1/25/14 Dining Report; Day 2 of 3 in So. Cal (Crave Cafe, Natas Pastries, The Tasting Kitchen, Connie & Ted's, Mother Dough, Ramekin)
Now a 4 hour drive from home a great weekend of dining took place in Los Angeles / Santa Monica when I visited for the dreadful "Stadium Series" Game at Dodger's Stadium. 17 spots over the course of ~66 hours. Full text below, pictures in the blog.
Crave Café - http://endoedibles.com/?p=16027
Staying with a friend in swanky Sherman Oaks, an area of Los Angeles previously unexplored, it was with my standard morning run that the day began and opting to explore the valleys, hills, and neighborhoods by foot thereafter a long walk brought me to 24/7 Crave Café just after 7am – the combined half-marathon morning’s exercise stirring an carbohydrate craving to which the restaurant’s kitchen and bakery were well suited to say the least. A surprisingly large space with kitschy décor, hip but friendly service, and free Wi-Fi plus a 80s soundtrack ranging from Phil Collins to Skid Row it admittedly took some restraint to limit my order given the extensive day ahead but focusing on personal favorites much of what followed was great. Beginning with an Illy Americano at a mere $2 it was with a large roll of brioche bread pudding studded with chocolate and warmed in the oven that I began and with butter, custard, and dark chocolate all well represented the result was amongst the best of its style; praise equally befitting the dense, moist cupcake slathered with thick, semi-sour cream cheese. Enjoying pastry slowly as I awaited my ‘main-course,’ it should be noted that the oft-raved PB&J cookie arrived slightly dry – potentially a leftover from the day/night prior – but served hot from a griddle the cornflake crusted French Toast would suffer no such fate, the bread itself golden with a soft interior and falling short of excellence only due to the artificial maple syrup as I’d have gladly paid a dollar or two more for the real deal.
Natas Pastries - http://endoedibles.com/?p=16255
Continuing my exploration of the local area after breakfast a quick walk down Ventura Boulevard brought me to Portuguese Bakery, Nata’s, and although it was my intention to simply order a few of the signature egg custards those plans quickly disintegrated the moment I walked it the door a found myself face to face with a pastry case of no less than three dozen options, many of which I’d never even heard of let alone experienced firsthand. Featuring a small kitchen with an intriguing dine-in menu and stellar service from the clerk and owner alike it was admittedly with some sadness that I already had brunch/lunch plans and therefore couldn’t stay for the French Toast or Bacalhau and Eggs but opting for a fresh Salt Cod fritter with perfect crisp-gives-way-to-creamy texture and deferring to the experts for a half dozen pastries for later my visit was nonetheless well rewarded at the modest sum of $20 after tax and tip. Speaking to the quality of the pastry while ignoring the bread pudding which was simply not sweet enough for my American tongue each of the other five options would prove to be a novel taste experience covering a variety of flavors and textures from the dense unsweetened cocoa of the pyramid to the sugar gilded Bola, a lightly leavened egg-bread take on the Bavarian, and onward to both flaky tarts – the Nata better than most traditional Chinese takes on the dish with a jiggly unset center and the Pasteis de Feijao featuring a similar crust but dense, nutty crumb replicated and quadrupled in size for the outstanding Morgado.
The Tasting Kitchen - http://endoedibles.com/?p=16259
Located on trendy Abbot Kinney and helmed by Portland pedigreed Chef Casey Lane “The Tasting Kitchen” had always been one of those restaurants falling just shy of my ‘short list’ for one reason or another but with one of my friends consistently raving not only the dinner menu but also the brunch it was to the latter that I finally decided to commit – he, myself and one other friend settling in for a nearly two hour romp through a veritable smorgasbord of locally sourced and stylized cuisine in the open, airy dining room just after 10:30am. Rustic yet upscale with wooden tables and amicable but professional service it would be mere moments after seating that coffee was filled and although the crowd soon swelled to capacity our table was never once left for want, each of the six courses arriving with steady pacing and clean share plates from which to indulge on portions seemingly far larger than modest prices would indicate for such refined cooking and well sourced products. Bearing in mind the terrific reviews of Lane’s work with produce, proteins, and eggs but always one to fancy sweet to savory it was without hesitation that orders were placed and arriving first, as requested, the meal started out of the gate with a stunner – the $29 pastry board without a doubt the best I’ve ever been served; the French toast a custard imbued brioche masterpiece with pure maple syrup, the sticky bun a molten round of yeast and butter with intense sweetness, and the biscuit as good or better than any I had down south while the rest were only slightly less memorable – a high baking standard that would continue to the golden grilled cheese with fresh figs and peppery arugula served alongside a low bowl of warm ricotta with sliced apple and crunchy, honey-tinged farro. Using the cheese as a sort of transition from sweet to savory it was mostly unsurprising that the next trio of plates would prove equally impressive as those that preceded them and while crisp confit with creamy eggs and spicy fried chicken atop a reference standard crunchy waffle were lovely it was the restaurant’s take on the Hangtown Fry that stole the spotlight as briny bivalves popped alongside smoky braised bacon and fluffy eggs with rich mascarpone acting to soften and meld the omelet into something far greater than the sum of its already impressive parts.
Connie & Ted's - http://endoedibles.com/?p=16263
With the Kings/Ducks Stadium Series game facing off at 7:00 and traffic in LA ever-awful it was good fortune that I discovered Providence chef Michael Cimarusti’s take on the classic East Coast seafood shack to be open from lunch through dinner on weekends and rounding up a couple of friends a 4:00pm arrival time found trendy West Hollywood hotspot “Connie & Ted’s” just over half full, free parking and impressive service just two of the many rewards for dining at the off-hour. Featuring an extensive beer list as well as espresso shots pulled to order it was with drinks in hand that we sat perusing the menu amidst the spacious blonde-wood and polished-tile dining area and minding the classics it would not be long before orders were placed, items both raw and cooked beginning to arrive shortly thereafter in a progression of flavors building in heft with each subsequent plate. Clearly the sort of place where quality sourcing pays great dividends in simplistic preparations it should come as no surprise that with a name like Cimarusti at its helm dishes such as live urchin served in its shell with buttered toast, fried clams with their briny bellies, and a 1-lb lobster roll with drawn butter would prove reference standard but moving on to items slightly more open to interpretation it was in the trio of chowders that the quality of the kitchen truly shined; each piping hot with great depth of flavor and complexity, the NE-style a personal favorite but the spicy RI version not far behind and each nicely complimented by both the house-made oyster crackers and the delectable buttered rolls. Never one to leave without dessert, the sweet side of Connie & Ted’s would follow the Northeast trend in serving up both a decent rendition of classic Indian Pudding and an impressive whoopee pie stuffed with huckleberry cream and jam alike, but it was without a doubt the restaurant’s signature Blondie that stole the show as crispy golden edges gave way to a pudding soft center gilded with rich vanilla ice cream and thick salted caramel – the perfect accoutrement to a second iced espresso ending a meal that happily lived up to traditions and expectations established nearly 3,000 miles away.
Mother Dough - http://endoedibles.com/?p=16267
Located on Hollywood Blvd in Los Feliz and open until 11pm it was to highly regarded pizzeria Mother Dough that I pointed my GPS as I sought solace from another Kings defeat and with good fortune and light traffic the four mile drive passed quickly, a seat directly next to the pizza counter and enormous wood burning oven mine for the taking just fifteen minutes later. Claimed by some to be the best Neapolitan pizza in Los Angeles it was admittedly with a bit of surprise that I found the long and narrow space empty save for one couple at the time of my 10:15pm arrival but with a quiet atmosphere and superlative service perhaps it was a blessing in disguise as I was able to chat with the staff while watching every second of my order’s careful creation from hand stretching of the box-leavened dough to a final drizzle of olive oil atop drapes of buttery prosciutto applied at my request to just one half. Truly a dazzling pie with light tang and great chew beneath subtle char it should go without saying that the ‘dough’ is firmly thrust in the spotlight, as it should be with any pizza, but with a sauce flavored only of pure tomato and light basil plus lightly briny cheese one would be hard pressed to call any aspect of the pie less than perfect, the $17 masterpiece consumed in short order and followed by an equally simple and thoroughly delightful dessert of pears flamed in a cast iron skillet close to the wood; the smoke and char proving an admirable foil to the boozy Nutella-esque tones of Frangelico, mascarpone, and dark cocoa – an $8 tab worth every penny and excellent consolation for the disaster at Dodger Stadium just hours before.