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REVIEW w/ pics: Brunch & Cheese Tasting at Auntie Em's

pleasurepalate Mar 1, 2008 10:43 PM

Isn't it funny that sometimes the restaurants that are the closest to you are the ones you take the longest to visit? Not that Eagle Rock is close, but heck, I've driven to Gardena for ramen and Fountain Valley for 8 Courses of Fish. In retrospect, Eagle Rock is practically a neighboring city to Duarte where I reside. When you also take in consideration that I have a friend in Eagle Rock that I hang out with a couple of times a month, it's a wonder that I still haven't paid a visit to Auntie Em's and took her with me. Finally, we went for brunch and also brought another mutual friend for the ride.

Walking in, I was already liking that the menu was written on chalkboards. What that tells me is that this restaurant probably plans its dishes around seasonal ingredients. Using produce at its peak definitely can make good food great. While waiting in line, I also spied their cupcakes, both mini and full size. Having heard rave reviews, especially from my Eagle Rock friend, about those cupcakes, I decided to bring some home and try them out for myself, but that's getting ahead of myself.

Let's get back to brunch. Catching my eye was their Strata which had layers of Asparagus, Goat Cheese, Bread and Eggs and along it was going to be a bowl of fresh fruit. Doesn't that sound yummy? With no available seating in the main dining area or outside, we ended up in their Cheese Store next door, which had quite a nature motif. There's a fake tree where the hanging branches are made up of interconnecting square cardstock paper. At the foot of the tree, there's a painting of a wolf. You can also look up to see branches sticking out from the wall holding birds nests. I just really enjoyed the quirkiness of the decor.

Finally, our food arrived. When I took a gander at my plate, what really caught my eye first was the bowl of fresh fruit. Inside were plump raspberries and blackberries, along with the usual pineapple, cantaloupe and watermelon. Those berries looked amazing and definitely looked in season. They tasted as juicy as they looked. Then I dug into my strata and oh boy, was it worth getting up early for, especially since I'm not much of a morning person in the first place.

The top of the strata was browned perfectly and had a nice crispy-flakiness to it, but that first bite of an almost creamy-like texture of egg and melted cheese along with the tender asparagus was just an "oooh" and "ahhh" moment. It was just that good. Needless to say, my plate was almost licked clean. How can you go wrong with fresh fruit and a cheesy egg dish? That strata is definitely worth a return visit, although I'd probably would order something else just because I'd like to sample more of their menu.

Finally, we finished our meals and off we went our separate ways, but I had cupcakes with me. Later on that day, I tried their red velvet cupcake and left the others for the family to sample. I liked the cake portion of it, but I found the frosting overwhelming. From the side, it looked almost the same height as the cupcake itself. There was just too much of it and I also found it too sweet for my palate. I told my Eagle Rock friend when I saw her a couple of weeks later that I actually scraped off most of the frosting, to which she replied that the way she eats her red velvet cupcake is to put it in a bowl and mash cake and frosting together and than eat by the spoonful. Hmmm....forget a bowl of cereal when you can have a bowl of cupcake. Now that's an interesting concept.

While I wasn't much of a fan of their cupcakes, what I did like along with that strata dish was the selection of cheeses inside their Cheese Shop. During our brunch there, I chatted with Owner,Terri Wahl, and Jody, the Cheese Monger about doing an after hours cheese tasting there at the restaurant and they were quite agreeable.

About 3 months later, a group of between 20 and 25 joined me for what was a veritable cheese buffet where we sampled 9 different cheeses and each cheese was paired with another type of food, whether it was figs, olives, honey or a type of jam or relish. I honestly can't remember all my tasting notes, but the cheeses and the pairings that Jody put together were awesome.

All of them had the distinction of winning awards at a recent competition held by the American Cheese Society. There were two that really stood out for me. One was made by Capri out of domestic goat's milk and was called Wasabi Disc. The wasabi in this cheese added a little heat that really blended well with the pungency of the goat cheese. My other favorite was the Smokey Blue made by Rogue River Creamery. Cold smoked for 16 hours over Northwest -grown hazelnut shells, this cow's milk cheese definitely had a unique flavor profile - smoky, sharp with hints of a sweet nuttiness.

Overall, both of my experiences at Auntie, brunch and cheese tasting, were just wonderful. I still dream about that strata and it's good to know that there is an artisanal cheese store that's fairly local and is headed by a Cheese Monger who knows her stuff.

To see Brunch pics, go to:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/la_addict/sets/72157603390870289/

To see Cheese Tasting pics, go to:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/la_addict/sets/72157603386767328/

Auntie Em's Kitchen
4616 Eagle Rock Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90041
(323) 255-0800
www.auntieemskitchen.com

Thanks,
Abby
http://pleasurepalate.blogspot.com/

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  1. l
    LaLa Eat Mar 2, 2008 12:37 AM

    I just had the same epiphany as you ! Auntie Em's is close but had never been to check it out. Finally made it there last week and am kicking self for not have gone earlier! Loved the homey feel and casual atmosphere, coupled with the ernest desire to serve quality food.
    Sorry that I missed seeing the strata on the menu or perhaps it is not on menu now (?) as their menu changes with the season.
    As you, I took some cupcakes to go, agree that the icing to cake ratio was off and way too sweet.
    How often do they do cheese tasting and how much did it cost?
    I noticed that they sometimes have a "farmer's market" dinner, next one in a couple of weeks...

    4 Replies
    1. re: LaLa Eat
      pleasurepalate Mar 2, 2008 01:57 AM

      I actually set up a private cheese tasting with them for my dining group and the cost ran $25 per person, but I needed a minimum of 15 people in attendance. Luckily, I got that and more.

      1. re: LaLa Eat
        perk Mar 2, 2008 02:38 PM

        The Farmers Market dinners are always amazing....and this time they're doing it for two nights--March 11 and 12. The website lists the courses and details. If you're interested, I'd make a reservation quickly--they tend to fill up. (two seatings--6:30 and 8:30)

        1. re: LaLa Eat
          j
          Josh90004 Mar 2, 2008 09:02 PM

          I just can't wrap my brain around the concept of there being TOO MUCH frosting. Does not compute, sorry.

          1. re: Josh90004
            pleasurepalate Mar 2, 2008 10:16 PM

            Don't get me wrong. I love frosting just as much as the next person, but when the height of the frosting is the same height as the cupcake itself, for me, that's too much frosting. Sometimes less is more.

        2. tatertotsrock Mar 3, 2008 02:32 PM

          Sadly, I couldn't stand their cupcakes...eek, gross...but they did look very cute.
          Never have eaten there, tried to once...horrible service, so left because I just sat ther forever waiting for someone to take my order...oh well.
          They really do have great cheeses...they provide the cheeses for Colorado Wine Company wine tasting (great wine store, nice owners, friendly people)...I think Autie Ems and CWC do special wine/food events together.

          2 Replies
          1. re: tatertotsrock
            a
            alison Mar 4, 2008 04:41 AM

            You order at the counter when you first walk in, then find a table and they will bring your food.
            Agree with the frosting to cake ratio others mentioned above.
            Market dinners are good too, not too much food & very kid friendly, they even do a special kid's meal at the dinners. It's BYOB for the market dinner.

            1. re: alison
              p
              patz Mar 6, 2008 09:01 AM

              they changed this system over the summer - now they have table service

          2. j
            Josh90004 Mar 3, 2008 11:54 PM

            Nice to see they're finally serving potatoes with their eggs.

            1. b
              Bonnie D Mar 4, 2008 04:44 AM

              Don't forget the pancakes next time. They nail the texture.

              1. c
                Clyde Mar 4, 2008 09:41 AM

                i love all the frosting on their cupcakes... at least here they give you a lot so you have the option of not eating it all as opposed to not having enough. has anyone tried their scones? best i've ever had.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Clyde
                  c
                  Clyde Mar 6, 2008 09:23 AM

                  auntie em's coconut cupcake recipe was in the LA Times food section yesterday...

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