Scratch Bar – Beverly Hills, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Last month, Chef Phillip Frankland Lee caused a positive stir in my industry by announcing that he would offer any back of house (BOH) employee a free six-course tasting menu throughout the month of February and 50% off for any accompanying guest or additional food ordered. This meant a lot to line cooks like me who make little money (or took a severe pay cut) in order to pursue their passion in the culinary field. He called it Back of House Appreciation Month and boy did I feel appreciated!

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Our romantic date night started off with drinks: Martin had the Piraat Belgian ale, which reminded him of his favorite Trappist ale, Chimay. I selected the Supplies! – a cocktail of unfiltered sake, pineapple, and lemon. It was so good that I had two. It was so refreshing and reminiscent of something I’d want in my hand as I lay out tanning by a pool.

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Scratch|Board – smoked goat cheese, gravlax, air dry cured beef, pork pate, beet dijon, prunes, pickled onions, house sourdough. The pork “pate” was SO GOOD. It was not a country pate but rather bore more resemblance to the headcheese terrine i made during my time at Waterloo & City. And the beet dijon? Our server Mark phrased it profoundly accurately — “The beet dijon is money!” Get this.

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Course 1: Green Mussel and Sea Urchin Sake Shooter – I usually don’t like being told how to eat my food, but this shooter was a fun exception. First, eat the pick with ceviche green mussel, pickled onion, and serrano. Then, shoot the unfiltered (nigori) sake and lemon. Finally, spoon out the uni and avocado mousse at the bottom. Delicious!

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Course 2: Pork Belly & Raw Oyster – braised (?) pork belly topped with raw oyster and coconut-chamomile foam with chamomile dust. This single bite was a surprisingly hearty rendition of surf & turf.

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Course 3: Roasted yet Raw Prawns – raw prawns topped with a lime and fish sauce (?) vinaigrette, toasted nuts, and shaved smoked white onion. It tasted exactly like the meat served in the Vietnamese vermicelli bowls (bun thit nuong) that I grew up eating. The super charred nuts gave the dish a pleasant “roasted” flavor even though the shrimp themselves had not been cooked at all.

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Course 4: Blackened Cauliflower – cauliflower puree, roasted cauliflower, lemon, chip made from cauliflower stems. This dish is 100% vegan which is unbelievable because the puree tasted so rich and silky that I thought it had to be mounted with obscene amounts of butter and/or cream. Martin loves cauliflower so this homage was perfect for him. We were pleasantly surprised to find bits of romanesco in there as well.

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Course 5: Prime Hangar Steak – mashed potato puree, roasted asparagus and mushrooms, sugar blistered cherry tomatoes. OMG THE TOMATOES. So freaking sweet and juicy. This puree was smooth and decadent as well, though with the help of animal fat, and the steak was a perfect medium rare.

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Course 6: Dark Chocolate & Cayenne Candy Bar – sugar cookie, cayenne-infused dark chocolate, raspberry jam, house made whipped cream, chia seeds. The cayenne aroma was intoxicating and I was worried it would be too spicy for Martin, but the spice was barely perceivable on the palate. Beautifully composed.

At this point, Mark came back to our table to see if we wanted to order any additional supplements. “Didn’t we just have our dessert?” I teased. As if he had read our minds, that’s when he pointed out the savory-but-sweet foie gras s’mores.  Why not?

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Foie Gras S’mores – cinnamon-nut “graham cracker,” seared foie gras, house made marshmallows, tangerines, tangerine vinaigrette (?), chives. Sweet, savory, sour, bitter, plus just the right amount of fatty (I know that’s not one of the “tastes”). Sure it’s not a conventional dessert but it was still a worthy way to end our meal.

Thank you again to Chef Phillip Frankland Lee for this opportunity to spend $100 on a dinner that would have easily cost (and rightfully so) $200-300. It was a dinner that we will not soon forget.

#DropFlavorNotBombs

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Check out Scratch|Bar: scratchbarla.com

111 North La Cienega Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

See their Yelp reviews here!

Mon Ami Gabi – Paris, Las Vegas NV

Food Adventures, Las Vegas

While wandering the Strip, one can’t help but notice the towering Tour Eiffel, a 1:2 scale replica of the iconic Parisian monument. And ever-bustling with throngs of diners, there’s that one restaurant situated right in the front of the hotel, with an excellent view of the fountain show at the Bellagio across the street. That one restaurant, one we’ve walked past and thought “We should go there someday” many a time, is Mon Ami Gabi. Self-described simply as a classic French bistro, Mon Ami Gabi turned out to be an excellent brunch spot that’s totally worth the hype (though perhaps, not the consistently long wait for patio seating).

What's a classic French bistro without a fresh baked baguette?

What’s a classic French bistro without a fresh baked baguette?

We were open to seating options so we were seated right away. (I overheard that a patio table would be at least a 30 minute wait, and it was not a particularly busy day in Vegas!) We lucked into a table in the enclosed sunroom; with the chilly weather outside that day, I think we got a great spot! Be warned – the main indoor dining room did seem a bit dark for daytime dining, though I’m sure it would be romantic for dinner or supper.

Chicken Liver Mousse Pate

Chicken Liver Mousse Pate

We wanted to try so many of the tempting dishes on the menu but restrained ourselves to a few selections to share. First, the chicken liver mousse. We Californians miss our foie, so we were excited to indulge in its rich decadence. The burgundy red wine mustard added a great acidic punch to cut through the fat, though the buttery brioche would have none of that! The pate was firm yet spread easily over the toast… La belle vie!

Closeup on the Toast and Pickles

Closeup on the Toast and Pickles

We love charcuterie and found this to be a wonderful way to start our morning!

Oysters du Jour

Oysters du Jour

A well-timed respite from the fattiness of our first starter, a half-dozen of the day’s shucked oysters arrived just as we popped the last bites of brioche into our mouths. I forgot to ask where the oysters were from, but they were a great balance of sweet and briny… not particularly special but certainly fresh and enjoyable.

Mussels Mariniere

Mussels Mariniere

Martin and I have been on a mussel kick lately. After exploring the vast selection at Meet in Paris and making our own marinere style at home, we still could not turn down the opportunity for more. These mussels were quite sizable and, though the menu description listed white wine and herbs, were drenched in a good amount of butter. But if you ask me, it’s not French without butter!

Frites

Frites

We shared the full order, adding frites to make it our favorite moules frites. Their signature hand-cut fries were thin and wide, a shape that yielded an awesomely unique texture. The middle was almost chewy, and the edges were golden and crispy. I really enjoyed them! (I can only imagine how delicious they would be as part of the house specialty steak frites.)

Seafood, butter, wine... it's the good life.

Seafood, butter, wine… it’s the good life.

So this may not necessarily be hangover food quite like Earl of Sandwich, but if you’re looking for a brunch hot spot with satisfying food, an excellent view, and a taste of the leisurely French lifestyle, come sample the offerings of Chef Terry Lynch at Mon Ami Gabi. The menu looked impressive and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface (escargots, duck confit, and tartines also caught my eye). Á votre santé!

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Check out Mon Ami Gabi: monamigabi.com

Paris Resort & Casino
3655 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

See their Yelp reviews here!

Salumeria Italiana and Regina Pizzeria – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures

Cured meat is one of my favorite afternoon snacks. I think I would totally fit in on the streets of Spain where afternoon breaks for jamón ibérico are almost as commonplace as a kaffeeklatsch. So naturally, we just had to stop by yet another of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods destinations: Salumeria Italiana, a quaint hole-in-the-wall specialty market known as Boston’s best Italian grocery. After our midday snack, we headed over to Regina Pizzeria, a brick oven pizza joint often voted Boston’s #1 Pizza. After yet another North End adventure, we wandered back to our hotel, full and oh so satisfied.

The Cured Meat Display at Salumeria Italiana

The Cured Meat Display at Salumeria Italiana

As we stepped through the doorway at Salumeria Italiana, we were immediately greeted by a friendly older gentleman. The tall shelves of dried pasta packages, cans of San Marzano tomatoes, and bottles of oils and vinegar were amazing. After the initial shock, we made our way over to the deli case of cured meats. We drooled, we pondered, and finally, we decided. One 1/4 lb, the shop minimum, each of prosciutto crudo di San Daniele (aged 16 months) and the coppa di testa.

The Cheese Display at Salumeria Italiana

The Cheese Display at Salumeria Italiana

While waiting for our cured meats to be sliced and packaged, we browsed the impressive selection of cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, and goat’s milk cheese. The refrigerated case shares space with a wide variety of olives – green, black, and everything in between.

Coppa di Testa

Coppa di Testa

We took our score over to the North End Park and enjoyed our meaty treats on a park bench. First up – the coppa di testa, a head cheese made with assorted pig face parts. The beautiful mosaic (as their website refers to it) consists of gelatinous bits of ear, tongue, cheek and other parts of the pig’s face… literally. But don’t be frightened off by the description. Each paper-thin slice melted in your fingers with the delicate fat and the varying texture meant that each bite was a new experience. Delicious!

Prosciutto di San Daniele

Prosciutto di San Daniele

And of course, we had to get some prosciutto. They had a half dozen types, but we decided on this one. According to the website: The area of San Daniele has the ideal micro-climatic conditions for producing this Prosciutto, which has a pronounced aroma, and a sweet and delicate flavor. Smoky and sweet, this prosciutto was a winner. All I needed was a glass of wine and maybe a handful of cornichons to make the picture complete.

Regina Pizzeria - House Ginger Ale

Regina Pizzeria – House Ginger Ale

Next stop – Regina Pizzeria. We went to the North End location, the original among over 20 locations today. We were warned on via foursquare tip of the terse interactions with our waitresses, so at least we were prepared for less-than-warm service. The food, we hear, is worth it.

#10 - Margherita Pizza

#10 – Margherita Pizza

We shared a #10 – Margherita Pizza with fresh basil. The menu describes it as Something simple – Tomato sauce, fresh chopped basil with Mozzarella and Pecorino Romano. The beautiful bright green chiffonade basil, the light tomato sauce, the melty cheese, all on a crisp crust – this pizza was pretty darn incredible. The pizza arrived piping hot, the cheese melted in long strings, and the light amount of sauce meant that our toppings stayed on the slice instead of sliding off.

#10 - Margherita Pizza (another angle)

#10 – Margherita Pizza (a closeup)

At $18.99, the large is indeed large. We ended up taking a few slices with us in a box. The venue itself was decked out in bright red tables, wooden benches, and assembled pizza boxes piled high… the iconic pizzeria. The fountain sodas seem to flow endlessly. We could definitely see this as a great place to take the kids, celebrate a fun occasion, watch a game at the bar, or order takeout for a movie night at home. All 21 locations offer pickup or curbside service, and some of them even offer delivery to your door. At 4 stars over 600+ reviews, this North End location is doing the best on Yelp and we think you should check it out and taste it for yourself!

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Check out Salumeria Italiana: salumeriaitaliana.com

151 Richmond St
(between Bakers Aly & Hanover St)
Boston, MA 02109

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Check out Regina Pizzeria: reginapizzeria.com

11 1/2 Thacher St
Boston, MA 02113

See their Yelp reviews here!

C is for Charcuterie – Waterloo & City, Culver City

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Date night – charcuterie at Waterloo & City, our favorite local gastropub! So what is charcuterie? Well the first thing I did was look up how to pronounce this fancy French word before I went to the restaurant and made a fool of myself (although Martin was quick to point out that I pronounced basil the American way (BAY-sil), thus losing the punny rhyme in the name of my drink – the BAH-sil DAZzle). But I digress. shar-KU-te-ree is all about meats. Cured meats, pates, terrines, sausages… I prefer the salty, smoky flavors while Martin is partial to the buttery richness of a good liver pate. Sharing the “prince” charcuterie platter made for a super filling dinner between the two of us.

We almost went for the “king” platter, which features all of the many, many varieties of terrines and pates Waterloo has to offer, but the prince was more than enough for us! It arrived like royalty on a beautiful wood plank. We selected three: the duck & walnut, rabbit & pistachio, and pork & truffle. The prince also comes with the chicken liver mousse and a small pile of cured meats. We couldn’t wait to dig in!

Prince Charcuterie – selection of 4 pates/terrines/mousses

The prosciutto was my favorite of the cured meats – it was deliciously salty and fatty. It also reminded me that I would love to one day try iberico ham in Spain. They’re so big on charcuterie, they take iberico ham breaks in the middle of the afternoon rather than coffee breaks!

Cured meats – the prosciutto was awesome

I was apprehensive about trying one of Thumper’s brethren, but this terrine was not as gamey as I expected. The pistachio flavor went really well with the rabbit.

Rabbit and pistachio terrine

This chicken liver mousse was too buttery and rich for my taste, but Martin’s eyes lit up as he slathered the pate on the toast slices.

Chicken liver mousse

The duck and walnut terrine was one of my favorites; even though I’m mildly allergic to walnuts, I took a chance on this terrine and was very pleasantly pleased! It went really well with the chutney.

Duck and walnut terrine

The most amazing part was the cute little mason jar filled with pork and truffle goodness. We were confused by the clear layer on top, but a quick consult with the menu reminded us that it was a madeira jelly. Yum! It was meaty and creamy without being too rich.

Pork and truffle pate

After such an indulgent dinner, we still had to make room for what may be our favorite dessert in Los Angeles: Waterloo’s bourbon glazed doughnuts! The little balls of dough are fried fresh to order, perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The glaze is just sweet enough to stand on its own, but definitely try the raspberry jam or housemade custard that accompany them for some interesting flavor profiles.

Sinfully delicious bourbon glazed doughnuts

Nothing like enjoying a summer date night out on the patio with good food, good company, and excellent service.

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Check out Waterloo & City: www.waterlooandcity.com

12517 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90066

See their Yelp reviews here.

Follow them on Twitter @WaterlooandCity!

There is onsite valet parking for a few dollars but generally plenty of free street parking as well. Happy Hour is from 5-7pm but we prefer dining out on the patio for dinner.