CH Quint-fecta (Huckleberry, Ricardo's, Scoops, etc.)
Having "consumed" this past week's postings, I was inspired to take the family out for a Chowhound excursion with five different stops along the way.
1) Huckleberry , Santa Monica
2) Farmer's Mkt, Brentwood
3) Ricardo's Fish Tacos, Silverlake
4) Intelligensia/Cheese Store, SIlverlake
5) Scoops, City College
First up, Huckleberry.
I've known about Huckleberry for months now but what finally spurred me to try it was a chance encounter with the former pastry chef at L.A.'s well-respected [name excluded to protect anonymity]. The two of us were commiserating over how, L.A., great food city it is, doesn't seem to have the same general quality of bakeries that the Bay Area enjoys.
And look, I live in L.A. now, I love L.A. in many ways but let's be honest - maybe it's the water down here or whatever but the bakeries are surprisingly deficient. I've yet to find anything on the level of a Tartine, Acme or Arizmendi/Cheeseboard (and not for lack of trying) and I finally just gave up and assumed, "I'll take the superior Mexican/Chinese/Thai/Korean/etc. food down here and the Bay can have bakeries and drip coffee."
However, the aforementioned pastry chef, said, "well, the closest bakery I've found to what's in S.F. is at Huckleberry." So we rolled out.
Luckily, we got there before 9am so it was before what I assume would be the usual Sunday morning crush. The display looked promising enough and so we decided to try out an array of pastries, having decided to skip the breakfast plates (maybe that will wait for a future trip).
*Maple bacon biscuit
*Croissant w/ Valrhona chocolate
*Fresh fruit bread pudding
*Old fashioned coffee cake
THE BISCUIT: I found this surprisingly dry, especially considering it was still before 9am. It's not a bad idea, as far as the blend between sweet, savory and buttery but again: it was dry. Ergo, whatever taste combos might have benefitted it were balanced out by a severe disappointment in texture. A great biscuit should be moist and flaky, not brittle. Thumbs down.
*THE CROISSANT. My daughter managed to scarf this down so fast, I barely got a piece to try but what I had was, I thought, very very good. Probably one of the best croissants I've had in L.A. and the use of Valrhona dark was wise. They don't overdo it on the chocolate (unlike other places); there's just enough to complement the rest of the croissant rather than overwhelm it.
*THE DONUT HOLE. Rather average. Less soft than I thought it would be.
*THE BREAD PUDDING. This was quite good - warm and eggy, with syrup and fruit but it was less cloying than it may have looked. I thought this was similar to what I've had at Tartine.
*THE COFFEE CAKE. Oops, they forgot to bring this to us. Service fail!
I know the service takes knocks and frankly, I didn't see much to change any negative expectations. I waited about 5 minutes at the (ill-named) "Express Line" to order tea and coffee despite the fact that there were plenty of people bustling around behind the counter. A woman *behind me* had her ice coffee refilled only to have that server disappear before I could open my mouth to ask, "Earl Grey please!" It took a few more minutes until "Nora" took pity on me and finally took my order. Keep in mind: it was nowhere the height of the brunch rush yet.
I should also note, they make their caffe mocha w/ Valrhona but I found it to be a rather weak mocha overall.
Total damage, minus the coffee cake (which they took off our bill after I pointed out: um, we never got this), was around $28. For pastries and coffee/tea. For 2 adults and 4.5 year old.
I'm willing to give Huckleberry one more shot in the future and next time, maybe I'll try the Duck Hash or something besides pastries but so far, I'm not bowled over. Beats Le Pain Quotidian though (which I find truly uninspired + overpriced).
Totally non-food observation but I was sort of amazed that around 30-40% of the patrons there that morning were Asian American families with young children. Being part of that demographic and living on the Westside, I seldom see too many folks like us but apparently, they all congregate at Huckleberry on Sunday mornings. Go figure.
Previous CH post on Huckleberry: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/636736
Next stop, Brentwood Farmer's Market.
Ok, this wasn't so much a Chowhound inspiration; we go here all the time since the combo of Farmer's Mkt + playground + that lemonade at the pupeseria = winning combination. To be sure, the food at the Brentwood Mkt is decent but nothing there really seems too noteworthy. I do like Rockenwagner's pretzel rolls and they make a decent croissant but otherwise, it's not like anything at the market is a "must have." But, if you got a kid and you like a great produce selection, you could worse on your Sunday morning.
Next stop, Ricardo's Fish Tacos.
To me, Tacos Baja Ensenada (TBE) is not just one of the best fish tacos in town, it's one of the best L.A. dishes, period. Out-of-town guest good. So when I read about Ricardo's on Chowhound, I was instantly intrigued and since Scoops was nearby (see below), as well as my wife's aunt, we decided to make it a two-fer (which turned into a three-fer) and hit up Ricardo's.
First off, really, really nice dude. So much so that you really want to love his tacos because he seems like a super affable guy who makes fish tacos on weekends (he's a florist during the week) just out of love for fish tacos.
We got there around noon, no line at all, and he started making the tacos from scratch. Ricardo explained that, when he first started making these for himself, he'd drive down to Ensenada and pick up angelito shark, which is the traditional ingredient. But that got too expensive and so a friend of his who worked at a fish distributor took him to the market so he could find a replacement and he settled on - if I heard him correctly "Vietnamese bass." I might have heard that wrong since I'm not really aware of what fish this might be (and neither is google) though it could be a Vietnamese striped-bass but I'm no angler. In any case, he though the consistency of the fish was close enough to the angelito shark to sub in.
The problem that afternoon was that Ricardo was running out of fish (which I did find strange since it was only noon-time); he was waiting for a friend to drop off some more but they were running late. And so because I was ordering five tacos, plus there was someone else in line who wanted two, he had to ration out what he had and the tacos were slightly smaller than normal. He was apologetic and only charged us $2 per taco instead of the normal $2.50 which I thought was quite gracious.
As for the taco...I thought it was good. Very good. I can't say, however, that it was better than TBE or even Hole Mole (which I hit up in Long Beach) but that's mostly because I only was able to eat one single taco and probably would have needed a 2nd or 3rd to really get a sense of what Ricardo was serving and try to compare it, in my memory, with what TBE and Hole Mole's are like. It had all the right ingredients going for it though: a tasty batter, crisp cabbage, that white sauce, his own pico gallo and a nice, spicy salsa to go on top. The flavors were solid; the only thing I really was trying to get more of was the "crunch" of the taco itself. This tasted just a bit soft - not quite soggy but there wasn't a definitive crunch for me when I bit in and these were fresh-from-the-fryer tacos. Maybe they came out of the oil too soon? I can't say for certain but as much as I really liked Ricardo, I'm just not ready to claim, "best baja-style fish tacos in L.A." yet. I just wish he hadn't run out of fish!
This all said: I absolutely think baja taco fans should take a trip and try for yourself.
Previous CH post on Ricardo's: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/623881
Next stop, Intelligensia/Cheesestore.
I needed a drink so I stopped by Intelligensia for an ice coffee. Long line but it moved briskly and unlike Huckleberry (yeah, I'm going back on this again), they didn't seem as phased at the overall busy-ness. The guy working the cashier desk managed to make four espressos in the time I was waiting there, but he was so efficient about it, I never felt like I was being ignored and once he was done, he took my order and executed that crisply too. Just an ice coffee but having been drinking a slew of these the past few weeks, I had to say: it was one of the best I had (sorry Portfolio in Long Beach but your ice coffee leaves something to be desired!)
Meanwhile, my daughter was still hungry (she only had a few bites of fish taco) so my wife went to the Cheesestore and picked up a small olive loaf and a big ball of mozzarella. It was a bit pricey - over $7 total - but I had to admit, the bread and cheese were very, very, very good. Some of the best mozzarella I've had in a while and the subtle saltiness and nice, al dente texture of the cheese went well with the bright olive flavor of the bread.
Last stop, Scoops.
Business was brisk - there was a line about 10-15 deep when we got there but once again, they moved people and their orders through efficiently (ahem, unlike Huckleberry. Yes, I'm bitter) with just two people staffing the counter. Alas, HALF of their flavors were gone...not like I probably would have gotten the raspberry/yuzu but I would have liked to try a taste at least. That said, what they had left was solid. Our party got:
*Lemon/lychee sorbet (this was mine and I thought it was quite good and I'm not even a big sorbet fan. My daughter liked it; she had the vanilla chocolate (see below) but exclaimed, "I'm getting daddy's flavor next time!")
*Vanilla chocolate/non-diary (my daughter wanted chocolate and the two options were this and the Guinness chocolate and vanilla chocolate seemed more her speed even if it was soy-based. I thought this was really great. I didn't notice the lack of dairy and the vanilla notes balanced against the chocolate very well. It had a "classic" taste to it).
*Guinness chocolate (the main notes of the Guinness that come through help make this chocolate more of a bittersweet contrast to the sweeter vanilla chocolate. Pretty good)
*Brown bread (I guess they were out of this yesterday but it was back in today and this is quite quite quite good. The crunchy bits add a lovely bit of hard texture to the otherwise softy-softness of the ice cream.
Speaking of which: if I have any beef with Scoops, it's just that I find their ice cream a bit too airy for my personal liking. The flavors are all on-point but I guess I like a nice, dense ice cream and even if this is closer to a gelato, I still thought it was very airy. I didn't find it off-putting at all but again, I like firmer I.C.
Previous CH post on Scoops: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/641079
I was joking to my wife that we should find some place in the SGV for dinner but as it is, her father brought back pounds of fresh albacore and yellow fin from a San Diego fishing trip this weekend so we'll just chill at home with some sashimi grade tuna. Yum.
I've been to stop by the Brentwood Farmers market. I had no idea that have someone making pupusas there. How are the especially in comparison to the pupusas sold at the Hollywood Farmers market also on Sundays? I haven't tried those either. I live in Santa Monica but will make the drive to the Hollywood one if those are better (I usually go to Saturday's SM farmers mkt for my produce).
The pupuseria has been there as long as I've been going (2+ years) but I don't know how it stacks up to other markets. I think they're fine. Nothing stellar but good if that's what you're in the mood for. $3 a pupusa. What IS excellent there is their lemonade. I don't know what they put it in but it's, by far, the best sweet drink available at the Brentwood FM. By the way, if produce is what you want, you should definitely give Brentwood another look. Their market is better, IMO, for fruits (especially) and veggies compared to the both the Virginia Park and Ocean Park markets in S.M.
The fish was probably basa, which is a type of catfish native to SE Asia.
I don't mind the airiness of Scoops ice cream. I just wish it were kept at a colder temperature; I like to take my time eating ice cream, but with Scoops it's so close to melting that I kinda have to scarf it down.