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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One Week till Cookie Con!

Desserts and Sweets, Food Adventures, Los Angeles

That’s right, folks. Los Angeles has a Cookie Convention and it’s coming to the Pasadena Convention Center next Sunday! We were floored by this news and quickly went to their website (lacookiecon.com) to get our tickets to this sure-to-be-awesome event. (I believe our exact reaction was “Cookie Con?! How did we not know about this?!”)

Reality TV buffs will appreciate the celebrity lineup of guests from Food Network’s “Sweet Genius” and Next Food Network Star, Fox’s MasterChef, and more. There will be fondant rolling classes, candy apple making for the kids, and demonstrations for new tools and equipment. But most importantly, the website highlights “hundreds of delicious free samples from national and local vendors, offering an extravaganza of cookies, candy, chocolate, coffee, ice cream, beverages, and unique baked savories too.” SIGN US UP!

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies by our friend CCU at Go Bake Yourself!

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies by our friend CCU at Go Bake Yourself!

After our chocolate filled adventure at Indulge LA, we know we have to develop a game plan to synchronize our (precious and limited) stomach space and our (ravenous and unrelenting) sweet tooth. Luckily, we will be attending with a pair of friends with whom to share the bounty. I know Martin is going to keep an eye out for the best chocolate chip (his favorite) while I am always game to try unique variations on the traditional cookie (like our limoncello and semolina version).

VIP tickets are already sold out, so grab your GA passes soon if you want to attend the first annual LA Cookie Con! (Psst — sign up for their e-newsletter for a 10% off coupon code!)

As if you needed more convincing, a portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. You definitely won’t want to miss out on this chance to stuff your faces while helping to support a great nonprofit. (But in case you can’t make it, stay tuned for our post-event recap with plenty of mouth-watering cookie photos!)

cat eated cookie

Disclosure: We were not compensated for this post; however, we did receive discounted press tickets to the event for the purposes of our review. All opinions are our own and were not influenced in any way.

Hatfield’s – Hollywood

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

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For my birthday this year, my dear boyfriend treated me to dinner at Hatfield’s, a restaurant that had earned one coveted Michelin star back when the Guide was still in LA. He knew that I love tasting menus, although it proved surprisingly difficult to find one with availability on a Sunday night. (As I am constantly reminded, I work the same nights that normal people want to go out!)

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The first thing I noticed that the odd sense of familiarity when we walked into the dining room. And that’s when it hit me — this is the dining room from the movie Chef! So our date night started out with plenty of jokes involving “He’s NOT getting to me!” “I’m NOT needy!” “It’s f*cking molten!” (If you still haven’t seen the movie, stop reading right now and go track it down!)

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We sat in the center of the dining room and got an amazing view of the open kitchen. I was mesmerized by the brigade and how calmly and deliberately everyone seemed to move; it was almost unreal, especially compared to my experience in a closed kitchen where organized chaos breaks loose every night.

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We opted for the chef’s 7-course tasting menu (priced at $110 per person). We were told that it would be served “in tandem,” which was described to mean that each of us would receive a different dish each course. Long story short, we got to try a total of 14 dishes! I defined the dishes that I received first as (a) and the ones Martin received first as (m). Please forgive me if I missed any details; there’s quite a bit going on in every dish and by the end, I was really feeling the gin in my cocktail! (Also, the photos aren’t too stellar thanks to my camera phone and low lighting.)

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Speaking of cocktails, I had The Hendrix Experience: Hendrick’s Gin, Thai basil syrup, lemon, prosecco. It was a lovely bright green color and tasted as refreshing as it looked. Martin mentioned that his usual libation of choice is the sazerac and our server suggested The Innsbruck. I remember nothing about it other than that it is rye whiskey based, garnished with a sprig of rosemary, and went down oh so smoothly.

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Amuse Bouche: Cured Fluke, Egg Salad Remoulade, Potato Chip. A delightful first bite of cured white fish to whet our appetites for more.

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Course 1(a): Croque Madame: Yellowtail Sashimi, Prosciutto, Sunny Side Up Quail Egg, Grilled Brioche. One of their signature dishes, we were thrilled to see this as part of our tasting menu. The “grilled” brioche reminded me of this one time when we fried brioche croutons in clarified butter. Butter + butter = love. The combination of cured jamon and fresh hamachi doesn’t sound like it would work out but somehow it does in this adorable little sandwich.

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Course 1(m): Kanpachi Sashimi, Persian Cucumbers, Mango. A refreshing and light starter, this is the way I generally like to begin my dining adventures.

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Course 2(a): Butternut Squash Flan, Coconut Froth, Maitake Mushrooms, Curried Sweetbreads Croquette. I loved this dish. I may even go so far as to say it was my favorite of the night. Hidden beneath the froth of fragrant coconut and Thai-inspired flavor is a delicate butternut squash flan. The silky texture and the smooth broth paired wonderfully while the croquette added an extra level with its crunch. The maitake mushrooms were just the icing on the cake to remind you that, indeed, Winter is Coming.

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Course 2(m): Squid Ink Garganelli, Dungeness Crab, English Peas, Pea Tendrils, Pearl Onions. We are both huge fans of squid ink pasta; there’s just something about the gorgeous black color hiding away a surprising burst of citrus and briny flavor that we can’t get enough of. The pea tendrils were fried as a crispy garnish and the crab added a lightness to an otherwise creamy sauce.

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Course 3(a): Slow Cooked Salmon (Sous Vide), Eggplant, Charred Scallions, Salmon Roe. I had never had sous vide salmon before and I’ve got to say, I’m just not a fan. The peculiar cube of gorgeous medium-rare salmon looked beautiful but had a soft texture that I could not get past. I did enjoy how the roe added a finishing touch of saltiness to the dish the way a sprinkling of fleur de sel would have.

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Course 3(m): Red Wine Braised Octopus, Charred Shishito Peppers, Orange Rind Gastrique. The octopus was pleasantly tender, and as I am a huge fan of shishito peppers, I much preferred this dish over the salmon.

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Course 4(a): Pan Roasted Duck Breast, Strawberry Sambal Gastrique, Braised Radicchio & Hibiscus, Fennel & Gold Beet Salad, Cashews. I felt that this dish really embodied the time of year — the transition between summer and fall. I actually really enjoyed the radicchio and hibiscus, which I found to be extra bitter (Martin was not a fan but loved the duck).

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Course 4(m): Buttermilk Chicken, Arugula Pistou, Mushroom Duxelle, Crispy Shallot. The chicken was incredibly succulent and completely changed my view on ordering the poultry at a fine dining establishment. The crispy shallots were a fun garnish, making me think of fried chicken, while the sauces underneath melded well with one another.

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Course 5(a): 36 Hour Slow Cooked “Pastrami-Style” Short Rib, Shimeji Mushrooms, Fingerling Potatoes, Frisee Salad. The short rib was incredibly tender and paired with the mustard vinaigrette that dressed the salad beneath it, I was transported to a very high-end version of a Jewish deli. I just have to say though — I’ve never been able to look at a plate of frisee without feeling a lot of appreciation and a little bit of guilt, because I know what a pain in the butt it is for the person who has to pick the yellow leaves from the bitter white stems.

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Course 5(m): Braised Short Rib, Celery Root Puree, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Red Wine Jus. A second preparation of the short rib, this was almost lacquered in red wine and tasted wonderful for it. I’d say this dish was the most no-frills one of the bunch, and I appreciated that. Nothing beats a good plate of beef, brussels, celery root puree, and red wine sauce.

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Course 6(a): Pavlova, Freshly Whipped Cream, Strawberry Chamomile Sorbet. The paylova was crispy and airy, the whipped cream was delicate, and the sorbet was the star of the show. It was fruity yet fragrant and not-too-sweet, just the way I like it.

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Course 6(m): Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Watermelon Granita, Blackberry Banyuls Sorbet. I usually dislike tangy dairy, but the buttermilk panna cotta was the perfect counter to the sweet fruit. I was also really looking forward to tasting the blackberry banyuls sorbet (banyuls is an expensive French vinegar made from Grenache grapes) and it exceeded my expectations.

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Course 7(a): Peanut Butter Semifreddo, Crunchy Chocolate-Peanut Tuille, Bitter Chocolate Ice Cream. I don’t know how they knew. Martin said he didn’t tell them. I didn’t mention anything. It’s like they’re mind readers, but our server placed this plate down right in front of me and I was thrilled. (What can I say? I love to feel special.) The semifreddo was delicious and if you managed to take a bite with a little bit of everything on it, it was like the world’s best candy bar.

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Course 7(m): Sugar & Spice Beignet, Venezuelan Chocolate Fondue, Vanilla Malted Milkshake. I love beignets and I love even more that this one is dusted in cinnamon-sugar rather than confectioner’s. The chocolate fondue was incredible — super velvety and bittersweet, perfect for someone who loves the darkest of dark chocolate (like me!). I really liked the playfulness of the vanilla milkshake, although I couldn’t help but make the comparison to Michael Mina’s root beer float (which, with its edible chocolate straw, wins by a slight edge).

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Bon Bons: Homemade Mallomar, Dark Chocolate, Marshmallow, Graham Cracker, Sea Salt. I will be perfectly honest — the first thing I did was poke it. It feels squishy. How do they get it coated in chocolate that is malleable enough to squish with the marshmallow enrobed inside? It was mind boggling, and I pondered it as I devoured the last, satisfying bite of our meal.

It’s no wonder that Hatfield’s still holds strong on Jonathan Gold’s list of 101 Best Restaurants in LA. This husband and wife team (Chef and Pastry Chef, respectively) creates intricate dishes that highlight so many seasonal ingredients, often combining a multitude of flavors in new and exciting ways. Some dishes were more amazing than others, and a few just had a bit too much going on for my taste, but overall, I had no complaints about our meal at Hatfield’s. Keep it on your list for a romantic date, special occasion, or cause for celebration!

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Check out Hatfield’s: hatfieldsrestaurant.com

6703 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038

See their Yelp reviews here!

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.