Westside Tavern – West Los Angeles

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

When Martin and I go out, more often than not, food is the main event. We don’t plan to go anywhere afterward; we simply enjoy our dinner and each other’s company. If we have the luxury and opportunity, a tasting menu consisting of a dozen courses would be our idea of date night. But sometimes, you’re in the mood for the oldie but goodie – dinner and a movie. That’s where Westside Tavern comes in.

Foreground: Sazerac Old Overholt Rye Whiskey | Simple Syrup | Bitters | Absinthe Mist (Background: Iced Green Tea)

Foreground: Sazerac Old Overholt Rye Whiskey | Simple Syrup | Bitters | Absinthe Mist (Background: Iced Green Tea)

Situated in the heart of the Westside Pavilion, a few short miles down Westwood Boulevard from our alma mater, Westside Tavern is built to accommodate the patrons of the adjoining Landmark Theater. The service is quick, friendly, and efficient, and the food comes out with plenty of time to spare even if you’re trying to squeeze in a three-course meal before a show (guilty as charged). With my recent career trajectory, and given the personal recommendations I had received, we decided to see Chef (GREAT movie, by the way). To whet our appetites for the food-themed movie, we decided to indulge.

Appetizer: Jar of Chicken Liver Mousse - Green Apple Chutney | Grilled Sourdough

Appetizer: Jar of Chicken Liver Mousse – Green Apple Chutney | Grilled Sourdough

Appetizer: Jar of Chicken Liver Mousse – Green Apple Chutney | Grilled Sourdough

It’s no secret on this blog that we love all things charcuterie, so when a place offers chicken liver mousse, you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll be ordering it. The adorable glass jar of paté was topped with a wine-red gelée (I couldn’t identify the flavor as it was vaguely sweet but overpowered by the liver). I really enjoyed the crisp and tart chutney; when I had read the description on the menu, I expected a more jam-like cooked chutney but was pleasantly surprised by this fresh pickled salad of sorts. The grilled sourdough was delicious and unique “paté carrier” in lieu of regular old toast. I am incredibly biased with regard to the paté itself, however, and while it was good, it just did not live up to the hype of the many positive reviews I had read (see Yelp and other forums). The primary thing for me was the color; I could not get past the gray hue of oxidized livers.

Entree: Butter Poached Lobster Roll on Brioche

Entree: Butter Poached Lobster Roll on Brioche

Entree: Butter Poached Lobster Roll on Brioche

When we went to New England last spring, I learned that there were two competing camps of lobster rolls: Connecticut-style (tossed in hot, drawn butter) and Maine-style (served cold in a mayo-based salad). I am in food-love with the hot, buttery CT-style and jumped at the chance to have one here, despite the $19 price tag. A crispy, toasted, split-top brioche roll packed to the brim with succulent knuckle and claw meat… I was in cholesterol heaven! They say money can’t buy happiness, but Westside Tavern managed to name a price. $19. All things considered, not a bad deal for buttery bliss.

(Martin had the Wagyu Beef French Dip – Smoked Onion Vinaigrette | Horseradish Cream | Thyme Jus | French Roll. He dug in too quickly for me to snap a photo but seemed quite happy with his hot, meaty sandwich swimming in hearty jus.)

Dessert: Warm Sticky Toffee Cake - Mascarpone Cream

Dessert: Warm Sticky Toffee Cake – Mascarpone Cream

Dessert: Warm Sticky Toffee Cake – Mascarpone Cream

There’s ALWAYS room for dessert, and when at a pub with “tavern” in the name, you just can’t pass up the sticky toffee pudding! It has been said by others and I will say it again here: the sticky toffee cake at Westside Tavern is HUGE. Like “bring all of your friends and share” huge. The cake was warm and spongy, the toffee sauce sweet and syrupy, and the quenelle of mascarpone cream was the perfect light and airy touch. We regretted not being able to finish it all then and there.

So as I mentioned earlier, our server was great at timing our courses so that we could eat without feeling rushed but still get our meal served in time to run upstairs and catch the movie. We allotted an hour and a half before our scheduled movie time and it worked out perfectly (the less ambitious could probably plan for an hour flat). Overall, it was certainly the best dinner-and-a-movie experience that I can recall!

And speaking of movies, if you haven’t seen Jon Favreau’s Chef yet, I highly recommend checking it out. The kitchen humor especially is hilarious and hilariously accurate, while still being an enjoyable and relatable movie to viewers in and out of the industry alike. And for those who have seen it, I leave you with two words: hush puppies.

———————

Check out Westside Tavern: westsidetavernla.com

10850 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

See their Yelp reviews here!

Advertisements

Dreaming of Sushi

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Back in March, we snagged tickets to one of the two showings of Jiro Dreams of Sushi on its opening night at The Nuart in West LA. I know this entry is long overdue (the screening was on March 16th!), but it was such a great experience I wanted to share anyway in hopes that you, our dear reader, will be inspired to go track down a showing and check it out. It is definitely a movie worth seeing.

Source: Magnolia Pictures

We started our date night by having dinner at the nearby Aki Restaurant. In keeping with the sushi theme, I had a bowl of chirashi sushi for my entree, while Martin opted for a grilled chicken teriyaki platter. I had hoped that it would stave off the inevitable salivating to ensue while watching the documentary… alas, to no avail. After the movie, I was still craving sushi just as much as I was before dinner.

Chirashi to fit the mood of our sushi-themed date night

By the time we arrived at The Nuart, a long line had gathered — it seems many West Los Angelenos had heard about this premiere and came out despite the less-than-ideal weather. Every person in line seemed pretty excited; I know we were, especially after seeing such a compelling trailer. David Gelb himself stood on stage and briefly introduced the documentary just after everyone had found their seats. It was clear that he was passionate about this project and quite proud of it (with good reason).

At the Nuart!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an incredible and beautifully directed documentary. It not only features stunning and mouthwatering images of some of the freshest sashimi-quality fish you’ll probably ever set eyes on (although there IS plenty of that!) but it also gives insight to the life of the world-renowned sushi chef Jiro Ono – his devotion to his craft, his ever-continuing search for perfection, and his legacy that he will be leaving to his sons. 85 years young, he was awarded three Michelin stars for his restaurant — a teeny tiny hole in the wall sushi bar tucked away in the corner of one of Tokyo’s subway stations. Every single morning, he or his son would rise early to trek over to Tsukiji fish market to find the best picks of the day. Only the best is served, sliced to perfection and laid gently atop just the right portion of rice. Chef Jiro has a true appreciation and respect for his ingredients and it shows in the quality of his work. Needless to say, you won’t find any haphazardly-made California rolls nor their unnecessarily complicated companions here!

Sushi fan or not, I think you’ll find Chef Jiro’s resolve and tireless dedication truly inspiring. I can only hope that by the time I turn 85, I would have found a calling so profound and so meaningful that I find myself just as passionate then as the day I started.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi — check it out!

Long story short – go see it. You won’t regret it!

——————

Check out the website and find a theater showing near you: http://www.magpictures.com/jirodreamsofsushi

Rotten Tomatoes’ critics give the film 98%.

Day One: Seattle – Elliott’s Oyster House

Food Adventures, Seattle

This year for our holiday vacation, the one time of the year when nonprofit and for-profit organizations alike are more generous with approving Paid Time Off, Martin and I decided to take a week off to travel north and really experience winter (we heard LA was having summer in December while we were gone – consider us a bit envious). Our first stop in our One Week, Three Cities series: Seattle.

Jason the Oyster Master of Elliott’s Oyster House

At the recommendation of my friend Rei who had lived in Seattle for a few years during her undergrad at UW, we made reservations for Christmas Eve dinner at Elliott’s Oyster House on the Waterfront. Whenever I dine at a seafood restaurant, my dad’s wise words of “Only eat oysters in months ending in -ber” ring in my head. Luckily for us, it’s DecemBER and we had ourselves an oyster feast!

We started with a sampler dozen – four each of the Chelsea Gems, Effingham Inlet, and Kusshi.

Clockwise from the lemon:

– Chelsea Gem Oysters: The menu says these are considered one of finest in world and we could see why. They were sweet and buttery, with just a hint of brininess.

– Effingham Inlet / Barkley Sound, BC: These were a good size and tasted briny and delicious. My favorite of the night, I dare say.

– Kusshi / Vancouver Island, BC: We came to the consensus that this one is like the awkward little brother that can’t decide whether to be sweet or briny.

The oysters come with the option of a traditional cocktail sauce or the housemade champagne mignonette, which I definitely recommend. Elliot’s serves it as a sorbet, so you get a fruity, icy element atop the briny bivalve. Yum! They also recommend pairing the oysters with the local favorite Chateau Ste. Michelle chardonnay, but I opted for the riesling from the same winery in hopes of a sweeter wine and it did not disappoint!

We also got some of the hot appetizers as well to round things out.

Top: Crab Cakes, Bottom: Fried Geoduck Strips

The crispy geoduck strips with poppy seed aioli were crispy and nicely fried, but the batter and cooking method drowned out the flavor of the geoduck. I think we’ll try the tartare, the other geoduck item on the menu, next time to get more of its natural flavor. Our other app was the dungeness crab cakes with sweet chili lime beurre blanc and chayote jicama slaw. The crab cakes were deliciously pan seared and consisted of so much lump crab meat that it fell apart for want of breadcrumbs or egg yolk. The sauce was reminiscent of the Asian chili sauce you eat with lumpia, so that was… interesting. The slaw was wonderfully crunchy and contrasted well with the fried dishes.

Round 2 – another half-dozen sampler ($17) – two each of the Totten Inlet, Penn Cove, and Snow Creek.

We couldn’t resist and ordered another half dozen oysters:

– Totten Inlet (WA): Martin described it as a slap in the face of brininess that eventually mellows out sweet.

– Penn Cove (WA): apparently a local favorite. We felt these were well balanced in flavor but they didn’t particularly wow me.

– Snow Creek: We didn’t know what to get for our third oyster so at the suggestion of our server, we asked the shucker to pick! These were a briny surprise from that night’s shucker, Jason. I think they were a bit too briny for Martin but I loved them. They left me with a lingering, ocean-y aftertaste. Mmm…

Sunken Chocolate Souffle

What’s a holiday dinner without dessert? We both spotted the sunken chocolate souffle a la mode and decided to go with that. I suspect they put “sunken” in the name in case it doesn’t rise like a “true” souffle, because our dessert turned out to be a delicious lava cake of sorts filled with dark chocolate ganache and topped with Madagascan vanilla ice cream. A decadent way to end our meal!

Elliott’s prides itself on serving eco-friendly, sustainable seafood. Food aside, the service was top notch, the decor was inviting, and the restaurant itself is easy to find right when you get to the Waterfront. I couldn’t think of a better place for us to celebrate Christmas Eve, and we will definitely come back next time we’re in town!

————————-

Check out Elliott’s Oyster House: www.elliottsoysterhouse.com

1201 Alaskan Way
(between Seneca St & University St)
Seattle, WA 98101

See their Yelp reviews here.

Tara’s Himalayan (updated with photos)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

We recently had the pleasure of finally stopping by a quaint little hole-in-the-wall restaurant just a stone’s throw away from our apartment – Tara’s Himalayan Cuisine on Venice.

When we first walked in, it felt like we had been transported to someone’s grandmother’s house in Nepal. The decor was warm and inviting with many paintings and traditional-looking textiles. As soon as we were seated, we were greeted by a friendly server who warned us we would have to wait for the chai tea. He was only gone for a minute or two and returned with two steaming hot mugs, the aroma of cinnamon and cardamom wafting in his wake. A small packet of Sugar in the Raw stirred into each and we were in chai heaven. Shortly after, a basket of fresh crispy papadum and a yummy chutney (was it tomato?) arrived at our table. It was deliciously seasoned and had a wonderfully crunchy texture. Just from the “table bread” and drinks, we knew were in for a treat!

For our entrees, I picked the bheda ko tarkari (from the website: “Boneless fresh lamb curry prepared with tomatoes, garlic, ginger, onions, and Himalayan spices”) and Martin selected the lamb vindaloo (“Boneless lamb curry served with potatoes and mountain grown herbs and spices”). The curries come with a little terrine of white rice (and more if you ask for it!) but I also added an order of garlic naan. The lamb in both dishes was tender and included some bits of fat and cartilage, which I personally LOVE. My bheda ko tarkari was full of spices and flavor but not particularly spicy, whereas Martin’s vindaloo had a great freshness from all the vegetables and had a little kick to it. We were pretty amazed that the two lamb curries complemented each other quite well; neither were heavy but they definitely had that stick-to-your-ribs comfort food sort of quality. But the naan… oh the naan! Tara’s is definitely not afraid to go all the way with the garlic on their garlic naan. I just had to order a second helping. The naan here is thinner and less fluffy than other places but it’s also much more crispy and it arrives piping hot fresh from the tandoori. Martin enjoyed the rice, commenting that the slight dryness of the basmati allowed it to soak up the curry really well. We concluded that this would become part of our regular dinner rotation.

Just when we thought our dinner couldn’t get better, Tara herself stopped by our table and asked us how everything was. She was very amiable and while I didn’t recognize her initially, Martin correctly guessed that she had to be the Tara. She shared with us her secret recipe for the chai tea we loved so much, one of many recipes in her restaurant that she learned from her own grandmother when living in the mountains in Nepal. It was traditionally brewed with yak’s milk and served unsweetened as sugar was scarce. (Recipe to come.)

Be sure to stop by her restaurant – not only is the food amazing, but 10% of all profits goes directly to supporting children’s education in Nepal! What a delicious way to support such a worthy cause! Tell her Martin & Alice sent you :)

(originally published 9/5/11)

————————-

Update 11/1/11:

A few weeks ago we took my parents here for dinner and were able to try a great variety of dishes, all of which were scrumptious! As soon as we walked through the door (and on subsequent visits when it’s just me and Martin), we are greeted by Neel, the friendly server referenced above. The rule of thumb here is to order one dish/curry per person and share family-style.

Our delicious dinner!

We settled on the tandoori chicken, bhedo ko tarkari (my favorite lamb dish on their menu!), salmon machha ko masu, and their signature dish — yak chili. The first to come out was the tandoori chicken, making its grand arrival on a hot, sizzling cast iron plate.

Hot and sizzling tandoori chicken (pardon the blurriness)

I was already a big fan of the bheda ko tarkari, but the yak chili hit the spot with its chewy jerky-like texture and chili oil sauce. However, the most pleasant surprise of the night was the salmon dish. I think that’s become Martin’s new favorite.

Of course, the meal would not be complete without my absolute favorite component of an Indian (well, in this case Himalayan) meal: garlic naan.

A particularly photogenic basket of garlic naan!

All in all, my parents had a great time experiencing a new cuisine. And with its comforting decor, pleasant service, and delicious food, Tara’s has become a winter staple for me and Martin. :)

————————-

Check out Tara’s Himalayan Cuisine: www.tarashimalayancuisine.com

10855 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034

See their Yelp reviews here.

They are open 7 days/week. Mon-Thurs and Sunday from 12-10pm and Fridays & Saturdays from 12-11pm.

A Docked “Galley” in Morro Bay

Central Coast, Food Adventures

In a recent weekend trip to Morro Bay, we were trying to find a relatively nice sit-down restaurant to dine on Saturday evening. Many of the oceanfront restaurants seemed to cater to tourists and a brief glance of their menus didn’t spark any interest.

After doing a brief search on Yelp!, we decided to check out the menu at The Galley Seafood Grill & Bar and a place to stay at the adjoining inn. Although the inn had booked out along with every inn on that street, the manager recommended we make reservations in advance for The Galley.

The Galley Car

The host, John, was very friendly and took our reservations for 8:30pm. After a few hours of walking around and realizing that Morro Bay is a small retirement ocean-side town that, after the peak summer season, had very little to do, we decided to arrive at The Galley a full hour early. John, who had seen us hovering around over the menu outside deciding in advance what we wanted to order, came out and offered to seat us earlier if other parties had not arrived by 8:15pm. It was difficult not to notice how busy they were despite being in the off-season. We even noticed John turning away other parties due to the number of reservations.

We came back later and by this point, both he and another staff member had recognized us and immediately showed us to our table. We were seated in a corner section in the dimly lit Galley which was frequented by an older and local crowd.

Let’s start with the table bread. Alice and I are both suckers for warm ciabatta and look what they had…mini ciabatta loaves, served with homemade whipped herbed butter.

Mini Ciabatta Loaf

We decided to splurge, ordering up a half dozen oysters that, according to our server Jennifer, came from British Columbia. These things were ginormous, a lot larger than the Fanny Bay varieties served at seafood restaurants in Santa Monica and Venice during happy hour. They were sizable and very briny, delicious.

Oysters On The Half Shell

Alice knew exactly what she wanted for her entree, the Pan Seared Scallops, a Galley specialty. The scallops were moist and perfectly cooked — a beautiful golden sear on the outside, nice and opaque on the inside. The garlic mashed potatoes, made with Yukon Golds, was flavorful and even better with the pan jus drizzled on the plate. The assortment of steamed vegetables were well cooked and nothing was soggy. Bringing a bit of autumn into the kitchen, the “garnish” was a slice of steamed kabocha, wonderfully sweet and starchy.

Pan Seared Scallops

Torn between the Blackened Local Snapper, Pan Seared Scallops, and Rack of Lamb, I asked Jennifer for her recommendation but she made a simple suggestion: get what you crave. Rack of Lamb, rare, was the final verdict. I had to ask her if they would be able to do that because some restaurants refuse to serve lamb rare in fear of diners getting sick, but Jennifer seemed confident that their quality was high enough to serve it however I wanted.

The lamb was amazing, very tender on the inside and seared to a slight crisp on the outside. Again, a very sizable portion with 4 double-ribs. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Kalamata tapenade but that is a personal preference. The garlic mashed potatoes, tucked under the rack of lamb, were a big hit as well but I wish they had given a larger scoop.

Rack of Lamb – Rare

After Alice and I polished off our plates, we finished up with the Grand Marnier Crème Brûlée. I amused myself for the longest time saying the name while waiting for our dessert, it just rhymed so well! (Try saying it out loud, noting that Marnier is pronounced like marn-yay, not mar-nee-er.) I have to say this crème brûlée marginally overtook the Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée we had at Opal in Santa Barbara, which, for its simplicity, was very high in quality. However, the Grand Marnier added an extra citrusy zing that was different from just vanilla beans. Five stars for sure.

Grand Marnier Crème Brûlée

Overall it was a great experience with phenomenal service through the whole night, even before we were seated. The food was excellent and the staff extremely accommodating.  Shout out to John for his amazingness of working to getting us seated earlier than expected and Jennifer for being so attentive to our needs and excellent recommendations. We will definitely be back if we find ourselves in Morro Bay again.

————————-

Check out The Galley: www.galleymorrobay.com/

899 Embarcadero
Morro Bay, CA 93442

See their Yelp reviews here.