Friday, August 14, 2009

Pizza and Wine Night

Recently we went to our friends for a pizza and wine night where we thought it would be fun to put the best pizzas in LA against each other. We chose four (clearly there are many more to choose from) including Pizzeria Mozza, Joe's (the new one that opened on Sunset), Cafe Angelino, Melrose Bar & Grill and then a homemade pizza.

The only problem with bringing in so many pizzas in is that you can't really keep them all hot but that didn't stop us!

Here's the full line up:

Pizzeria Mozza: Fennel sausage, panna, red onion & scallions; Prosciutto, rucola, tomato and mozzarella.

Joe's Pizza: White pizza (One of my favorites but would have been better hot); Fresh Mozzarella pizza (also very good).

Cafe Angelino: Proscuitto pizza; Mushroom pizza; Eggplant Pizza (they have amazing thin crust pizza's - very authentic, just what you'd find in Rome).

Melrose Bar & Grill: Thin crust sausage, Roasted Pepper & Garlic; Fresh Mozzarella Tomato & Basil, Mushrooms & Red Onions (This was definitely another favorite); Pepperoni Pizza (very good).

Homemade: Wheat pizza with veggies (this was for those who wanted something a bit healthier...though very tasty).

Can't say I didn't not like any of them though of course there were some better than others. Everyone had their favorites but mine was the Melrose Bar & Grill thin crust sausage.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Love/Hate Relationship

Though our first experience at the famous Italian restaurant Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica was not a pleasant one, due to the rude staff, the food is some of the best Italian in LA. That said, it is generally difficult to bring yourself back once you receive terrible service at any restaurant no matter how good. This was not an isolated incident (we have been back a few times) and we've heard some horror stories with patrons who complained from their experiences there as well. So, here are some words of wisdom. In general, the staff operates with the view that the patron is lucky to be at the restaurant, which can cause some issues for those who put a lot of weight on service. If you can't deal with this (like ourselves) or don't want to take the chance, try to avoid this place. However, if you can tolerate it, the food is worth the trip...just don't complain. In fact, you might even have a pleasant meal if you silently eat your food and politely thank the chef for each dish.

The restaurant is always full with tables, packed like sardines in a can but that doesn't seem to stop the celebrities from showing up. We've seen everyone from Gordon Ramsey dining with the Beckham's (who surprisingly had to stand for 30 minutes to wait for a table) to Mark Wahlberg and Chris Robinson. Needless to say, it's quite the scene.

Our meal the other night was a much more enjoyable experience. Great service and the food as always was incredible. My favorite is the Sweet Corn Agnolotti made with white truffle butter (seriously out of this world if you like truffles). We have found that the pasta truly differentiates itself from other restaurants in its delicacy. It's light, almost fragile, and absolutely melts in your mouth. While the sauces can be rich, this will change the way you think about pasta. My husband's favorite pasta (my second fave) is the Lobster Ravioli in a light marzano tomato sauce. We usually do these as appetizers (they are not intended as main courses and are proportioned as such) though we find ourselves literally licking the plate.

For the entrees, we used to order the veal scallopini with a porcini mushroom sauce which they for some reason took off the menu. However, if you ask for it, they will make it for you (hopefully without any issues). It's a great dis, but it's not the veal that makes it, but the sauce. The restaurant uses marzano tomatoes, porcini & shitake mushrooms, olive oil, onions, parsley and fresh garlic..truly a stand out. This time around I went with the fish special - Branzino (see attached pic). It was pan-seared in olive oil topped with mushrooms and baby artichokes. Was good but nothing great...a bit oily in fact. Once I added A LOT of salt and lemon it really helped.

Overall, we would give the pastas an A+ but with the exception of the veal scallopini, the main courses often fall short. Also, be aware, the menu is priced to break the bank.

We opted to pass on dessert and head back home for some of our dad's home-made strawberry shortcake...everything was created from scratch & actually quite easy to make (ask and we will provide the recipe). It was heavenly!

Giorgio Baldi
114 W. Channel Rd.
Santa Monica 90402


On a recent family trip to Vegas, we went to "Switch" at the Wynn Encore. It sounded like a cool restaurant given that the surroundings change periodically through the night, hence the name "Switch." Additionally, we have heard good things about the food so wanted to give it a shot.

Immediately upon entering, the restaurant began to change. The paintings on the walls began to flip, the glass windows went down into the floor and another type of wall arose to take its place. The colors in the room also changed.

While the concept was pretty cool, the execution fell short. The restaurant increases the volume of the music in an effort to garner the guests attention. This grand show in actuality came across a bit cheesy (we went through about 6 switches throughout the meal). Aside from the place being a bit gimmicky, the actual ambiance is nice. It has a NY feel with a large open dining room similar to what you would see at Cut or STK.

In general, the apps were fantastic. There were six of us dining so we had a chance to really get a feel for the full menu. We started off with the warm goat cheese tomato tart (see attached pic). It came out looking like a mini pizza but instead filled with goat cheese, basil, garlic and scallions - perfectly executed. It was definitely one of the best appetizers. We split the black truffle risotto with mushrooms (a special that night) which was delicious (see attached pic). It needed a touch of salt but came with a generous portion of truffles that went really well with the creamy buttery risotto. The lobster salad with artichoke, asparagus, avocado and truffle vinaigrette was light and refreshing. It was served slightly chilled and went really well with the acidity in the dish (the crisp Sancerre wine we had went perfectly with it). The only disappointment of the apps was the Kobe Beef Carpaccio with arugula-endive salad, crisp parmesan and salsa verde (see attached pic). You usually can't go wrong with this type of dish, but was a bit fatty for our liking. That said, this is clearly inherent in Kobe style beef.

Not sure about you guys, but in general we tend to get very excited following great appetizers only to find disappointment in the main courses. This is where Switch delivered, as all the main dishes seemed to beat expectations. We had the pan-roasted Branzino with morel mushrooms and artichokes in a beurre blanc sauce. This was one of the best Branzino's we've ever had. It had so much flavor but still remained a very light dish, despite the beurre blanc sauce. We also had the Grilled Diver Sea Scallops in a pea ver-jus on top of an eggplant ratatouille. Bravo!! My husband had the bone-in NY strip, which came out perfectly with a nice rich Bearnaise sauce on the side. While this steak can go up against the best out there, it was overshadowed by some of the other dishes.
We chose a few sides to go along with the entrees. We went with the Truffle Creamed Spinach, the Vermont Aged Cheddar Mac and Cheese and the Sweet Potato Fries. The creamed spinach, though incredibly rich, was phenomenal. We've had plenty of truffle based dishes but never with spinach. The richness of the cream in the spinach really went well with the truffle flavor. The mac and cheese was solid as well but have had better. As for the sweet potato fries, we cannot say we had any complaints as they were perfectly crispy, but they just didn't seem to fit with the tone of the cuisine.

The wine selection is quite impressive but priced for high rollers in Vegas. We went with a Spanish wine called Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses, Priorat 2006...solid fruit forward wine with hints of chocolate and black cherry. They also have a fun cocktail menu - their lychee martini was terrific!

Rating: 93 (would be higher but docked points due to the gimmickry)

Encore Hotel
3131 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Don't Go Greek in Malibu

We went with a group of friends Saturday night to the Greek restaurant Taverna Tony in Malibu. We'd heard great reviews of this restaurant so we finally decided to do the drive and try it out.

They bring out complimentary bread and dip which we originally thought was their version of a hummus. Turns out it was as dish with avocado, olive oil, puree of garlic and lemon juice. There is a common saying that the best things in life are free...this is one of them. That said, the dip marked the peak of the evening.

We ordered a few different dips to start including hummus, tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, fresh mint, garlic) and melintzanosalata (baked eggplant, sesame oil, garlic, lemon)...all served with grilled pita. The tzatziki was probably the best of the group as the other two were just average. The only app that really stood out was the Flaming Saganaki Cheese (sauteed Kafelograyere flamed with Cognac) which literally came out on fire. While you could taste the alcohol, it wasn't overbearing and was quite delicious. It is also worth mentioning that we ordered the grilled octopus with olive oil and lemon, but it never showed.

For the entrees, we ordered a number of traditional Greek dishes on the menu as well as a few specials. A few of us decided to go with the "fish special" which was the grilled halibut in a tomato garlic sauce. It was rather poor and slightly overcooked. My husband ordered the lamb shank special, braised with sauteed tomatoes and served with grilled vegetables. Unfortunately, the entree came out with a tomato tang similar to brisket. It did not exactly go well with the lamb and was in fact never mentioned in the description of the special, so my husband sent it back. The replacement, a lamb tenderloin slow roasted with herbs, garlic, onions and oregano was well cooked but rather average.

Now get ready for the surprise. The total bill came out to $120 for the two of us, a pretty hefty sum considering we barely drank any alcohol (Greek wine not exactly our style) and suffered through a disappointing expression of high end Greek cuisine. We would have preferred the local $6 gyro to almost anything on the menu here. Overall, the highlight of the night was probably seeing Jeremy Piven on a date with Sophie Monk or the belly dancer that made her way across the restaurant accepting dollar bills as if she was at a gentleman's club.

Rating: 82

Taverna Tony
23410 Civic Center Way
Malibu 90265

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Chef A La Casa"

I sometimes (if not always) think I'm the luckiest girl in the world. My husband is an incredible chef and cooked up the most wonderful meal for our friends last night.

We started off with two crostinis - one with burrata and prosciutto and the other with salmon tartare and creme fraiche. We paired these with a Kistler Chardonnay (one of our faves). We then moved on to a fresh fig and balsamic dish (the best season for figs!).

Then came a pasta course. A pappardelle with crisp prosciutto and peas, which we paired with a bottle of Caymus Special Select 1995.

We then moved on to the main course - a rosemary spring lamb with dijon mustard parsley bread crumbs.

We of course had to save room for
dessert. I tried for the first time a healthier version of a Cannoli. To my surprise, it turned out quite well. The cannoli went perfectly with the Noble Rot, a Tor Kenward wine named after the molding process found in such wines as the Chateau d'Yquem. Tor makes this brilliant effort in extremely small quantities and truly gives d'Yquem a run for its money.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Scallop Burger?

We went back to Umami burger on Thursday night. Chef Adam Fleischman brought out a special Scallop Burger which we had heard so much about. It definitely lived up to the hype. It was an open face scallop burger and was cooked to unique and different (chopped and made into a patty).
The desserts were great as well. They serve ice cream sandwiches from MILK which come in several great flavors such as vanilla bean, mint and coffee toffee. They were an amazing and perfect last indulgence.