DineLA – Mistral Restaurant (Winter 2015)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

So first, a quick update: I’m a bit sad to report that Cookie Con was a bust. The event itself was great, I’m sure. It was just such a highly sought-after event that the entry lines wove out into the surrounding neighborhood and the wait was hours-long. We did not miss out completely, however, as the event organizer Nancy was kind enough to send us a small swag package that included The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie from Call Me Cookie (cookies delivered to your door, what?!) and an adorable popsicle necklace from Bakery Charms (so freaking cute I want to collect them all!). Sweet!

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There was one happening that I just had to take part in last week and that’s dineLA Restaurant Week. I met up with a dear friend in her part of town, the Valley, to check out this quaint French bistro for lunch. Situated right on Ventura Boulevard (of course), Mistral has a classy, intimate vibe with warm, inviting service.

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We selected the same appetizer — baby kale and arugula salad, avocado, parmesan shavings, lemon-olive oil. It was a well-composed salad, and I’m an especially big fan of the combination of bitter arugula and fresh lemon. The parmesan added just the right touch of saltiness to season the greens.

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For my entrée, I was pleased to see that the printed menu included an option that I had not seen on the dineLA website — boeuf bourguignon, pearl onions, carrots, turnips, mixed rice. I love a hearty, classic beef stew. The meat was amazingly tender and the wafting aroma of red wine was intoxicating.

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My dining companion chose from the sea — crispy skin imported branzino, red grapes, heirloom cherry tomatoes, sweet basil. It was a beautifully plated dish and I could tell the fish was cooked perfectly.

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They say that great minds think alike, so it came as no surprise that we both selected the same dessert as well — miniature chocolate soufflé. The adorable ramekin arrived piping hot with a molten, airy middle and a nice rise of about one inch above the rim. A smaller ramekin carried its sidekick of creme chantilly. I generally dislike whipped cream so I was surprised to find that this was absolutely delicious, not too sweet, fragrant with vanilla, and certainly not from an aerosol can.

After a leisurely two hour lunch of chatting and catching up, we ate this course in silence, savoring our little moment of bliss accompanied by a cup of hot black coffee for me (green tea for her).

This is the life.

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Check out Mistral Restaurant: mistralrestaurant.com

13422 Ventura Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

See their Yelp reviews here!

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DineLA – Chaya Brasserie (Summer 2014)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

14-LAT-SaveTheDate-Instagram

With each passing season, dineLA manages to make its Restaurant “Week” longer and longer. This summer, hundreds of restaurants across Los Angeles are participating in the 14-day event (July 14-27) featuring prix fixe menus that showcase their best offerings. dineLA feels quite a bit different for me this year, working among the chaos on the other side, but on our shared day off, we just had to participate as diners! To celebrate Martin’s mom’s birthday on our double-date, we selected Chaya Brasserie, just off the main hustle and bustle of Beverly Hills.

Chaya Beverly Hills is a tiny hole-in-the-wall with a gorgeously decorated interior that includes (real!) bamboo plants reaching to the sky. A print of Van Gogh’s portrait hangs on the wall opposite a series of large framed mirrors, opening up the small space and making it seem much less claustrophobic than it would have otherwise been. The white tablecloth-clad tables and attentive but friendly service let us know we were in for a special treat. For just $45, Chaya offers a three course dinner and a wine pairing for an additional $20. Martin opted for it and we shared the 3-ounce tasting pours (a white cotes du rhone for the first course, a red blend for the second, and a sweet riesling for dessert).

Table Bread

Table Bread

Even the table bread was a delicious start — freshly warmed, the crunch of rustic bread with a warm fluffy center, slathered with softened butter. I always appreciate places that take the time to warm their bread, so Chaya was already getting brownie points from me.

Coconut Chili Soft-Shell Crab | Summer Squash, Cilantro.

Coconut Chili Soft-Shell Crab | Summer Squash, Cilantro.

Appetizer (M): Coconut Chili Soft-Shell Crab | Summer Squash, Cilantro. As food lovers we are well aware that it is currently soft shell crab season! I could not believe that Chaya had it on their dineLA menu, and Martin snatched it up, though I made him promise to share. Dipped in a tempura batter, deep fried, and served over a bed of zucchini and yellow squash, the soft shell crab was absolutely succulent with its sweet meat and an oh-so-edible shell.

Tricolor Sashimi Carpaccio | Tuna, Salmon, Tai Snapper, Ooba Pesto, Yuzu Jelly.

Tricolor Sashimi Carpaccio | Tuna, Salmon, Tai Snapper, Ooba Pesto, Yuzu Jelly.

Appetizer (A): Tricolor Sashimi Carpaccio | Tuna, Salmon, Tai Snapper, Ooba Pesto, Yuzu Jelly. I’ll be honest, I think twice about ordering the same menu item as someone else when dining out in a group. Though it was inevitable with a party of four and three menu options from which to choose, I noticed that no one was getting the sashimi. I’m so glad I did because I love yuzukosho and its presence in the ooba (shiso) pesto totally made the dish, aside from the sexy plating of course. Crunchy watermelon radishes, tart yuzu jelly, and an assortment of microgreens were excellent garnishes to the fresh raw fish.

Spicy Lobster Risotto | Edamame, Grilled Corn, Asparagus.

Spicy Lobster Risotto | Edamame, Grilled Corn, Asparagus.

Main Course (M): Spicy Lobster Risotto | Edamame, Grilled Corn, Asparagus. Martin immediately gravitated to this dish and I could see why — the risotto was perfectly cooked (not too dry, not too runny, with al dente rice) and the plating was a show stopper with a massive lobster claw adorning the center of the plate. Don’t worry though — it’s already peeled and ready to extract for easy eating! I stole a bite or two and though I would not call it “spicy” it was full of spices and had a bit of a kick.

Steak & Frites | Prime Hangar Steak, Wasabi Chimichurri.

Steak & Frites | Prime Hangar Steak, Wasabi Chimichurri.

Main Course (A): Steak & Frites | Prime Hangar Steak, Wasabi Chimichurri. We just celebrated Bastille Day with homemade steak frites last week, but spotting it on the menu, I wanted to try that wasabi chimichurri. The steak arrived just the right temperature (rare as requested), tender, and absolutely flavorful. The frites were crispy and a generous portion, plenty to share with my snacking companions.

Strawberry Mochi | Coconut Sorbet.

Strawberry Mochi | Coconut Sorbet.

Dessert (M): Strawberry Mochi | Coconut Sorbet. It was Martin’s turn to be “different” and he opted for the strawberry mochi. Sticky rice flour wrapped around a whole strawberry, it would be more accurate described as daifuku. The coconut sorbet on the side was refreshing and reminiscent of the milk and pulp straight from a young coconut. Despite the “girly” plating (as he put it), Martin really enjoyed this dessert, especially the flakes of strawberry-flavored white chocolate which reminded him of his favorite Pocky.

Flourless Chocolate Cake | Caramelized Banana Gelato, Hazelnuts.

Flourless Chocolate Cake | Caramelized Banana Gelato, Hazelnuts.

Dessert (A & M’s Mom): Flourless Chocolate Cake | Caramelized Banana Gelato, Hazelnuts. The presentation was stunning, and the first thing I did was grab one of the bits of hazelnut brittle. So good! The cake itself was rich with a thin layer of ganache (?) holding it together. I particularly enjoyed the ice cream as I am a big fan of the chocolate-banana combination. A great way to end the meal!

Sticky Toffee Pudding | Bourbon Ice Cream.

Sticky Toffee Pudding | Bourbon Ice Cream.

Dessert (M’s Dad): Sticky Toffee Pudding | Bourbon Ice Cream. I was glad he ordered this as I wanted to see how Chaya’s interpretation of this British classic holds up. The sticky toffee pudding here (as our server had warned us) is more like a dense banana bread and is drizzled with a light bourbon sauce. I liked that it wasn’t too sweet or heavy but it was not quite what I think of when I think of sticky toffee pudding. Not a bad thing, just different.

There is still a week left of dineLA, so if you’re looking for a great deal and a beautiful venue for date night, consider Chaya Brasserie!

We also have plenty of write-ups for previous dineLA restaurant weeks, though the menu may vary:

– Piccolo Venice (Venice)

– Catch American Seafood (Santa Monica)

– Blue Stove (Santa Monica)

– Stefan’s at LA Farm (Santa Monica)

So get out there and enjoy the many awesome restaurants in our City of Angels!

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Check out Chaya Brasserie: thechaya.com/beverlyhills

8741 Alden Drive
Los AngelesCA 90048

See their Yelp reviews here!

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

Parking: $6.50 for valet.

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.

DineLA – Catch American Seafood (Summer 2013)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

It’s that time of year again — summer dineLA restaurant week! A time for great deals, checking out new restaurants, and going out in the middle of the week for more than just happy hour. Last week, Martin met up with his best friend at Le Ka in Downtown LA while I had a girls’ night out with Cass at Catch in Santa Monica. And what a catch it truly was – located in the lobby of Hotel Casa del Mar, the beach-front view was gorgeous and the ocean breeze reminded us of why we love LA.

The view  from the dining room at Catch

The view from the dining room at Catch

We each ordered the same crafted cocktail: The Perfect Pair – hendricks gin, fresh muddled pear, lemon juice, pear juice, thyme. I love Hendricks and as Cass pointed out, this mixed drink was refreshing and naturally sweetened with plentiful fresh pears. Highly recommended!

The Perfect Pair

The Perfect Pair – hendricks gin, fresh muddled pear, lemon juice, pear juice, thyme

In retrospect, the table bread was definitely an indicator of the quality of the meal to come. A basket full of hot, panini-pressed slices of fresh bread perfect for dipping into the California olive oil adorning each table. It was so good we asked for a second one! I love when a restaurant serves their table bread warm and Catch took it to the next level.

Even the table bread was awesome!

Even the table bread was awesome!

For my first course, I selected the Grilled Spanish Octopus – smoked potatoes, paprika, merula olive oil. I don’t think I have ever had octopus that tender before. The texture was absolutely incredible, and the flavors melded so well together, especially with the garnish of lemon zest and fleur de sel.

Grilled Spanish Octopus

Grilled Spanish Octopus – smoked potatoes, paprika, merula olive oil

Cass’s appetizer was the Marinated Beef Carpacccio – pine nuts, arugula, garlic chips. The beef was paper-thin and the toppings (especially the garlic chips!) added a great mouthfeel with the variety of textures.

Marinated Beef Carpaccio

Marinated Beef Carpacccio – pine nuts, arugula, garlic chips

My primary reason for selecting Catch was the entree: Cioppino – mussels, clams, scallop, shrimp, seared fin fish, saffron-rouille crostini. The fascinating part was that the broth was poured in tableside. Traditionally a fisherman’s stew of assorted seafood in a tomato and white wine broth or sauce, cioppino is one of my all-time favorite dishes, and this was the first one I have eaten where the components were prepared separately. This method had its perks — the fish was crispy, the scallop had a beautiful caramelized sear, the head-on prawn was smoky, and the bivalves were all perfectly cooked. The portion was generous and incredibly satisfying — with my discard bowl piled high with shells and every last drop of broth scraped clean, I was a happy camper. Delizioso!

Cioppino

Cioppino – mussels, clams, scallop, shrimp, seared fin fish, saffron-rouille crostini

At our server Jeremy’s recommendation, Cass had the Mustard Marinated Black Cod – roasted shiitake, sunchokes, green asparagus. I don’t know where Catch sources their asparagus from, but these were massive! The fish looked tender and flaky, and the silence that fell over our table as we both focused intently on our entrees told me that she really enjoyed it.

Mustard Marinated Black Cod

Mustard Marinated Black Cod – roasted shiitake, sunchokes, green asparagus

Of course, there is always room for dessert! It was a tough decision, but I ended up choosing the Chocolate & Espresso Tart – warm salted caramel sauce. It was like a blast from the past – at first glance, it bore near-identical resemblance to the dessert that Martin and I had while aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train.

Chocolate & Espresso Tart

Chocolate & Espresso Tart – warm salted caramel sauce

After just one bite, however, the difference was clear — the tart crust was crumbly, the ganache filling was velvety, the fluffy homemade whipped cream could not have been further from the canned stuff, and the DIY (drizzle it yourself) salted caramel sauce was simply stellar!

Chocolate & Espresso Tart

Chocolate & Espresso Tart (post-drizzle)

Cass weighed her options and finally settled on the Market Strawberries – short cake, pistachio streusel, creme fraiche ice cream. The strawberries looked so fresh and the short cake biscuits were adorable. The pistachio streusel added a lovely splash of color that made the dish shine. A refreshing way to end the meal!

Market Strawberries

Market Strawberries – short cake, pistachio streusel, creme fraiche ice cream

The dineLA 3-course dinner was a $$ – $35.00 per person. The food was well worth it, but what really made our evening was our server Jeremy. He was considerate without being overly attentive and he humored our requests for pictures, even counting off in 日本語. I’ve found that some dineLA experiences can feel rushed because of the sheer volume of diners, but Catch embodied the laid-back beach lifestyle while serving elegant, delicious dishes.

Santa Monica Sunset

Santa Monica Sunset

Hurry, only 5 days left to participate in dineLA restaurant week!

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Check out Catch American Seafood: catchsantamonica.com

Hotel Casa Del Mar
1910 Ocean Way
Santa Monica, CA 90405

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA – Blue Stove (Winter 2013)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

For dineLA Winter 2013 (I know, I’m playing catch-up with my entries), C and I decided to check out Blue Stove for lunch. Blue Stove offered a two-course lunch with a tasting pour for only $15/person. Situated among the clothing racks inside the Nordstrom at Santa Monica Place, the restaurant had a quaint wine bar sort of theme going on. We were seated immediately and received prompt, friendly service from our server.

Blue Stove

Blue Stove

Spicy tuna on wonton

Spicy Tuna on Wonton

Starter: we both ordered the Spicy Tuna with sriracha aioli on crispy wontons. Each hor d’oeuvre-sized bite was also topped with chopped cucumber and a generous mound of masago (cod roe). It was an interesting take on one of my favorite appetizers, spicy tuna on crispy rice. The sriracha aioli could’ve used more kick though.

Jambalaya

Creole Jambalaya

Entree 1 (a): I had my eye on the Creole Jambalaya with shrimp and andouille sausage since we first started perusing menus to select our dining destination! The sausage and spices gave the rice a great kick and the three well-seasoned and beautifully grilled shrimp had awesome flavor. I was pleased with this selection and it paired perfectly with the 2 oz pour of a crisp, refreshing California Chardonnay.

Crispy Dark Cherry Beef

Crispy Dark Cherry Beef

Entree 2 (c): My dining companion selected the Crispy & Spicy Dark Cherry Beef. She said the sweet and spicy flavors of the glaze were delicious but the texture of the beef was chewier than she would’ve preferred. I imagine her beef dish paired well with the Italian Barbera she selected for her tasting pour.

Ultimate Chocolate Cake

Ultimate Chocolate Cake

Dessert was not included in the $15 dineLA lunch offering, but we were enticed by our server’s description of the Ultimate Chocolate Cake, consisting of two layers of moist chocolate cake sandwiched by a filling of Nutella, drizzled with a rich chocolate ganache and topped with a dollop of fluffy chocolate mousse. Oh so decadent and very, very good. The sprinkling of fleur de sel added a great contrast to all of the sweet elements.

All in all, we enjoyed our meal. Honestly, its department store location is a bit of a turn-off, but for a casual tapas and wine experience, I could see myself returning to try items from their regular menu. Its mall location did have one important advantage — ample parking!

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Check out Blue Stove:

222 Broadway St
Santa Monica, CA 90401

See their Yelp reviews here!