, in with pitted nicoise olives, some anchovy (I use paste), a little dijon, and olive oil, processes it, and then stirs in more olive oil along with fresh parsley and chives. I use less olive oil then he asks for. It is simple and OH so delicious.

Next I made one of my favorite appetizers, suggest to me by someone over on the Cooks Illustrated board (though it is not a CI recipe). The recipe is Spicy Shrimp Remoulade on Molasses-Buttered Toasts, from Epicurious. The key to this recipe is finding the westphalian style pumpernickel bread, not spreading too much butter on them, and not baking them too long. If you cook them too long they become SUPER toasted and they are inedible - I have made this mistake once. I made the toasts ahead of time, along with the sauce, and mixed fresh beautiful shrimp into the sauce day of before I left for the ocean. I just cooked my shrimp in a little hot water in skillet until it was pink. I think this recipe would taste almost better with lobster but I've never tried it......

Spicy Shrimp Remoulade on Molasses-Buttered Toasts
Bon Appétit July 2005

Molasses butter
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons light molasses
1/4 teaspoon chili powder

Remoulade sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons finely chopped celery
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 1/2 teaspoons drained prepared white horseradish
2 teaspoons minced shallot2 teaspoons ketchup
2 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon paprika
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

24 1 1/2-inch rounds or squares cut from Westphalian-style pumpernickel bread slices

8 ounces cooked peeled medium shrimp, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

For molasses butter: Using fork, mix all ingredients in small bowl to blend.
For remoulade sauce: Mix first 12 ingredients in medium bowl.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spread molasses butter lightly over bread; arrange in single layer on baking sheet. Bake until bread begins to firm up, about 10 minutes. Cool.
Mix shrimp into remoulade sauce. Top toasts with shrimp mixture. Sprinkle with chives. Place toasts on platter.

Next I made a family recipe, roasted peppers with olive oil and parmesan. I buy bags of small sweet peppers at Costco, though I've seen them as well (for an INSANE price) at whole foods. Basically they look like little red, orange, and yellow jalapenos but they aren't hot at all. The secret to this recipe is to buy as many orange/yellow peppers, and as few red peppers, as you possibly can. For some reason the orange/yellow peppers roast MUCH better than the red ones. I find that the red ones are almost impossible to peel. Get them home and spread them on a cookie sheet. Turn the oven up to 350/400 - and roast them until they are soft and the skin begins to blister. Then throw them all into a paper bag for about a half hour, with the top closed. This will help the skins to release and will make them easier to peel.

Peeling the peppers is really the most painful part of this recipe - but it is so worth it. I get a bowl and a spoon and pour the peppers back onto the baking sheet. I find the easiest way to peel them is to get your thumb inbetween the skin and the pepper in one area and work your way over the whole pepper, then pop the skin off in one piece. Getting the little peels off one at a time is too much of a pain. Use the spoon to scrape the seeds out of the inside of the pepper, as they are bitter. Once you have them all peeled, run a knife and fork through the bowl a few times to get them all into bite-sized pieces.

Next I mix in the tasty ingredients. I just guess on this until it tastes right, so these are estimates - I would say for one cereal bowl of peppers, add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1/4 a cup of olive oil, a tiny clove of garlic crushed or minced, three tablespoons of grated/shredded parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. You can add more olive oil if you think it needs it. You can also make this with your favorite jarred roasted peppers, but really nothing tastes as good as the freshly roasted sweet peppers.

To go along with all of this I made a quick crostini - a big loaf of Acme bread, sliced thin, with garlic infused olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan on top. I stuck them in the oven until crisp and then put them all in a big ziplock bag. I also brought along two hunks of good cheese - humbodlt fog goat (my favorite!) and a super-sharp gouda. Lastly, I threw in a salami and a bag of chocolate covered espresso beans into the mix.

Needeless to say we all ate and drank well that night, and I've been munching on the leftovers all week. Three cheers to summer time eating!!


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sushi 101 - What is Fresh Sushi?

As some of you may know from reading my posts, I am a sushi FIEND and aspiring sushi connoisseur. I have been a fan for a few years now, but my obsession was sealed by my trip to Japan last fall- ten days in Tokyo and Kyoto which included a visit to Daiwa at the Tsukiji fish market in the wee hours of the morning, the highlight of my sushi life (and even better than the $250-a-head omakase we had at a very fancy sushi place at the New Otani hotel in Tokyo, which I will write about at another time). As my Sasabune review shows, though, I have very little tolerance for bad sushi. I find it very depressing and sad that many sushi fans lavish praise on places (and therefore, lead me to go drop bank on these establishments) that have crappy, soft, unfresh, unyummy sushi that is way overpriced and way overrated. (When people say the sushi somewhere is awesome because it is buttery, soft, melts in your mouth, or similar descriptions, I get very suspicious that they are talking about such a place-- and very often, they are!)

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A photo from my visit to Daiwa.

So, I am on a mission to spread the word on what makes sushi good, how you can tell when it's fresh and high quality or not, and where to go to find the best options in LA and wherever else I have occasion to eat my beloved sush. I don't have all the answers-- I am a student, not a master. But I hope that as I continue to learn and explore you can come along for the ride.

Part of the mission includes scouring Yelp to find promising options. Upon reading reviews of The Hump, a place in Santa Monica one of my Japanese sushi maven friends swears by and which I am filling my piggy bank for, I happened upon an incredibly knowledgeable review (excerpts of which are posted below) and immediately contacted the author to ask his permission to share it with all of you. His name is Michael, and by some strange coincidence he, too, is a lawyer. He became a fish expert when he used to work at the Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley, California, where he cut, bought and sold fish professionally. He is also a fisherman.

A few weeks ago Michael and I got into an email conversation about fish that has continued to this day. Michael also went to Daiwa in the fish market in Tokyo in the early hours of the morning and agrees that it's the gold standard. He has also given me a tip-- tell sushi chefs at nice places you've been to Daiwa, and they give you a respectful nod (and extra attentive bites, perhaps?). Oh yeah, and he totally agrees with me about Sasabune- which was a relief since I thought I was the only nut who didn't like it. I hope to continue to ask his opinion, which is much more expert than mine, on sushi places I frequent and share his thoughts with all of you on an ongoing basis.

Educational Excerpts from Michael's Review of The Hump (from Yelp)

"So, I went to the Hump...Coincidentally, Brian, the owner, had just come back from Japan, bringing a huge purple chunk of Himalayan rock salt (Japanese chefs love weird salts) and would be sitting for dinner. We chatted briefly - because we were there by ourselves - and Melanie [the hostess] said that we would be sitting next to each other.Over the course of the evening, I discussed with Melanie and Brian the following:
1. Proper handling of fish is of paramount importance to fish
2. Fresh, unfortunately, does not equal properly handled
3. Live fish that is quickly killed is best
4. Fish that has not gone into rigor mortis is not firm, and thus gummy and rubbery
5. Tsukiji's Bluefin Tuna Auction (been there and it is an amazing thing to see)
6. Daiwa Sushi, considered by some to be one of the best places to eat sushi in Japan because it's IN Tsukiji, (and sushi in general in Japan) is not served with overly warm rice or loosely packed rice
7. There are a lot of mediocre sushi bars now
8. Most Bluefin Tuna is coming from Spain because they're harvesting spawning tuna in the Mediterranean Sea and pen raising them off the coast of Spain
9. The Hump pays for top quality, carefully handled fish
10. The Hump keeps a number of its fish live in tanks

While Brian disappeared for a bit, I was seated at the end of the bar. What followed next, I can only describe as a revelation. Most fish sold to sushi bars are sold dead. That's not news to most of the world. And all the talk of eating "live" sushi? It's straight BS unless the fish is still breathing (the Hump serves that here too - I saw a breathing okoze (sculpin) cleanly filleted for live sashimi).

What is news is how poorly fish is treated once it's caught (like the news about how Chinese fish oftentimes does not pass USDA standards because it's filthy). Fish, like all living animals, goes into rigor mortis soon after it's dead. As time passes, the meat will relax and become softer. However, when the fish is well taken care of, and not handled like junk, the meat will stay firm for several days. Handle it like crap, and it will become soft very quickly. (At almost all sushi bars, you're most likely not getting fish that's so fresh it hasn't gone into rigor mortis. So, if you're wondering why a piece of fish is soft, it's because it's OLD.)

The Hump's fish is REALLY fresh. It's rigor mortis fresh. It's so fresh, that the texture of some of the fish, I can almost describe as "crunchy." I primarily had Shiromi. I started off with Tai and Hirame, then had Sujiara, Nodoguro, Managatsuo, Konbujime Ayu, Sanma, Tairagai and Uni. The Tai (with lemon juice and salt) was very good. It was rich and fatty; very rich for a summer fish. The Hirame (with ponzu, momiji oroshi and green onions) was an indicator of things to come. The flesh was firm, much more firm, sweet and substantial. The Sujiara (aka Kue, or Coral Grouper), had a rich, strong, flavor. The flavor got stronger as you chewed on it and it was so firm, it felt so much more substantial than your ordinary white fish sushi. Some people would consider the flesh "hard." But it really is a sign of true freshness. And the flavor was tremendous. The Nodoguro (a perch), also had firm texture, mild sweetness and excellent flavor. The Sanma was rich and oily and firm. (Get the picture?) The Tairagai was simply the best ever. So firm, sweet, and rich. It was amazing.

These fish were so firm and meaty, they were completely different than any place that I've had sushi in LA. I wish I tried more. Brian came back, asked for one of the chefs to use the rock salt he brought back for something. Well, the chef served him up some usuzukuri sujiara, with the salt shaved onto it. It looked fantastic. I thanked him for a great meal and great fresh fish. Brian's a warm and charming owner, who takes real pride in what the restaurant is doing. This shows everywhere. The staff is well trained and very attentive. The chefs care about the work they do and take great care.

So F serious sushi bars. F anyone who claims to know what "truly fresh fish" or who is a "expert on sushi" who hasn't gone fishing, can't fillet, doesn't know that freshly caught fish that hasn't gone into rigor mortis is going to be like chewing something with only slightly better texture than rubber. Stop the BS. Stop the trendiness. Eat really fresh sushi. Eat at the Hump. (It'll be #1 on my list if it's this good all the time.)"

Thanks, Michael! :-P

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Goat Hill Pizza - Sourdough Crust and City Views!

Goat Hill Pizza is another great place in my neighborhood, but it is also somewhat of a San Francisco institution. Its been around for....a long time. The original location is near me on Potrero Hill, but there is also a newer location in SOMA, which delivers.

There are so so many things I love about Goat Hill. First off, the pizza is delicious. I am crazy about sourdough, and their crust is sourdough, so its a match made in sourdough heaven. The crust is not too thin but not too thick - just right, crispy, with lots of flavor. Second - the toppings are terrific. They have pretty much everything you expect from a pizza place, plus some varied meat toppings and different sausages. I love that they have red and green onions. My roommate and I also adore the pesto pizza, where they swirl regular marinara with pesto. I like mine with sausage, feta, sundried tomatoes, red onions, and olives - yum.

Goat Hill also has pasta and sandwiches and salads. I have sampled the salads and they are basic pizza-place salads, with antipasti on top - nothing wrong with that. My dad had a big baked sub once and he seemed to enjoy it. The garlic bread is good and soggy and crispy all at the same time. Also Goat Hill has great, slightly cinnamony, iced tea. And rootbeer!!

The thing I really really love about Goat Hill is Neighborhood Night. Every monday evening from 5 until close is all-you-can-eat neighborhood night. You come in and sit down, order a drink, and then head over to a make-shift salad bar for a big salad with all the fixings. Then you sit and eat while waiters bring around many many varieties of pizzas - maybe a new pizza every five minutes or so. You take a piece when you want one and don't take one when you don't, and you can take more than once piece of a favorite if you like. My roommate and I are big fans of neighborhood night and go often. One thing I love about it is that the pieces they bring around are really small, so you can try quite a few different things. Its only about 10 dollars per person and I think it is soooo worth it. Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 6 - by 7:30 there will be a huge crowd and a long wait.

All in all, Goat Hill is a great neighborhood pizza place. And as all good pizza should, it almost tastes better cold the next day.

Food - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Experience - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Overall - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation or our ratings system, CLICK HERE!

For yelp reviews of Goat Hill - CLICK HERE!


Monday, August 27, 2007

Badda Bing - Squid Vicious!!!

So two Fridays ago I went to the Badda Bing class at Hip Cooks. As usual, it was totally fun and I had a great time making conversation with my classmates and perfecting my knife skills. The menu was not my favorite, though. The first course, watermelon, feta, cilantro and olive salad, was fabulous. It's super easy too. Just cut watermelon into chunks, sprinkle on the feta (or just put chunks of it on top), add fresh cilantro, fresh mint and a few pitted olives on there in an artful fashion, and then put a bit of salt and a dash of olive oil and/or balsamic reduction which you can buy at TJ's. It was really delicious and very pretty.

The squid stuffed with squid ink risotto in roasted pepper marinara sauce was not as great, largely because it was a case of "too many cooks spoil the broth". Risotto takes a lot of patience, and by the time we started on it we all had a glass of wine and were chatting and making conversation, and three people took turns stirring the risotto over each pass of adding liquid, and I think the focus risotto requires just wasn't there. So it wasn't very creamy or dreamy like the risotto I had at Farfalla last week. The squid ink was interesting though and I am now not afraid to make squid. It's really easy if you buy it pre-cleaned and poach it in any sauce you like, and you can easily stuff it with rice or whatever, too. The reason I went to this class was to learn how to cook squid since I'm such a fan of it, so that mission was accomplished. And the main course was not unedible by any means-- it was tasty, I just think the texture of the risotto could have been better.

The dessert was also not my cup of tea- a chocolate polenta cake. I am not a big polenta person and the grittiness of the polenta was unappetizing to me.

For wine, we drank Pinot Grigio as I had predicted. It was nice and went well with all the food.

All in all, another great time at Hip Cooks and a great learning experience. I now feel empowered that I can easily go buy some squid at Fish King or Whole Foods, whip up a delicious marinara sauce, poach the heck out of those squids, and serve a delicious and impressive dish-- all without looking at a recipe. I love that feeling-- empowered to just use ingredients and make good food in a no-stress fashion. One of these days though I'll have to suck it up and buy a good knife. Sigh!

By the way, I heard that Hip Cooks is opening a new site on the Westside, so all of you West L.A. folks will be able to gain easier access to my favorite cooking school.

Really excited to hit up Thrill of the Grill 2 with Emilia in a couple of weeks!


Friday, August 24, 2007


Indeed! And I must say, this little webspace was meant to be a wonderland of all things gourmet/foodie/etc. in Emilia and Patch world, a world which is abundant with aforementioned things gourmet/foodie/etc. Never was it meant to solely be a vastly superior version of Zagat! ;-) I know, I know that's what it seems like, but you have to trust me on this. Especially the vastly superior part. Just kidding. Zagat provides a fine service that I have utilized in the past.

On that token, I have a great tip, too, which my mother taught me. If you need to chop fresh spices up quickly, put them in a little cup or glass and use scissors to quickly mince them up. Then use your hand to scoop them out. Quick and easy. I do it on fresh basil leaves all the time. As always, your hands have to be clean.


Quick Tips

Patch and I thought that a post one of our favorite quick cooking/kitchen tips might be a fun break from the reviews....

If you have leftover wine, instead of just sticking it in your fridge, pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Then when it is frozen, pop the wine cubes out into a plastic bag and throw it back in the freezer. Then when you need a tablespoon of wine for a recipe, you can just grab one and toss it into your dish. This also works well with broth, tomato sauce, and pesto.

Now you won't waste the other half of that bottle you couldn't finish!


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bar Bambino - Mama Mia!

Stupid title, I know. I'm tired today!!!

Bar Bambino is a new wine bar/restaurant in the Mission district of SF. Many of you may know that the mission is my favorite place to wine and dine, so when I heard of this place opening I immediately scheduled a date with another lawyer galpal to hit it up.

Located at 16th and Mission, it is not really an ideal part of the neighborhood for an upscale wine bar. For example, it is across the street from burger king. However I am of the mind that one restaurant can change a neighborhood, and it is right next to the bart station, so bravo Bar Bambino for picking this location.

The inside is very european - tiny tables, lots of people smooshed together, but its a fun atmosphere. P. and I were seated shortly after arriving on a Tuesday, though I imagine it is a lot busier on weekends. It was still packed the whole time we were there.

I started off with a glass of La Braccesca Rosso di Montepulciano Sabazio2004 Toscana. I wish I could tell you what this is, but I have no idea. I got it because I liked the name. Turns out it was a great choice - very bright, fruity, but also smooth. It didn't have much of a bite to it, which I prefer. I had two glasses over the course of the night and put it on my list of things to buy a bottle of sometime soon.

Next we moved on to eats. We started with a little plate of delicious olives. Both green and black, they were marinated until soft and served warm, covered in herbs and really flavorful olive oil. They were absolutely delicious.

Next we had a bruschette - huge slices of grilled bread covered in more of that olive oil, and served with a fresh salad of chopped-up heirloom tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Oh man. This was so simple and SO good - the combo was just the perfect summer meal. It was so good that I went home and re-created it for dinner the next night using tomatoes from my garden. Seriously delicious.

We moved on to Polpette di melanzane - Small balls of eggplant, pine nut with a touch of raisin; finished in a light tomato sauce. This was a dish Michael Bauer raved about in the Chron, which was why we ordered it. It was really good but I didn't think it was served hot enough. The little balls were very tasty though; this is on my list of things to try and re-create at some point.

We finished off our meal with a cheese plate. Unfortunately I can't tell you what we had because we just let the cheese dude pick it out for us, but they have an extensive cheese list, and you can create your own plate of 2/3/4 cheeses for a pretty reasonable price. They served it with more grilled bread and a chutney - very good. We also split a dessert, which was unlike anything I have ever had. It was a strawberry shortcake - but it was actually a dense shortbread cookie, with strawberry glaze and fresh whipped cream. VERY good and the perfect end to this meal. We washed it down with a lovely glass of Moscato d'Asti - the best I've had outside of my monthly wine dinners.

All in all it was a really nice meal. I like the ambiance at this wine bar much better then the crowd at District, and they serve more substantial food than at Yield or Hotel Biron. I will definitely be back there soon.

Food - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Experience - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Total - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

To view an explanation of our ratings system, CLICK HERE!

To read yelp reviews of Bar Bambino, click here!

Cara mia, Bar Bambino!

- Emilia

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

There's No Place Like HOME

I. Love. HOME! How shall I count the ways?

The Great Outdoors

Located on Hillhurst in the Los Feliz Village a short walk from my house, Home has become my home away from home. The main eating area, heralded by a wrought iron gate that proclaims in green neon lighting, "There's No Place Like Home", consists of a tree-canopied courtyard centered around a fountain filled with koi and plastic dinosaur figurines. There is some indoor seating as well which doesn't interest me. The place's tiny tables and booths are almost always packed, especially for brunch and dinner. The crowd consists mostly of hipsters wearing funky sunglasses and chain smoking, and also some scene/industry types which is always interesting. The service varies wildly depending on who you get but there are some nice waiters, and many of them have bad haircuts and tight stovepipe jeans which amuses, welcome to Los Feliz. They have a rainy day special, too,where if it's really raining and you order one entree, you get the second one for 50% off. Interesting. I myself have not taken advantage of this offer.

Food, Folks & Fun

Home has a huge menu, but this ain't no Cheesecake Factory (AAAAAAAH I DETEST!!! IT PUTS THE LOTION ON!!!) -- at Home, I have never had a miss. The food is simple and quite good -- very what you see is what you get, and something for everyone. (This place is more of an outdoor diner than a gourmet restaurant.) Prices are very reasonable, too, especially for the value and portions. Home's brunch is simple and satisfying. All kinds of eggs, pancakes, waffles. I have enjoyed the eggs benedict with smoked salmon (yum), breakfast burrito (yum), and montecristo (french toast egg sandwich with ham and cheese, heaven on a plate).

Their sandwiches are also good. Turkey ruben, grilled cheese, chicken pomodoro sandwich and grilled chicken avocado club have all been hits and come with tasty waffle fries or greasy-good huge onion rings. I've had a burger which was decent. The sloppy joe was AWESOME, just like I remembered from childhood and very sloppy. I had the pizza once, and it was just okay- the crust was lacking. I have enjoyed some of the salads, lately the caramelized apple salad which was just what I wanted (greens, caramelized walnuts and apples, tomatoes, goat cheese, balsamic vinagrette, chicken). Portions are huge so I always take half home for leftovers, which is great because I loooove leftovers.

Cool Cocktails

The best part, though, is that Home has a notably comprehensive and fun cocktail menu. The drinks are STRONG and the variety and creativity is Lola's-esque. My favorites are: the vanilla martini (Absolut vanilla, Absolut mandarin, lemon-lime soda), passionfruit martini (Effen black cherry vodka, X-Rated Fusion liqueur), and the fabulous, fabulous Grand Margarita (Patron Silver, citronge, fresh sweetened lime juice, oranges) on the rocks with a salt rim. Be careful, all the drinks are STRONG. I must plead ignorance on the beer and wine selections because I have never gotten past the cocktails!

To me, there is nothing better than having a good bite, some delicious cocktails, and a long leisurely hang out with friends in an open-air courtyard full of interesting hipster-watching. Plus, in walking distance. This combo, for me, is the main selling point of Home! As you might imagine, the outdoors setup attracts a good number of smokers-- so be aware of that if smoke bothers you. Being outdoors and spacious with a good breeze, though, it doesn't seem to be a big problem.

Brits Love It - And We All Know They Are the Smartest Since They Have English Accents

Largely because of the cocktail menu, fun L.A. hipster element, outdoors setting (the better to appreciate L.A. weather which is a foreign miracle to the English) and huge variety of food, my English cousin is obsessed, and I mean obsessed, with Home. In fact, he requested Home four times in a five day visit a couple of months ago. This past Saturday, when he arrived again with his twin brother in tow, he couldn't wait to go to Home, and I was happy to oblige.

We felt for fried so we ordered the fried chicken wings, fried jalapeno poppers, and fried Southwestern spring rolls. All were mediocre as far as these types of appetizers go but very fried. We also had margaritas galore and they were fabulous. As always, it was glorious to sit outdoors and people watch.

Click those ruby heels together, Dorothy, cause there's no place like Home!

Food: (2.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Experience: (3.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Overall: (3)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, go here!

Catch some Home reviews on Citysearch and Yelp.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Out the Door - how I aDOOR thee!

The Slanted Door is sort of an institution in San Francisco foodie paradise. The Phan family opened the first location of this upscale Vietnamese restaurant in the Mission district in 1995. Twelve years later the restaurant has moved to the Ferry building, and the Phan family has opened two smaller versions of the restaurant - dubbed Out the Door. One branch was opened in the ferry building next to the restaurant, and another in the basement of the brand new mall downtown, below Bloomingdales. The Bloomies location is the one I review here.

Out the Door is one of my favorite places to grab a quick bite to eat in San Fran. The menu is varied with the seasons, and is often a slightly simpler (and less expensive) version of the menu over at the mother ship of Slanted Door. You can be in and out of there in under an hour, and I have never waited more than 10 minutes for a table, even on a busy Friday or Saturday night. Yes, it is in the mall food court, but the restaurant is tucked into a corner and you don't feel like you are in the mall until you step outside again, full of deliciously tasty and fresh vietnamese food.

Some of my favorite items on the menu:

The springrolls here are amazing. They have two types - fresh and crispy. I love the fresh spring rolls with pork, noodles, and shrimp, wrapped in rice paper and spiced with mint and cilantro. Served with a delicious peanut sauce, these are a hit with everyone, always. They offer a veggie version as well.

I think the crispy spring rolls are my favorite. The version I adore is also filled with pork, along with mushrooms and glass noodles. They are perfectly fried, and served with more noodles, lettuce, mint, and a vinegar sweet-and-sour sauce. You wrap a crispy spring roll in the lettuce with some mint and dip in the sauce and HEAVEN. Heaven in spring roll form, for sure.

One of the salads on the menu is so good that my mom is dead set on recreating it at home. It is julliened purple cabbage, jicama, and carrots, tossed with mint and cilantro and slices of grapefruit. The salad is served with a tangy sweet vinaigrette that never overpowers the veggies, and the top is sprinkled with candied walnuts - just enough to add a little crunch.

Tonight we tried delicious egg noodles, stir-fried with chicken and egg and mushrooms and other yummy things. The noodles were perfectly cooked and served extremely hot - they may have been the tastiest noodles I have ever consumed. YUM.

We also tried the heirloom tomato salad. It was pretty par for the course as tomato salads go. Fresh slices of heirloom with marinated thinly-sliced zucchini, and then some cherry tomatoes and crispy-fried shallots. Yummy though not the best thing we ate by far.

Next we moved on to a beef bavette dish - thinly sliced beef, perfectly cooked, and stir-fried with leeks and hot red peppers in a delicious broth. This was served with vermicelli rice, which I love - so fine and perfectly cooked. We ate every bite of this except for those hot little peppers.

A few other things I love when they are on the menu - the eggplant, which is spicy and delicious and perfectly prepared with green onions and coconut milk. The bok choy is also great, stir-fried with shitake mushrooms. The caramelized tiger prawns, sauteed in garlic, onion and chili sauce, are DIVINE. The sauce is so good on more of that rice.

I also love the chrysanthemum iced tea and organic sodas. Out the Door is a great place to eat. The service is generally very good, and I always leave there satisfied and happy and feeling like I had a special, nice meal. Tonight, my brother and his girlfriend and I ate there - 2 salads, 2 spring rolls, noodles, rice, a beef dish, and beverages - for 60 dollars. For as satisfied as I was after, it was a great deal.

Food - (3.5) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Experience - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Total - (3.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our ratings system, CLICK HERE!

For yelp reviews of Out the Door, CLICK HERE!

Out the Door - go there!


Friday, August 17, 2007

hipcooks: Cooking from the Hip

When I first moved to L.A. last fall to start my real adult life as a real adult lawyer (eeeek!) one of the things on my to-do list, along with practicing fastidious car maintenance and making my new apartment a haven of comfort and style, was to learn how to cook. Loving food so much, I have always been intrigued by the mystery of cooking. I figured it's about time I demystified it and learned how to do it myself. I had only cooked a couple of real things before (not counting eggs and sandwiches) and really enjoyed it, but I wanted to learn to cook without recipes, to cook from the heart and with whatever is in the fridge, to know how to cook a piece of fish or whip up an impressive dinner on the fly. I also love having people over, and therefore I fancy myself one of those people who say they just loooove entertaining (doesn't it sound glamorous?). Coming to L.A., I decided I was ready to become that woman who has her friends over for raucous dinner parties and exciting cocktail soirees.

I'm still working on these goals, but I have made great strides in learning to be a real cook thanks to HipCooks. Run by the entrepreneurial Monika and her small team out of a loft in the Brewery District by downtown L.A., HipCooks offers a variety of themed classes (everything from sushi to Persian) seven days a week and twice a day on weekends. You show up to the loft for the class you sign up for online (they fill up really fast...oh man, why, why am I giving them publicity?!) and the classes have anywhere from five to twenty people, usually with a wide range of cooking experience. You all gather around a giant round wooden counter and whoever is teaching that day goes through the menu of the class. Usually there are a few starters, a main dish, and dessert. The proper booze for the meal is also discussed and opened.

Then we get to cooking. The class is taught with a combination of demonstration and participation, and usually there is a knife skills segment. The class mantra is stress-free cooking with healthy, non-processed (but not low cal or low fat, hallelujah) ingredients and using your creativity in the kitchen to make food to your taste to share with friends. There is also an emphasis on entertaining, having a dinner party, etc. After the meal is all done, we pour the wine or whatever we are drinking and sit around a large dining table and eat the meal we have just prepared- which every time has been delicious. Conversation is had, and a couple of days later the recipes are emailed to you, although you are encouraged to use them more for ingredients and refreshing your memory and cook from memory if possible to really "get" the recipe in your repetoire. All the food, drinks and instruction cost $55 per class, which you pay in advance on their website.

It's FUN FUN FUN! And I have learned sooo much. I love it.

Tonight, I am going to the Badda Bing class, which is a follow up to Veni Vidi Vici. Both of these are Italian-inspired classes. The menu for tonight is watermelon salad with feta, cilantro and olives; squid stuffed with squid ink risotto in a tomato-pepper sauce; and chocolate polenta cake for dessert. "A light Italian, white wine" will be served (dollars to donuts it's Pinot Grigio, my beloved!). I will definitely write about it.

The other classes I have been to are:

My First Class: Bastille Day - Summer in Paris

Their description: "Ooooh la la! Strolling along the Seine, smelling the flowers. Time to duck into a warm French bistro for a hearty meal? Here is a French menu that is as easy as a breeze that whispers Louise Moulle! Or mussels, in wine, parsley, garlic and lemon The most wonderful hearty Coq au Vin, with a new twist - with tarrgon, wine, grapes and bok choy Pots de creme au chocolat for dessert, and Chateauneuf de Pape to drink, mais oui!"

The coq au vin was absolutely wonderful. It was served with crusty bread. The chicken was tender and delicious. The recipe was fun and a great introduction to cooking with booze. I still haven't had a chance to make it for anyone, but I hope to very soon, especially since I have a wounded soldier red wine bottle in my fridge that is begging to be cooked (it was a very old Burgundy and when I opened it it had gone it shall be reincarnated as tasty food!!!). The pot de creme au chocolat was also delicious.

My Favorite: A Cocktail Party

Their description: "Attention Hipsters! Let's get together for an evening of creative and fun nibbles perfect to effortlessly throw an outrageous cocktail party. Learn to whip up the Perfect Martini Vanilla Martini, Hipcooks Mojito, Caiprinhas, Lemon drops, with fresh ginger, and a dessert drink, if you behave. Nibbles: Candied nuts Warm crab dip Leek and goat cheese tartlets Crisp potato cakes with goat cheese and thyme Endive gorgonzola and roast pear Cups with caviar, crème fraiche and chive Warm goat cheese & nut-stuffed, proscuitto-wrapped dates Polenta slices with asparagus Tuna tartar on cucumber strips with wasabi roe Dark Chocolate Hearts with Raspberry cream"

This class was FABULOUS. Not only did I learn how to perfect my cocktail skills and discover the UNIVERSAL SECRET TO ALL COCKTAILS (if you're really nice, I'll tell you sometime), but also I learned to make fabulous and surprisingly easy little appetizers which I actually made, with smashing success, for my wine tasting party a few weeks back- namely the tartlet (which I made with whie wine sauteed mushrooms) and the tuna tartar appetizer. Loved it.

Latest Class: The Thrill of the Grill

Their description: "Are you intimidated by everyone’s favorite summertime stove? No need! Let's cook a delightful and delicious meal as yummy and flavorful as summer itself. It's a snap! Gazpacho Andaluz with garlicky croutons Grilled pork loin with a pomegranate glaze / grilled stuffed chicken with pomegranate sauce Fruited and herbed tabbouleh Grilled peaches stuffed with amaretto marscapone Pinot Noir to drink.... or should we make Sangria? OK, both!"

This was a great class and it was really fun to learn some grilling fundamentals and spend half the class outside. Like the other classes, this one took all the mystery and intimidation out of the cooking situation, here the grill. The food was delicious. The gazpacho was amazingly simple and super tasty, I will definitely do it for myself sometime. I also hope to make the grilled peaches as a treat next time a friend invites me to a grillfest, as they were very easy and absolutely delicious. We also learned a quick and dirty sangria that I would definitely throw together for friends in a pinch.

Stay tuned for posts about my lovely HipCooks cooking classes as time goes on. Emilia can write what she thinks, too, as she is joining me in September for Thrill of the Grill 2 at Hipcooks: "Andalusian garlic & almond soup with green grapes - the soup you MUST try; Grilled marinated ribeye with tapenade and chimichurri (an Argentinian sauce); Zuchini parcels stuffed with portobello mushrooms; Apple and peach crumble with vanilla ice cream". Hurray!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Farfalla in La La Land

Trattoria Farfalla on Hillhurst and Clarissa in Los Feliz is my go-to spot when I have guests in town. It's a short walk from my house, is a cozy and cute neighborhood joint, doesn't take reservations, and presents solid and homey, rustic Italian food that is consistently pleasing. I have been a number of times, but last night I took the lovely M (who is half Italian and knows how to eat) there for her birthday and decided it's high time I spread the word about this marvelous little place, even though I know the word has already been spreaden. They also do take-out, which I have not yet tried.

The trattoria, which is often crowded and has a long line out the door, is small, dark and cozy, with many tiny tables inside and a simple Tuscany-evoking decor, at least as I imagine it since I have not yet been to Tuscany. When you walk in, you see the kitchen and the cooks busy at work over a giant steel range. Inside, it's loud but not too loud. The crowd is a mix of Los Feliz locals, Beverly Hills types, industry people, and more, very mixed. The moment you sit a basket of crusty French bread and my favorite, a little soup cup full of olive-oil-marinated whole garlic cloves, tomatoes and sundried tomatoes drifting in their oil is placed in the center of the table. Try the garlic cloves on bread - soft and tender, with a delicate garlic flavor. Yum!

The menu is large and has a variety of appetizers, soups, pizzas and calzones, meat and fish, and pasta. I love the pasta here as it is well-cooked and the combinations are always very flavorful and zingy, so I usually order it. Some of my favorite past dishes were Ravoli di Zucca Alla Crema di Nocci (pumpkin ravioli in walnut and cream sauce), Tagliolini Cozze e Vongole (thin pasta with mussels, clams and tomato broth) and the absolutely fabulous and rich Fusilli Tartufati con Carciofi, Porri e Shitake (corkscrew pasta with shitake, leeks, artichokes, white truffle oil and aged ricotta). I have also had the Osso Bucco when it was on special, and it was delicious. The pizza I have had was the Pomodori Secchi e Pollo (tomato sauce, mozzarella, chicken and sundried tomatoes). It was yummy but not spectacular as far as pizza goes. I would definitely stick to pasta or the specials at Farfalla.

Farfalla also has fabulous wine and many of the waiters I've had, particularly a young, thin blonde woman whose name escapes me, have made excellent wine suggestions, as has the owner who is a very friendly guy and used to recognize me when I came frequently for a little stretch and give me the star treatment. My absolute favorite wine has been the Barbera "Trevigne" Clerico (2001) which is a delicious, medium-bodied and subtly rich red wine that goes with just about everything at this restaurant, in my opinion. With the Clerico you cannot go wrong! They have only a few options by the glass but all have been great that I have tried. Not surprising considering my favorite wine bar in L.A. (and one worth visiting, if you can get in - it's always freaking overflowing!), Vinoteca Farfalla, is the sister of this restaurant and lives two doors down. God, I love that place. But that is another post for another time.

Last night, one of the special appetizers was this special kind of fresh cheese made from fresh mozzarella and cream, called Burrata. When the waitress named it, M got really excited and insisted we share it. Boy, was it delicious! They served it with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic with fresh tomatoes and a simple spinach salad with roasted red peppers. The tomatoes were underripe but the cheese was perfect and sooo creamy and mild.

For main courses, M ordered the special which was thin pasta with a lobster ragout. I tasted it, and it was flavorful and creamy, with little chunks of lobster throughout. In fact, the lovely M, who is probably 105 pounds soaking wet, devoured her entire bowl. Just as I was about to say that the portions at Farfalla are quite large and every time I go I can eat just about half and eat the rest the next day as a very exciting leftover. But anyway. I ordered another special based entirely on the recommendation of the waitress, a risotto with artichoke hearts, fresh tomato, calamari, squid and fish in a tomato sauce. I have always felt cheated by risotto- isn't it just rice?- although M has tried to entice me to give it a try. When the waitress suggested this particular dish, M gave me a hopeful look, and how could I let down the birthday girl? Well, I'm a convert now (and not just because of the good mood the excellent Super Toscana wine put me in). This risotto had texture and intense, buttery rich flavor. The fish and super tender calamari was a perfect compliment. The artichoke hearts and tomato added color and interest, and the tomatoes were cooked just enough to bring out intense tomatoey flavor with every bite. Putting down a big mouthful of this stuff was like eating a giant bite of rich, salty rice-like heaven. I am a fan.

For dessert, we shared a slice of chocolate pear tart. It was a tart shell with chocolate creamy goodness, slices of fresh pear, and chocolate ganache on top. It was very good. I love the chocolate and pear combo, and the texture was just really airy and light, like chocolate cream pie. We also had dessert wine, since it was a special occasion after all. M had a glass of Moscato Nivole which was golden with a hint of little tiny bubbles in the flavor and redolent of peaches. I had a Brachetto D'Aqui, the first sparkling red dessert wine I have ever had, which was deep garnet in color and was absolutely delicious. It smelled like roses and lavender and tasted like berries and toffee but was not overpoweringly sweet. I am in love with it and henceforth shall search it out. It would be the PERFECT dessert wine for a dinner party as its medium-sweetness and slight fizz would probably please a wide variety of palates. And the color is just to die for. SO LOVELY!

All in all, last night was emblematic of my typical night at Farfalla- something old, something new, something drenched in olive oil, not cheap but reasonable bill. Okay, I know it doesn't rhyme, so sue me. This is not the most incredible Italian food you'll ever have, but it is very, very good and solid and you know you will eat and drink something really yummy every time, which makes it a pretty fantastic spot if you ask me! So it is always a pleasure to go. It is also a great romantic spot if you go with a love interest (or so I've heard...) In any event, I plan on returning many more times.

Food: (3.25) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Experience: (3.25) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Overall: (3.25) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, click HERE!

Farfalla reviews on Yelp and Citysearch.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dosa-y hooray!

So I went on a date a few weeks ago, and he suggested we try Dosa, a semi-upscale Indian restaurant in the mission district of San Francisco. I had heard great things about it and was totally down to go. I must preface this review by saying that I do not eat a lot of indian food. I like it and I'm always happy to go out for it, but it isn't a cuisine that I sit around craving all the time, like Mexican. Or french fries. Which should be their own cuisine if they aren't already.

Anyways.....Dosa. I loved it. The only indian joints I have been to are sort of mom-and-pop diner-esque places in the silicon valley where I work. The food has always been good but they aren't really good date places, needless to say. Dosa was totally different. It is a really pretty space, well-decorated with earthy colors and bright pillows. The dining room is a little cramped and there was a long wait, but my date got there early so once I was there we just sat down. Also they accept reservations for parties of 6 or more.

We sat down and started off with some beverages. He had a glass of wine, but I was in the mood for something carbonated, and chose Lindemans Framboise LambicVlezenbeek, Belgium – Delicate palate of raspberries, brisk, tart, deep opaque garnet. It was a big beer, lasting me the whole meal. Very fruity and delicious, and it cut the spice on all the foods we chose very well. They have a great list of beers from all over the world.

Next we moved onto the food. Dosa serves a small plate of spicy chips as an appetizer. Personally I thought it looked a little lackluster, this sad plate of chips, but they were decent tasting. Date and I ordered the calamari to start: Calamari, sauteed with a sumptuous, spicy coconut milk sauce, served with mixed greens. It was REALLY good. I think it was the most tender calamari I have ever had, and the sauce was spicy and delicious. Really good starter.

Next we shared a dosa and a curry. The dosa we chose was the rava masala: A wispy dosa crepe made with semolina and wheat, served with spiced Indian potatoes, onions and cashew nuts. It was REALLY BIG and really delicious - the dosa had herbs in it, and the filling was super tasty. Creamy and spicy with good chunks of potato in it. The dosa was crunchy and it was all just very very good.

The dish that really wowed me the most was the lamb curry we ordered: Niman Ranch natural lamb steeped in a sauce of fennel, tomatoes, poppy seeds, caramelized onions and a blend of other spices, served with Basmati (Indian long-grained) rice. It was incredibly delicious. Very spicy, but the lamb was tender and melted in your mouth, and the spices were terrific. My mouth was on fire in a good way!!! I would go back there just for this, as I have been craving it pretty much ever since.

Lastly we split a dessert, which I wasn't crazy about. The Gulab JamoonTwo was described as soft, lightly- fried milk balls served in a warm, cardamom flavored sugar syrup. Well, sugar syrup was right. Basically it was two donut holes sitting in simple syrup - just too sweet for me. Literally, I had one bite and I was done. I think this is more pleasing to the palate of other people, but it wasn't for me.

I didn't pay for dinner but the prices seem reasonable to me. The service was decent, though they were obviously in a hurry for us to leave. Still, I will be back to Dosa for sure. Now I'm finding myself trying to figure out a way to get back there much for not craving Indian food!

Food - (3.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Atmosphere - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Overall - (3.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, CLICK HERE!

For yelp reviews of Dosa, CLICK HERE!

Dosa please!


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bodega Wine Bar - Not a Star

Last Friday I ventured out to Santa Monica to join some coworkers at Bodega Wine Bar. There is also a location in Pasadena. From what I heard about it, the wine was all the same price (good) and there was amazing grilled cheese (great!). The place is really cute inside with lots of little tables to sit at, which is nice, as well as a good sized bar area with lots of wine bottles on the wall for decoration.

We got a little corner table which was cute but very impractical, what with the huge plates for the appetizers we got and the wines in wine-coolers which take up a lot of room-- not to mention everybody's glasses. The cheese plates basically sat on our laps for most of the night, and glasses piled up so quickly that we had to stack them and put them on the floor-- where are the table bussers in this place? So that was a bit annoying though I liked the hip yet cozy decor. The crowd was pretty yuppie, as you would expect, and the place was well filled but not overflowing by the end of the night.

For wine, I sampled a few different whites, which the group was in the mood for. All were decent and refreshing, nothing amazing but good prices at $8 a glass, $20 a carafe and $30 a bottle for everything, which is a little sketchy but whatever, just drink and don't think about it too much. We were a big group and got all bottles.

The wine menu has very lengthy and detailed descriptions of the different flavors and characteristics of each wine. This often sort of bothers me because it takes all the fun and individuality out of tasting different wines. Also, some of the descriptions were pretty off. For example, there was a Pinot Grigio I chose based largely on its description which included the words "dry" and "crisp", but the wine was actually quite sweet and even apple juice-esque. I did not enjoy that and it was not what I wanted or expected. We also had a prosecco which I liked very much. For non-winos, there is beer, sake and soju cocktails, but no hard liquor, which makes me shed a silent tear deep in my heart.

For food, we ordered a cheese plate which had a good variety of six different cheeses, dried apricots, almonds, and little wafer crackers that reminded me of communion wafers. We also ordered that famous grilled cheese. It consisted of sliced green apples and okay-tasting melted brie on very soft and yummy dried-fig challah bread. It was tasty although I thought it could have been improved if it were grilled longer or if the brie were nicer. All this cheese, though, made me happy in general. Nothing goes better with drinking in my opinion.

All in all, not a bad little place. But nowhere near the best wine bars I've been to (even though it won best wine bar on Citysearch three years in a row- weirded out?). I would probably look for another wine bar to sample before heading back.


Drinks and Appetizers: (2.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Experience: (2.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Overall: (2.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, CLICK HERE!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Just for You Cafe - JUST FOR ME!

When I moved into my neighborhood a year and a half ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I love the house but hadn't explored the small surrounding business area. No clue whether there would be decent food/drinking/grocery/entertainment options within walking distance.

It turns out that I got lucky. My neighborhood of Potrero Hill/Dogpatch is not at the top of the list of fun places to hang out, but it provides a good local grocery store, great mani/pedi stop, and lots of food options - nice french, quick french, north african, thai, chinese, (bad) sushi, several pizza options, a deli......

And breakfast. At Just for You. Maybe the number one thing about the restaurant is breakfast at Just for You Cafe.

Just for You is sort of a local institution. Its been around forever and there are many reasons why. It has a great little atmosphere - cool concert posters on the walls, lots of new orleans stuff hanging around, friendly service, no cell-phone possibility, cash only policy. Its easy and fun, and though it can get crowded after 9 on the weekends, its not so crowded that you can't get in.

The food is also really and truly delicious. Great diner breakfasts with a new orleans flair. First of all, they have beignets - pillowy little donuts of goodness, hot and covered with melting powdered sugar. Absolutely delicious. The donuts themselves aren't sweet - so the contrast is excellent.

Just for You also served great coffee, big glasses of Odwalla OJ, and huge mimosas - giant juice glasses with a LOT of champagne.

On weekends Just for You always has a few specials for brunch, which lasts from 8-3. But their menu is chock full of good things to eat as it is. Two eggs any way, with a long list of sides, including deliciously thick and fatty bacon, several kinds of sausage (hot louisiana style, chicken apple, breakfast); biscuits and gravy; ground beef patty; porkchop; catfish; or crab cake). This is all served with the delicious homefries - thick wedges of red potatoes, crispy on the outside and perfectly seasoned. Last it comes with one of several bread options. Just for You bakes its own breads - sourdough, white, wheat, or cinnamon/raisin. You can also get cornbread or a biscuit.

Another one of my favorite menu items is the frittata of the decade - A slow-pan-fried Italian omelet with zucchini, mushrooms, onion, garlic, spinach & tomato, topped with cheddar cheese. Delicious, gooey, great with the homefries. I get it with a side of the hot hot sausage.

Lately my meal of choice has been the cowgirl - two eggs sunnyside up with bacon, and two of the best cornmeal pancakes I have EVER had, drowned in maple syrup and butter. Usually, no matter what I order, I get one pancake on the side, because I crave them oh so much.

Last time I was there with patch, she had the chili scramble - 3 scrambled eggs, topped with chili con carne, cheddar cheese, and diced onions. This was all served over cornbread. She remarked that she wanted more chili, so if you like yours extra saucy, ask for an extra scoop!!

Lastly, I do love their fried egg sandwich. Can't go wrong with that. I have never tried any of the many lunch options (Salads, sandwiches, burgets, etc) because the breakfast is so freakin good. Basically, Just for You is a sure thing. I go twice a month on average and I've never had a bad meal. I like heading down there alone and reading the paper while dining at the bar. Its delicious, greasy, friendly - and best of all, just three blocks away.

edited to add - I forgot about their Mexican breakfasts! Juevos rancheros and delicious breakfast burritos. Patch mentions in a comment that she wanted more spice in the chili - order a side of their hot hot chili sauce if you like spicy stuff and pour it on, that should do the trick!!

Food - (3.25) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Experience - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Total - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our ratings system, CLICK HERE!

For yelp reviews of Just for You, CLICK HERE!

Go there. Eat beignets.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Miraval: Putting the "Eat" back in Spa Retreat

Miraval Life in Balance, about one hour outside of Tuscon, is a very special place. The philosophy of the spa is mindfulness and learning how to live in the present moment. The grounds are beautiful and surrounded by desert. There are many lovely spa treatments you can get (Mom and I got one each daily, including a prickly pear sugar scrub, ayurvedic massage, dreamy creamsicle massage with vanilla oil and orange water, and manicures and pedicures, though there were many more on offer) and pools to bliss out by. There are also fabulous activities from seminars on bringing mindfulness into different areas of your life, to hiking, mountain biking (which I learned to do-- scary but so much fun!), all kinds of aerobics and conditioning classes, yoga, guided meditation, photography, trail riding, and more.

There are also the challenges, which are basically these wild outdoors challenge courses. I didn't think I would partake being a huge fraidy cat, but I ended up completing three of them-- the one where you climb up a 25 foot pole and jump off, the one where you traverse a wire 30 feet up, and the one where you are hoisted 40 feet up on a rope and have to let go and swing like a human pendulum, and it looks a little something like this:

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Patch flies through the air with the greatest of ease!

All three challenges were crazy and taught me so much about myself and the way I approach other challenges in life, plus they left me with a new image of myself as this powerful, fearless woman. ROAR!

But, the point of this blog and therefore the topic of discussion today is the cuisine at Miraval. Unlike many other spas, Miraval does not make its guests diet or starve, two things in which I have no interest. In fact, this is one of the reasons I chose this particular spa while doing my research (and also, they are not dry). I did joke that we would all waste away, though, because the food, while delicious, is super healthy and shockingly low-calorie. How do I know? By every dish there is a little card giving you the calories, fat, protein, carbs and fiber along with the suggested serving size. The chefs do a fantastic job of making things that are colorful and tasty using little tricks to make them healthy. And deprivation is NOT on the menu.


There is a set breakfast menu at Miraval with about 6 entree choices each morning. My mom and I fell in love with the smoked salmon on a potato cake. It came with fresh tomatoes, capers and onion, and featured delicious salmon piled on a salty and hot potato hash-brown patty. All this at, if I recall correctly, under 200 calories. I also like the huevos rancheros, which came in under 100 calories. (Crazy, I know.) There is also a breakfast buffet which always has steel cut oatmeal (45 calories for half a cup, according to the card) and fresh fruit, along with egg entrees including a fabulous 150 calorie breakfast burrito in spinach wrap and buckwheat pancakes that were similarly non-fattening. Basically you could eat to your heart's content knowing it was nearly impossible to overdo it. A diet-conscious person's dream come true.

There was also strong, good coffee and other drinks you could order from the coffee/smoothie/juice bar, which also had delicious frozen yogurt. This bar stays open all day from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M., and all the coffee, wheat grass shots, juices and smoothies you could ever want are included in your stay.


At lunch, two different entrees were on offer every day. One was usually a fish, and the other a vegetarian dish or a salad. On the first day, I had a chicken tostada that was FIFTY CALORIES (crazy low) and was actually delicious. From then on I often ordered the fish which included escarole, halibut and more. It was usually great. There was also the buffet which was always available. It usually had a different hot and a cold soup daily (the mango jalapeno cold soup was a favorite), baked sweet potatoes, bean salads, hot entrees such as turkey burgers, a sandwich bar, and a well-equipped salad bar, along with fruit and many tasty and disturbingly low-calorie desserts such as little brownies, tarts, and cookies (which, due to their healthy nature, were hit or miss). Also on offer was iced tea in mango green, china black, raspberry, or prickly pear. We tried them all and loved them. My favorite was mango green.


Dinner was the best part of the cuisine, in my opinion. You sign up outside the smoothie bar every day for your time slot. Like the other meals, this could be taken in Miraval's air conditioned dining room or outside on a patio with a beautiful view of the desert mountains (where my mom and I literally sat every day of the trip, even with the periodic and stunning torrential thunderstorms-- Arizona has a monsoon season, who knew?). The dinner menu had around 5 First Plates including appetizers, soups and salads, and 5 Second Plates which featured a variety of entrees including one or two vegetarian options per night.

Many of these spas don't have alcohol, but Miraval does, which is wonderful. Before dinner, my mom and I would have some of the cheese and veggies that were put out each evening and sit at the bar with the sommelier, Warner Forth. Warner, who has been with Miraval basically since it opened over ten years ago, is incredibly knowledgeable about wine with passion to match, and a fantastic conversationalist. While we chatted, he would recommend one of Miraval's many very good wines by the glass depending on our mood. He also made a killer martini and a lemon drop to die for, his own special recipe, which he gave me permission to post here and is below. This was my favorite part of each evening.

Then we'd move on to our table where we might order a second glass of wine while we ate. Some of my favorite first plates included snow crab claws served with cocktail sauce in a martini glass, and prosciutto and goat cheese salad. The best entrees I had (though all were great) were pistachio-crusted lamb chops and a delicious venison with wine demi-glaze. As always, the calorie and nutrition stats for each dish appeared on the menu and as usual, they were shockingly low.

There was a set dessert list each night along with excellent herbal teas served in a beautiful personal-size cast iron kettle tea set. The desserts included a decent creme brulee, coconut sorbet, hazelnut roulade, and more, and occasional specials. Like some of the other things I ate at Miraval, I found these desserts just too healthy for me to really enjoy. For people who want something sweet and a large-ish portion, the dessert was perfect. I would rather have one bite of something "real" (a.k.a. bad for you) than a huge only-okay dessert any day, so I was not much impressed. (There were a couple of other dishes, too, that couldn't be made healthy without losing their goodness, such as the lobster bisque.) However, I was impressed by the commitment to keep things healthy.

Conclusion: Healthy Gourmet Achieved!

All in all, we were well-fed and well-fueled for each day's adventures. Lovely, leisurely and healthy meals were one of the many pleasures of being at Miraval. I can't wait to go back!!!

Warner's Lemon Drop

2 parts lemon vodka (i.e., Stoli Limon)

1 part Limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur)

1 part fresh lemonade (fresh lemon juice and simple syrup)

Shake all ingredients together until very cold. Serve in sugar-rimmed martini glass with lemon twist garnish. Enjoy and be happy. (Thanks, Warner!)


PS: Another cool feature is that at every meal, you can ask for little cards to request recipes. The spa will mail them to you or email them, your choice. I have some recipes coming!