Saturday, April 28, 2012

Plan Check


Los Angeles, CA. What have we here? A new American eatery with communal dining and cuisine of intrigue? Or yet another place to dine in Los Angeles saturating the market with American this and that? Luckily, it embodies the former, and sits in LA's "Little Osaka" adjacent to buildings of industry and Japanese eats. Parking is street, put simply, but mind the hour as it can be sometimes difficult to find a space.

Seating expands inside and out, though inside be advised: anyone can join the table, though the servers will do their best to accommodate independent dining. Friends can be made anywhere and in a place that serves unique plates it becomes easy to observe neighboring orders and ask "So, what exactly is that one?" before coming to decision. Items will sound appetizing, but theoretical items may not translate for the taste buds if the orders are examined layer-by-layer. Take it in, look around, ask questions, and eat with an open mind. If the eyes are bigger than the stomach: share plates among the group!

Stuffed Mushroom: roasted portobello, swiss cheese fondue, crispy kale, steak sauce
Stuffed Mushroom - Graphically unappealing but looks were certainly deceiving. The roasted mushroom was topped with swiss, fondue style, enhancing the tang and accented with steak sauce at the base. The 'crispy kale' was mostly decorative, as there was no significant taste adding or taking away from the dish. Each bite held soothing tones, for reasons unexplained, and was warming to the last few bites. A simple share among two to three people or a tasty addition to an individual entree.

Veggie Chips + Avocado Dip: yucca and plantain
Veggie Chips - were easily a favorite and devoured upon arrival. I grew up with variations of plantains and can never seem to stop once I start. A delicate shave and a light fry, each chip was well-cooked and easy to nosh. Yucca is fast-becoming a taste acquired, as I have enjoyed the item in several Brazilian eateries since moving to Los Angeles. The dip accompanying this side dish was a mildly flavored guacamole. Though it did the trick in providing a different texture with the chips, it did not have that 'extra' dash of spice I would have desired.

Chef's Favorite Burger: cheese two ways, bacon two ways, ketchup leather, sunny fried egg, hot sauce
Chef's Favorite Burger - was ordered medium-cooked and brought as requested. In short, the burger was messy: the hot sauce dripped from the corner of my mouth, the bacon broke off onto my plate, the egg yolk leaked with continued bites. The cheese remained adhered to the bun, making up for some of the other bits that just would not stay intact. That aside, it was a fun combo that I certainly got into and the mess I was quickly creating around me spoke very highly of that fact: juicy + crispy = a food party.

Southern Fry: smokey fired jidori chicken, spicy green pimento cheese, duck breast ham, pickles
Southern Fry - was a home-style surprise. The ham, pickles, and cheese were great contributors, but the chicken stood apart. When I crave a fried chicken, I think of my grandmother's crunchy flour-coated chicken, escaping steam, and juicy morsel of chicken heating up my mouth. This chicken fry was so similar that immediately the nostalgic comparison came to mind. The flavors in the exterior were subtly added and the chicken remained succulent and tender - anything but dry. It was a burst of 'good' and that little food party I mentioned previously...continued. 

Sure, it is a bit different, but the spin works at Plan Check. Servers gladly explain the concept and answer questions with utmost courtesy. I have since come back a few times to try their desserts (churros and cream?? yes please!), off-menu items (poutine with pastrami and pickles), and a few other dishes (smokey fried chicken) and all have remained consistently tasty and usually inventive. They make their own pickles, they serve interesting beers and cocktails, but the food is the fun point of interest I will be adding to my restaurant list.

Plan Check
1800 Sawtelle Blvd
West Los Angeles, CA 90025

(310) 288-6500
Friday, April 20, 2012

Cafe Milan


Playa Del Rey, CA. Ever feel like getting away? Heading into a small community, where neighbors are friends, faces are greeted with a smile, and food is served with humility? Ever want to grab a warm or cold cup of coffee and taking a stroll to the beach, salt spray in the air, gulls sounding overhead? Cafe Milan brings together all such qualities, nested in a small plaza in the beachside community known as Playa Del Rey.

I have biked, run, walked, and driven here from various parts of Los Angeles, all to seek out the same sense I have enjoyed each time in the years before. Walking in, the local vibe is experienced readily: cyclists sitting taking rest and weathered skin sharing recent wisdom; local college students filtering out with 'takeout' containers heading to the beach; iced drinks sitting in a cooler to the right, coffee sweeteners adjacent, and next to the counter with a small pastry display and a simple menu fixed overhead. Yup, this place has not changed.

I have come so often that showing images across the menu does not extend the same experience. I have tried nearly everything here and have yet to be disappointed. It is a local spot and feels that way. The staff have always been pleasant and the food has been consistently...comforting. It has been a great place to go for conversation or as a quick stop on the way in or out of town. It is refreshing to see such an eatery thrive and remain relevant in its community. Though I am no longer a local, its charming familiarity has me hooked, and that is what keeps me coming back.

Cafe Milan
205 Culver Blvd
Playa Del Rey, CA 90293
(310) 306-0059
Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chicken Fried Turkey 'Steak'

It may be clear that home-cooked flavors and memorable foods have influenced how I approach cooking - this recipe being a clear example of that little fact. I grew up eating country fried steak in my own home and generally sought it out at restaurants, diners, and dives. The variations I became accustomed to included a pan or deep fried cube-steak with a white or brown gravy, determined by the ingredients available and the locale of the dish. This simple interpretation of one of my childhood favorites keeps the proteins high and the calories low, making for far less guilt!

Prep Time: 15 min
1 Serving

5 oz of Ground Turkey, Extra Lean (99%/1%)
1 Egg Yolk
1/3 Tbsp All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Tsp Black Pepper, Ground
2/3 Tbsp of Canola Oil (absorbed)
use approx. 1/4"of oil from the bottom of the saucepan, 
amount varies

Country Gravy
1/2 Tbsp Canola Oil (or pan drippings)
1/3 Tbsp All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Nonfat Milk
2 Tsp Black Pepper

Chicken Fried Turkey 'Steaks'
Mix ground turkey with egg yolk and season with salt and pepper to taste. Form into two patties. Put  flour on a small plate and mix with black pepper. Press patties into flour to coat each side. Fill medium saucepan with canola oil to coat about 1/4" up from the bottom of the pan and heat to medium to high; with time of frying in several versions, the approximate absorption of oil was 2/3 Tbsp for both 'steaks'. Once heated, sprinkle a little flour into the pan or put the handle of a wood spoon, oil will bubble around either - oil is ready. Fry until golden on each side, a little over two minutes each. I thinned out the patties to ensure the 'steaks' were fully cooked.

Country Gravy
Made just as simply as the steaks: Heat pan drippings or canola oil in a small saucepan on medium. Whisk in flour until thickened and slowly add in milk, continuing to whisk until smooth. While mixing, add in pepper, and a little hot sauce if you want the spice. Spoon over 'steaks' and enjoy!

Chicken Friend Turkey 'Steak' Nutrition Info (2 Steaks):
Calories 296, Total Fat 15.7g, Sat. Fat 2.9g, Cholest. 278.5mg, Sodium 95.7mg, Carb. 2.6g, Fiber 0.1g, Sugars 0.1g, Protein 35.5g

Country Gravy Nutrition Info (1/3 Cup):
Calories 110, Total Fat 7.2g, Sat. Fat 0.6g, Cholest. 1.6mg, Sodium 36.2mg, Carb. 8.8g, Fiber 1.2g, Sugars 4.2g, Protein 3.5g
Monday, April 09, 2012

Stella Rossa Pizza Bar - NOW: Stella Barra


Santa Monica, CA. A favorite eat done pretty right. The smells of familiar Italian cuisine emanated from the storefront of this little shop. A pizza bar? What is this? The dim lighting, wooden interior, high-top and bar-seating options makes this a uniquely, nice addition to the streets of Santa Monica. My friend and I stopped inside and sure enough there was a pizza eatery at play.

My friend and I sat at the pizza bar to watch the pizzas being crafted with a close-up view of the pizza-making process. It was interesting to see staff focused on their work, despite the row of eyes watching their every move in preparation. In newer pizza spots, menus seem pretty slim and at this place it was no different: a one-pager. A pleasant manager approached our seat prior to ordering and gave us a few recommendations...funny enough our pizza choice fell on her list.

Bloomsdale Spinach White Pizza - was topped with crispy purple kale, young pecorino, cracked black peppercorn, and organic extra virgin olive oil. In essence, it's a white pizza with 'flare'. The crust was an excellent thickness and crispness and on its own tasty enough to dip in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar passed our way. Shortly after getting our pizza, one of the chefs saw us in 'devour' mode, and suggested we try a little chili oil to enhance the dish - nice spicy addition indeed. It was noted that the pecorino did seem to up the saltiness of the dish. However, the item was delicious still and a solid recommendation from the eatery's manager.

The pizza shop turned out to be a great new find. 'Watch the pizza and eat it too' is literally the model, as the pizza bar offers a great vantage for the pizza-making process.  The service was friendly but not overbearing as staff would stop by and offer up something new gather a few thoughts. Though we stopped in for just a small bite, the looks of the pizzas being crafted and the smells in the air made it quite easy to return, glad we followed our nose!!

Stella Rossa Pizza Bar
2000 Main St
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Wednesday, April 04, 2012

C'est Si Bon Bakery


Newport Beach, CA. When meeting up one morning, we decided to try something along the pastry and sweet side. No complaints with that one! C’est Si Bon Bakery had a number of pastries, tarts, cakes lining the front display, and breads lining the back. Times of the latest baked loaves are shown clearly above the racks so customers can get their preferred 'best.' Waiting in line, with indecision aplenty, we stared at the case wondering which item we were craving this particular day.

Croissants (Plain, Almond, Chocolate) - When asked directly, the cashiers agreed that croissants were the top picks of this particular shop, so decidedly, three were tried: almond, chocolate, and plain. Though the general taste was "alright," the filling of the almond and chocolate was minimal (clearly seen by the thin layer of paste or chocolate pieces visible even before biting). The plain croissant was distinctly different than the others with its fluffy and buttery quality. Each bite held a similar reaction "Mmm," warranting some leftovers to play host to a sandwich the next day. It became understood the clear focus seemed to be on the croissant itself.

Cinnamon Twist - was served heated and remained delicious throughout its consumption. The cinnamon layering was consistent in the pastry and the light dusting of powdered sugar sweetened the mouth. This sweetness along with the flaky, buttery nature of the twist married nicely: it was like eating a french toast themed croissant. It was certainly not too much for the tongue and rendered the morning as 'a great start.'

The little shop had a steady flow of business during our visit and there seemed to be a youthful and helpful group of employees for the undecided. Once one was engaged, personal likes and dislikes of the latest baked goods were freely told. To drink along the walk away, we opted for an iced tea, a blend of pomegranate and green, giving us something icy to balance the warmth of the southern California sun. For our pastry fix in Orange County, this place hosted buttery baked treats and a rather good decision for the start of the day!

C'est Si Bon Bakery
149 Riverside Ave
Newport Beach, CA 92663
(949) 645-0447

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