Summer Days: Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles
Rainbow of Paletas at Mateo's Ice Cream and Fruit Bars

Rainbow of Paletas at Mateo’s Ice Cream and Fruit Bars

HAPPY JUNE from us here in sunny southern California!

The days are longer, the sun is shining brighter, and the weather is just screaming for (what else?) ICE CREAM! I had had Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars bookmarked on my list of places to check out for years, all the way back when we still lived in Palms. Now we live in Del Rey, which is right around the corner from this unassuming strip mall off Sepulveda Boulevard near Lucerne. A flourescent orange length of retail with a giant laundromat anchor, you just can’t miss this spot. Mateo’s is squeezed in all the way in the corner.

The storefront is tiny but boasts brightly colored signs depicting fruits both familiar and exotic. It looks and smells like walking into a giant cornucopia, in a good way. The case of ice cream features flavors I’d never seen elsewhere like mamey, smoked milk, and horchata with walnuts. Making our way further into the store, we find the paletas — Latin American fruit-based ice pops (or popsicles). The paletas are arranged in a rainbow, with pink and red strawberry (including a halved strawberry embedded in the middle of the popsicle), golden-colored mango con chile, bright orange-hued cantaloupe, green cucumber con chile, bright alabaster coconut, copper-colored tamarind, and some more sweet-tooth-appeasing creations like chocolate dipped and shaved coconut dusted paletas to finish. It’s an amazing sight, and certainly appetizing on a warm summer day.

Best of all? Each paleta is just $2. TWO DOLLARS. An amazing deal especially for the sheer quantity and quality of fresh fruit that goes into making each paleta. They taste like the ripened fresh fruit is pureed, strained, poured into the molds, and frozen. No frills, no additives. On our first visit, I had the cucumber on chile. I love cucumber desserts, and this one was icy and refreshing with just a slightly salty kick from the chile powder. The main part of the paleta was almost too icy, with the high water content of the cucumber itself, but I definitely enjoyed the bits of diced fresh cucumber embedded throughout. Martin had a creamy, coffee-flavored bar that reminded me of a Fudgesicle in texture. Ahh nostalgia… we knew we were going to come back.

Sure enough, on our next visit I opted for the mango con chile which I enjoyed even more because of its natural sweetness, the soft chunks of ripe golden mango, and the toothsome texture, much less icy than the cucumber one. The chile powder, reminiscent of the packets sold alongside fresh cut fruit by the street vendors, was just spicy enough to feel a subtle kick. Definitely a summer favorite, I know I’ll be coming back specifically for this paleta over the next few months (and beyond — we all know how beautiful the weather is here year-round).

Martin saw the cantaloupe paleta in the display case, one of his all-time favorite fruits and a new addition for the summer season, and just had to have it. He shared only a small nibble, but I could taste how sweet yet refreshing it was. Like a frozen agua fresca, that paleta embodied the purest essence of cantaloupe. It was so freaking good.

Our only regret is not giving this place a try sooner, but now that we’re in the know, you can bet we’ll be coming back and telling all of our friends (starting with you dear readers!). Happy summer indeed.

Plenty of Paleta Love from NomNomCat!

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Check out Mateo’s Ice Cream and Fruit Bars: mateosicecream.com

4929 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230

See their Yelp reviews here!

Food Pic Friday: Sushi Central (Re-visited)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

First, a personal update for NomNomCat Readers (if you’re just looking for drool-worthy photos on this Food Porn Friday, scroll past this paragraph): WE’RE BACK! Our deepest apologies for our three month long hiatus. For those who are interested, here’s the reason for it — as you may well know, life offline can get in the way of blogging. And boy has 2014 already been a crazy adventure… With this food blog about to celebrate its third birthday, it should come as no surprise that food is a huge passion in our lives. So much so, in fact, that I decided to change my career trajectory to the culinary arts; I currently work in a professional kitchen as a line cook, having jumped head-first into Kitchen Life. Working sixty hours a week in a physically strenuous, mentally challenging, and emotionally stressful environment leaves little time to sit down and write about the latest LA hot spots three times a week like we did before. But I still love to write, and I sincerely missed this forum for communicating my (and our) love for celebrating life through eating and cooking. And so I make this promise to come back with new content once a week. The format will likely be different though; gone are the days of 1,000-word entries. Instead, the focus will likely shift to local food news and events, photos from new and new-to-us dining experiences, and, if we can manage it, make-at-home recipes now and then. Thank you all for your understanding and support these past (almost) three years! We’ll definitely have to do something fun for our blogiversary!

And now for the food.

Back in 2012, my bff S and I celebrated her birthday with affordable but delicious omakase at a tiny hole-in-the-wall in Palms (West Los Angeles): Sushi Central. The sheer variety and quality of the fish and the expertise of Chef Phillip Yi behind the counter blew away all of my preconceived notions about strip mall sushi. Recently, Martin had a sudden and insatiable sushi craving and we decided to pay a visit to this neighborhood gem.

Maguro (Tuna) Sashimi

Maguro (Tuna) Sashimi

IMG_0704

IMG_0705Forgive me, I generally pride myself on being able to remember details about my dishes, but this dinner took place back in March and I have since forgotten which fish above is which. I believe they were halibut, snapper, and sea bream (not necessarily in that order) but please let me know if YOU happen to know and I will happily edit this entry.

Ono (Escolar)

Ono (Escolar), super juicy with a smoky char from being oh-so-briefly torched.

IMG_0710

 

IMG_0712

Liver(?) from the Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Liver(?) from the Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (Live Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (Live Sweet Shrimp)

Broth made from the shells of the amaebi

Broth made from the shells of the amaebi

Crispy Fried Amaebi Heads

Crispy Fried Amaebi Heads

Sushi Central offers my all-time favorite amaebi preparation and I say that with full confidence. Where else could you get a tasty shooter, an umami-rich broth, a well-seasoned piece of nigiri, and a crispy fried head all from one little shrimp? Chef Phillip puts forth a great deal of effort to showcase the beauty that is amaebi and it is certainly appreciated.

Salmon Belly

Salmon Belly

Live Scallop (and the crew - Chef Phillip on the right and Seiji on the left)

Live Scallop (and the crew – Chef Phillip on the right and Seiji on the left)

Live Scallop Nigiri Sushi and Sashimi

Live Scallop Nigiri Sushi and Sashimi

An Artist at Work

An Artist at Work

"Dirty Rice" made from the hinge muscle and innards of the scallop

“Dirty Rice” made from the hinge muscle and innards of the scallop

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver) - my personal favorite

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver) – my personal favorite

Spanish Mackerel - a fishy, oily bite to end our meal

Spanish Mackerel – a wonderfully fishy, oily bite to end our meal

At $100 a head (we originally aimed closer to $50 but added on the live amaebi, live scallop, AND ankimo), it was a splurge for a weeknight meal but definitely well worth the expense. Chef Phillip had even stayed overtime by a full hour just to show off more of his freshest and most interesting fish. Don’t dismiss this place if you’re deterred by the online menu full of California Rolls and Dragon Rolls. Bypass all of those run-of-the-mill offerings, pull up a seat at the counter, and let Chef Phillip do what he does best. You won’t be disappointed.

 

The Factory Kitchen – Downtown Los Angeles

Food Adventures, Los Angeles
fusilli alla amatriciana

fusilli alla amatriciana

Hidden away in the heart of the newly coined “Arts District” that is transforming the grungy old industrial neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles is, believe it or not, a trattoria-style Italian restaurant that just opened in 2013. In a dining room that stays true to its concrete column and exposed ducting “look,” The Factory Kitchen’s menu features a variety of traditional dishes including a selection of handmade pastas.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room

Martin had been here for lunch with his coworkers before and he raved about so much that we decided to dine here for a belated Valentine’s Day meal.

focaccina calda di recco al formaggio - pizzata

focaccina calda di recco al formaggio – pizzata

Starter: focaccina calda di recco al formaggio – pizzata – crescenza, san marzano tomato, capers, anchovies, oregano. Martin suggested that we share a focaccina to start and he let me pick one. Lured by the prospect of anchovies and capers, I selected the pizzata. What is a focaccina? It was unlike anything I’d ever had, but I suppose the best way to describe it would be a very thin, very flaky and puffy flat-bread pizza. The pizzata was lightly sauced with a San Marzano tomato puree and decorated simply with a pair of anchovy loins. But the beauty is in its simplicity. It was so amazing I almost didn’t want to share.

gnocchi malfatti

gnocchi malfatti

Entree (M): gnocchi malfatti – ricotta semolina dumpling, lamb sugo. I’m a big fan of ragu-type meaty sauces (and I don’t mean the stuff in the jar), so I had a feeling the lamb sugo would be a good choice. The ricotta gnocchi were very fluffy but also very cheesy. Martin, who is already a huge fan of potato gnocchi, really enjoyed this dish!

fusilli alla amatriciana

fusilli alla amatriciana

Entree (A): fusilli alla amatriciana – long corkscrew pasta, pork jowl, onion, spicy tomato. I needed only to spot the words “pork jowl” and I knew this would be the dish for me. There’s something inherently comforting about the flavor combination of pork fat and tomatoes, and this tender, fatty pork jowl did not disappoint. Also surprising were the long (VERY LONG) corkscrews; they were like rotini on steroids. So delicious I only wish there were more on the plate!

pannacotta

pannacotta

Dessert: pannacotta – meyer lemon curd, feuillitine crunch, candied zest. Another one of my buzzwords is feuillitine. Did I ever tell you about the time Martin and I made our own crepes dentelle? Now that was an adventure, but a story for another time. This dessert was love at first sight. Silky vanilla panna cotta topped by a thick layer of lemon curd… the combinations of tart and sweet, smooth and creamy… it was heaven on a spoon. I’m also a big fan of candied citrus, so I thought the zest was a great touch.

A wonderful meal, fabulously attentive service, and a taste of Italia in the heart of the industrial district… definitely swing by and check out The Factory Kitchen!

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Check out The Factory Kitchen: thefactorykitchen.com

1300 Factory Place, Suite 101
Los Angeles, CA 90013

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA – Piccolo Venice (Winter 2014)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Though this entry is a bit belated, we have not missed a single DineLA Restaurant Week yet, and this winter, we would have had no excuse as restaurant “week” lasted a whopping twelve days! Winter DineLA is always extra special since it coincides with Martin’s birthday. His selection this year? A quaint little Italian place tucked away at the Venice Boardwalk… where we’d probably walked past at least a dozen times without even realizing it was there. We’re so glad we got to stop by and try their menu; in fact, one of the reasons why we chose this restaurant was that their dineLA menu offered a five course tasting of items featured on their regular menu.

Piccolo Venice

Piccolo Venice

The cozy atmosphere and romantic ambiance makes Piccolo perfect for date night. Candles lighting each table, a beautiful chandelier in the center of the room… Immediately after we were seated, our friendly and oh-so-Italian server brought a basket brimming with warm table bread. My favorite was the fluffy cubes of focaccia.

Table Bread

Table Bread

First Course: We both selected the conchiglie – marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin. What it fails to mention is that the crudo-esque dish arrives in the form of mini seafood “dumplings”, with the thinly sliced scallop resembling a clear hargow wrapper encasing a “filling” of uni.

Conchiglie - marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin

Conchiglie – marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin

Second Course: plin – fontina filled, homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings. I love fresh pasta, though this particular dish was drowning a bit in the salty sauce. Still, nothing a few generous flakes of earthy black truffle couldn’t save. (Did I ever mention that I want a truffle pig? Or perhaps to train one of our cats to hunt truffles…)

Plin - fontina filled homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings

Plin – fontina filled homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings

Third Course (M): neri – squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings. Martin is a sucker for squid ink pasta and he seemed very pleased with the long strands of briny goodness flecked with crumbles of cured fish roe. I was a bit jealous.

Neri - squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings

Neri – squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings

Third Course (A): garganelli – homemade, braised wild boar sauce ragu. From appearance alone, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference from the boar sausage and ordinary ground beef, but one bite of gamy, hearty protein and I was hooked. It paired perfectly with the al dente hand-rolled pasta.

Garganelli - homemade braised wild boar sausage ragu

Garganelli – homemade braised wild boar sausage ragu

Fourth Course (M): tagliata – seared natural australian kobe ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt. It arrived rare just the way he likes it, and the pleasant surprise — cubes of crispy fried polenta! How did they know he loved those?! Super tender, juicy steak – this was a great dish.

Tagliata - seared natural australian ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt

Tagliata – seared natural australian ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt

Fourth Course (A): anatra – pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce. I love a good seared rare duck breast and Piccolo did not disappoint. The meat was tender and was complemented well by the currant sauce. My surprise sides? A dollop of purple potato mash (puree?) and crispy roasted brussels sprouts… some of my all-time favorite side dishes. Again, how did they know??

Anatra - pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce

Anatra – pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce

Fifth Course: chef’s selection of homemade desserts. If you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, TELL YOUR SERVER. We were surprised that the plate arrived on our table without any mention of what the selections were, nor a particularly thorough description of the items. That’s okay for us though; we have daring palates and resilient stomachs. Just thought I’d warn ya.

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel sauce and profiteroles (or, a la Italia, bignole) filled with fluffy dark chocolate mousse.

Bignole filled with valrhona chocolate mousse

Bignole filled with valrhona chocolate mousse

Both delicious palate cleansers and adorable little bites to end the meal. Molto bene!

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Check out Piccolo Venice: piccolovenice.com

5 Dudley Avenue
Venice, CA 90291

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA Winter 2014 – $$$ ($45/person) dinner

Parking near Venice Beach is notoriously difficult. We swallowed our pride and paid for the valet, which shares a parking lot with On The Waterfront Cafe.

Dave & Buster’s Comes to West Los Angeles [Media Preview Event]

Blogging Community, Food Adventures, Los Angeles

[Sponsored] Billards. Draft beer. Giant LED TVs playing the popular sports game of the evening. Fried food. Burgers. Oh, and arcade games. While food and booze are awesome, Dave & Buster’s offers a unique experience previously unavailable on the Westside — namely, skee ball for adults 21+ only. And they found a great spot for their first Los Angeles location — the expansive ground floor suite at The Promenade At Howard Hughes Center in Westchester. The hype has been building since last year, but just yesterday, we were invited to attend a media preview event, joined by hundreds of their Facebook fans to fill the place and make it truly bumpin’ even before the big grand opening on Wednesday, February 19th.

Dave & Buster's Westchester / Culver City

Dave & Buster’s Westchester / Culver City

Conveniently situated between both entrances to the parking structure, Dave & Buster’s is hard to miss with its huge “Eat. Drink. Play.” slogans livening up an otherwise ordinary shopping plaza. We were surprised to see a very long line of eager fans waiting to get a sneak peek of the shiny new location. Luckily, we found the media check-in and were ushered inside expeditiously. We wove through the venue, jamming to More Than a Feeling, and managed to score prime seats at the impressively large bar counter. Michael, our friendly bartender, greeted us and pointed out his favorites on the menu as he poured our drinks — a 22 ounce Blue Moon draft for Martin and a 16 ounce Sam Adams Seasonal (Cold Snap) for me.

Our selections (of the nine available beers on draft)

Our selections (of the nine available beers on draft)

We went with Michael’s suggestion and ordered the Mountain O’Nachos. A mountain, indeed! This was the menu description: Fresh tortilla chips piled high and smothered with spicy ground beef and melted queso, topped with black beans, jalapeños, tomatoes, lettuce, fresh guacamole and sour cream. Serves three to four.

Mountain O'Nachos!

Mountain O’Nachos!

While every point was deliciously accurate, perhaps the most precise statement was the last line. It was WAY too much food for just two people, even ravenous eaters like us. Still, I couldn’t help but continue picking at the crispy chips slathered in cheesy, meaty sauce and scooping up bites of the refreshing guac.

Mountain O'Nachos!

Mountain O’Nachos!

The bar was quickly filling as the patient fans started trickling in. While I admired the twenty plus TVs that surrounded us, Martin counted the number of bartenders (12) all rushing to fill orders and greet guests. The service was surprisingly attentive despite the chaos. Before I knew it, our entrees had arrived. Martin selected the fried shrimp platter – a dozen crispy butterflied shrimp served with a chipotle honey sauce and fries. He was very pleased; I believe the sentiment was, “Fried shrimp and beer? Can’t beat that!”

Fried Shrimp Platter

Fried Shrimp Platter

I decided to go simple with the Buster’s Cheeseburger, rare. The half pound monster arrived topped generously with American cheese on a glistening bun. Sadly, it was definitely overcooked (medium-well to well done) but it was surprisingly juicy in the middle. Their burger meat has a great fat ratio, making for a super satisfying sandwich.

Buster's Cheeseburger

Buster’s Cheeseburger

Martin ordered another Blue Moon while I opted for a colorful cocktail I had spotted on the drinks menu — the watermelon snow cone. A stemless martini glass filled with shaved ice and layered with two different colored mixes (naturally, red and green in the watermelon’s case). The red layer was a mix of watermelon-flavored Smirnoff and sour watermelon mixer (DeKuyper, I believe), while the top was a blend of Midori and Sprite. Super pretty. Super girly. Super tasty.

Watermelon Snow Cone

Watermelon Snow Cone

Our bellies happy, we decided to wander the venue. After all, the best part about Dave & Buster’s (arguably) is playing arcade games without kids running around.

Onward!

Onward!

Skee ball, air hockey, even a giant digitized version of Connect Four. Of course, we looked for one of my favorites, Deal or No Deal, modeled after the game show. And we played a lot of those coin pushing games that had planted themselves firmly in Martin’s fond memories of childhood.

Giant Connect 4 Board Game!

Giant Connect 4 Board Game!

And then fate happened. We noticed free credits on the Pump It Up machine. For those not savvy to the dance (dance) revolution of the early 2000s, Pump It Up is essentially Korea’s answer to DDR. The most notable difference is that the arrows are in the NW, NE, SW, SE, and center positions in Pump It Up, making it exponentially more difficult. We had a great time making fools of ourselves to K-Pop tunes at 130 BPM. But that’s okay. I want nobody nobody but you!

The shiny, shiny coins!

The shiny, shiny coins!

By the end of the night, we gathered up our accumulated tickets and headed to the redemption area. I was suddenly brought back to my childhood visits to Chuck E Cheese and other similar play-and-redeem arcades. Through teamwork, we had earned enough for a big prize. Martin, being the gentleman that he is, let me choose. Of course, this meant that he had to share the passenger seat with a big fat Minion plush.

Our Cuddly Souvenir

Our Cuddly Souvenir

The conclusion? Dave & Buster’s Westchester / Culver City location infuses new life into the Howard Hughes Center. Now we Westsiders don’t have to drive all the way to Arcadia or Orange County or elsewhere to Power Up our D&B fix. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Disclosure: We were not compensated for this post; however, we did receive free food, beverages, and game credits at the event for the purposes of our review. All opinions are our own and were not influenced in any way.

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Check out Dave & Buster’s: daveandbusters.com

6081 Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90045

See their Yelp reviews here!