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!

2015-01-29 22.04.02 copy

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.

2015-01-26 12.56.51

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.

2015-01-26 13.18.21

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.

2015-01-26 13.18.40

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.

2015-01-26 13.47.29

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.

———————

Check out Mistral Restaurant: mistralrestaurant.com

13422 Ventura Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

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!

———————

Check out Mon Ami Gabi: monamigabi.com

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

See their Yelp reviews here!

Moules Marinieres

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

Martin and I love replicating our favorite restaurant dishes in our own kitchen. Last week, we finally attempted a dish that is one of my all-time favorite to eat yet we had never realized just how easy it would be to make at home — moules frites. Inspired by our brunch at Meet in Paris, we wanted our first batch to keep it simple with garlic, shallots, butter, thyme, and white wine. We managed to find Prince Edward Island (PEI) mussels at our local supermarket chain, though the size of the flesh was nowhere near as gigantic as the ones we had at Meet. This classic mussel preparation is known as mariniere, French for “mariner’s style” but defined in the culinary world as a dish that is prepared by cooking in white wine.

Moules Marinieres

Moules Marinieres

Storing the Mussels: Odds are, the guy behind your grocery store’s seafood counter will toss the mussels into a plastic bag, tie it up, and wrap the whole thing in butcher paper. As soon as you get home, be sure to properly store the mussels. Most importantly, either take them out of the plastic bag or poke holes in it so that they do not suffocate. We transferred ours onto a metal tray, covered them with a damp paper towel, and kept them in the refrigerator until dinnertime. Here’s where it got a little tricky (to me anyway): BEFORE COOKING — the mussels should be tightly closed. Any open ones should close if you tap or otherwise gently disturb it. If the shells are agape and it does nothing, then it is dead and should be discarded. AFTER COOKING — all of the mussels should pop wide open. Any that remain shut are dead and should be discarded. Dead mussels are no bueno.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

2 lbs mussels (PEI ones are great)

1 shallot, finely diced

4-6 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pinch of salt

A few sprigs of fresh thyme (or a small handful chopped fresh parsley), optional

2 cups dry white wine (any drinkable but well-priced white wine will do; we found a 2012 Beringer Chardonnay for $3/bottle — do NOT use “cooking wine”)

Crusty bread or baguette, warm or toasted if desired

Cleaned Mussels

Cleaned Mussels

First, clean the mussels under cold running tap water. Our mussels were pretty clean, but if needed, you’ll need to remove the beards from between the shells. Set aside.

Sauteing the Garlic and Shallots

Sauteing the Garlic and Shallots

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Saute the shallot and garlic until softened and translucent, about 1-2 minutes. Season with a sprinkling of salt.

Adding the Wine and Mussels

Adding the Wine and Mussels

Add the herbs, if using, and pour in the wine. Turn the heat up to high and add the mussels, arranging them in a single layer if possible.

Cover and Let Simmer

Cover and Let Simmer

Cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes. You’ll notice that they will gradually pop open. Start toasting off crostini-style slices of bread, if desired.

Almost Ready

Almost Ready

Stir the mussels and continue to boil, covered, for another minute or two. Remove the cover and serve immediately.

Beautiful Mussels!

Beautiful Mussels!

Yields 2 servings (the typical serving is about 1 pound of mussels per person).

Serving Suggestion: alongside wine and crusty bread

Serving Suggestion: alongside wine and crusty bread

Serving suggestion: in a large bowl alongside crusty bread and French fries (to complete this dish as moules frites). Provide a spoon, if desired, but I think the best “spoon” is the discarded shell of one of your eaten mussels. Savor the flavorful broth.

Pair with a glass of the same white wine used for cooking or a better Chardonnay if preferred. Bon appetit!

———————

our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. I love to eat moules marinieres, but this was our very first time making it at home and boy, is it easy! I never would have imagined that we could recreate a gourmet dish like steamed mussels; light some candles and whip up a batch of these for your next date night at home for a boost of fanciness and romance.

This month is hosted by Leah at Sharing the Food We Love.

Cheers!

Meet in Paris – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving and the weather was quite dreary. Raindrops fell from the sky, and the streets of LA were empty and eerie. We had intended to go out for a hearty Southern brunch, but the long lines and a fateful sign put us in the mood for lunch. “Moules frites, foie gras, escargots” was emblazoned over a doorway; we took our names off the waitlist in favor of something much more gourmet. Meet in Paris is a bistro with decor comforting yet chic. The service was friendly and the mussel options plentiful – c’est magnifique!

Moules Marinieres at Meet in Paris

Moules Marinieres at Meet in Paris

Perhaps all of my blog entries should rhyme. The intro was a bit of an homage to last week’s episode of How I Met Your Mother which was narrated entirely in rhyming couplets. But I digress. I had been wanting to try Meet in Paris for a very long time, but we did not realize where it was located until we strolled from our car to S&W Country Diner. A quick Yelp search reminded me that this bistro was the one with literally one dozen preparations of moules frites, a Belgian (or French, depending on who you ask) dish of steamed mussels served with fries. Moules frites is one of my all-time favorite pub dishes as it pairs excellently with beer, but having it for brunch was a special treat. But first…

Quaint and chic decor

Quaint and chic decor

The exposed brick and chalkboard menu made the bistro feel trendy yet casual. I loved the checked tablecloths and white flour sack towels for napkins. The ambiance really came together for me when La Vie En Rose played in the background. Martin and I love the French romantic-comedy Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare), so when that song played, an otherwise ordinary brunch transformed into a very cute date.

illy cappuccino

illy cappuccino

Having spotted that they serve illy coffee here, I could not resist ordering a cappuccino. The coffee was the perfect temperature underneath a thick cloud of foam… the whole experience was made even better by a special little treat — a small chocolate macaron resting delicately on the saucer. It was dense and almost brownie-like in flavor and texture, a great foil to the coffee’s intensity.

French onion soup

French onion soup

Rainy weather almost always means soup, so we decided to share a bowl of the French onion soup, served appropriately in the lion head’s bowl. The broth was rich and not overly salted, and the layer of bread just under the cheese soaked in the soup nicely.

So fun to eat!

So fun to eat!

And of course, the generous layer of melted gruyere made appealingly long strings as we dug in.

Croque Madame

Croque Madame

Martin was in the mood for breakfast so he selected his (and apparently one of the servers’) personal favorite — the croque madame. As our server took his order, she nodded with a knowing smile. The croque madame is actually never mentioned on the menu; there is only the croque monsieur with an option to add a sunny side up egg for a nominal fee. Referring to it by its proper name almost felt like passing a secret test of sorts. It arrived with a mountain of shoestring frites and a gravy boat of bechamel. The bread was buttery and tasted even better enveloped by the oozy egg yolk and garlicky (?) bechamel. Super filling!

Moules Marinieres

Moules Marinieres

I was overwhelmed by the many options of moules frites with bases ranging from Thai lemongrass curry to Spanish chorizo broth to lobster bisque. Other varieties included smoked salmon (the Alaska), tequila (the Baja), and crab (the namesake Meet in Paris). But I am a firm believer in the beauty of simplicity, and so I opted for the mariniere — garlic, shallots, chablis, and herbed croutons. I’ve had PEI (Prince Edward Island) mussels in the past, but the ones here were HUGE.

PEI mussel in its shell

PEI mussel in its shell

Seriously monstrous. And they were incredibly tender and juicy. The broth that rendered from the seafood (and butter) was absolutely decadent.

PEI mussel compared to the spoon

PEI mussel compared to the spoon

I had to take a picture or two just to demonstrate how big and meaty these mussels were. This order is the small and it was the Goldilocks portion for my lunch (just right).

Can't have moules frites without the frites!

Can’t have moules frites without the frites!

And the frites… super skinny shoestring fries, these were crispy and salted and reminiscent of Father’s Office frites. Though our server provided a basket of French baguette to sop up the mussel broth, I really enjoyed dipping the fries. By the way, they do give you the option to order a salad instead, but I say – you just can’t have moules frites without the frites.

I noticed many other delicious French offerings on their menu, including steak au poivre (pepper steak) and escargots à l’ail (sauteed in parsley butter), that I’d love to try soon. Like love at first sight, I think we were destined to have our brunch date here and you can bet I’ll be adding this to our list of go-to dinner outings. The perfect spot to rendezvous for your next date night!

———————

Check out Meet in Paris: meetrestaurantla.com

9727 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232

See their Yelp reviews here!

Meatless Monday: Remy’s Ratatouille (Version II)

Main Dishes, Recipes, Side Dishes

Okay friends, so a few weeks ago, we brought you our quick and easy version of the ratatouille from the Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille. Not content to have replicated the dish mainly in appearance and less so in taste, I decided to tackle the daunting recipe for confit byaldi by the master himself Thomas Keller, the culinary consultant for the movie. In that sense, his recipe is Remy’s ratatouille, so I just had to try it his way. It looks very similar in appearance (and I’ve found that it takes great patience to arrange those concentric slices while your stomach’s growling), but the flavor… it was like the scene in the movie when Remy’s taste buds figuratively exploded from his sensory bonanza. So vastly different in the best way.

Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi (aka The Ratatouille from Ratatouille)

Thomas Keller’s Confit Byaldi (aka The Ratatouille from Ratatouille)

As you may notice just from looking at the photo, slicing the vegetables, arranging them in overlapping layers, drizzling with olive oil, sprinkling with salt, garnishing with thyme, topping with parchment circles, and baking for 40 minutes at 375 degrees are all the same as my first version, so in this post, I am going to focus more on the piperade and balsamic reduction, two elements that played a huge role in the dramatic, bold flavors that truly brought out the sweetness and earthiness of the vegetables themselves.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

Piperade:

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 orange bell pepper

1/2 yellow bell pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1/2 sweet onion, finely diced

12 ounces fresh tomatoes, diced OR 1 14-ounce can of tomatoes plus 3-4 fresh tomatoes, diced

2-3 sprigs of thyme

Salt

Balsamic Reduction:

1 cup balsamic vinegar

(and a jar in which to store the reduction)

(Adapted from the confit byaldi recipe posted in the New York Times in 2007)

Roasted Peppers (Before)

Roasted Peppers (Before)

First, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove the seeds and ribs (the white flesh) from the bell peppers. Arrange on a baking sheet cut side down. Roast until the skin pulls away from the pepper and the edges blacken, about 15 minutes.

Sauteing Onions

Sauteing Onions

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Saute the garlic and onions until the onions are softened and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Roasted Peppers (After)

Roasted Peppers (After)

When the peppers are done, pull them out of the oven and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle.

Cooking Down the Tomatoes

Cooking Down the Tomatoes

Add the tomatoes and thyme to the skillet with the onions and season with a sprinkling of salt. Simmer over low heat to reduce and concentrate the juices until there is very little liquid remaining, about 10-15 minutes. While the sauce is reducing, slice your vegetables and prepare your parchment paper circles. Also, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Chopping Bell Peppers

Chopping Bell Peppers

By now the peppers should still be warm but manageable. Peel off the skins and chop finely.

Piperade - the finished product

Piperade – the finished product

Stir in the chopped roasted bell peppers and remove the thyme (leaves are OK but definitely get rid of the thick stems). Now your piperade is ready to go!

First, the Piperade

First, the Piperade

Spread a thin layer of the piperade at the bottom of each baking dish, no more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.

Layering Vegetables

Layering Vegetables

Start layering the vegetables, overlapping the slices but leaving just enough of the underlying layer visible for its color. Brush the top with a bit of olive oil to help keep the exposed squash from drying out. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and lay a sprig or two of fresh thyme on top. (If you can’t get fresh thyme, dried would be okay too), Top with your pretty parchment circles and press down gently. The light brushing of oil will help the paper “stick” and stay close to the vegetables.

Ready for the Oven!

Ready for the Oven!

Bake in the 375 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes.

Start your balsamic reduction. Pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once you see large bubbles, drop the heat and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. As the balsamic reduces, it burns more easily, so just keep a watchful eye on it. It is done when it reaches the consistency of honey and coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.

When you are a few minutes away from the oven timer going off, start toasting crostini-sized slices of baguette (about 1/2-inch thick, sliced on a bias).

Hot Out of the Oven!

Hot Out of the Oven!

Remove the parchment and the (probably burnt) sprig of thyme before serving. Drizzle with the balsamic reduction.

Just like last time, this recipe ended up yielding four 5″ diameter ramekins (I used low, fluted creme brulee dishes) plus enough leftover for one 8″ diameter pie dish… about 4-6 servings total.

Ratatouille Version I - the final product

Ratatouille Version I – the final product

So what do you think? Which is better, 1?

Ratatouille Version II - the finished product

Ratatouille Version II – the final product

Or 2? (If these were the kinds of images my optometrist would show me, I might not mind my annual check-ups so much!) (Also, yes – I probably should have cleaned up the ramekin a bit. I think those toasty spots give it a rustic character… no?)

Bon appetit!

nomnomcat print button