Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Saturday Part 2

So after a quick breakfast and a tour of the Koreatown Galleria, I took my sister just a few miles down Venice Blvd. to what is quickly becoming one of the best foodie destinations in town.

Culver City.

I pulled into the Helms Bakery complex. There’s plenty of free parking there and I always end up using it as my main stop when I hit Culver. Helms Bakery is still the place to go when you want to furnish your pad. But it’s also the spot for great food and for serious foodies. A must see for foodies is Surfas on the corner of National and Washington. There are several restaurant supply stores in LA but Surfas also caters to the serious amateur and home cook. This is a place where you can see a Sous Chef in his whites and check pants buying a new industrial strength food processor. But it’s also a spot where the home cook can finally locate that hard to find ingredient. Looking for venison osso bucco? How about real Dover sole? Surfas is where you can find it along with just about everything else. There are tubs of duck fat, strings of dried chorizo covered in white mold, salt cod, chunks of pancetta, and packages of duck confit. The freezers are stocked with everything you’d need to open a restaurant that night, pastry shells, gelato, soup base, vacuum sealed olives, and a dozen different kinds of flour. The candy and chocolate section is a dessert lover’s dream. They have giant slabs of chocolate, every type of sugar that exists and a million flavorings.

But if you’re in the mood to have others do the cooking for you, Culver City does not disappoint. The main drag of Culver Blvd. with large parking structures off Cardiff and Ivy is a great restaurant stretch. Akasha serves one of the best braised short ribs I’ve ever had. Right next door is the justly famous Honey Kettle Chicken. I like Honey Kettle better the next day. I also like to mix the honey and hot sauces together for a sweet hot glaze over my chicken. Right next to Honey Kettle is Ford’s Filling Station, the gastropub operated by Ben (son of Harrison) Ford. I’ve been there once and I enjoyed a fine oxtail ragu with fresh pasta and a delicious headcheese appetizer. Ford’s has a dizzying selection of flatbreads and house prepared charcuterie. Next is Tender Greens, in case you’re craving a salad and then Ugo Café for a perfect espresso and pastry. Bottlerock is just around the corner on Main. It’s wine selection is great as you’d expect and it has tapas to go with your vino. I’ve had the almonds and the stuffed figs and they are both delicious and affordable. Fraiche I’ve only been in once for a quick drink and a bite of their excellent tartare, but it has a reputation for serving some of the best entrees and sides in town. The place where I’ve spent the most time however is Gyenari. It’s a Korean BBQ though no one will mistake it for Chosun Galbee anytime soon. But you go there for authentic Korean food, you go for one of the best happy hours around. $4 bar menu including excellent Mandoo and really good sliders and garlic ribs. Wash that down with $2 Hite beers and $6 Sojus. Soju virgins beware though, that stuff is 20% alcohol with no burn whatsoever. Finish a bottle by yourself, don’t expect to go anywhere for the next couple of hours. Best to split a bottle with friends. At Gyenari they’ll provide shot glasses and cut lemon.

But no, none of these is where we decided to have lunch. For that we hiked all the way back to the Helms complex. Helms Ave is truthfully one of my favorite spots for lunch. It has excellent Cal-Asian at Beacon. La Dijonaise is a bistro that’s always crowded. Then there are my two favorite spots. There’s Let’s Be Frank, one of the great wonders of mobile food cookery. Let’s Be Frank serves some of the finest hot dogs I’ve ever had. Their frank dog is made with heart healthy 100% grass fed beef. It has a peppery spice blend and natural casing that snaps when you bite into it. Don’t’ forget to ask for the homemade pickle slices! Let’s Be Frank is set up right across from Father’s Office. Father’s Office is one of the top gastropubs in LA. The Santa Monica original is so popular you can never find a seat. The new Culver location is twice as big and you can still find seats even on a Saturday. And there’s enough space for you to stand and admire the rows of beer taps, all artisan brews, not a mass market lager in sight. One of the joys is watching people come up and ask for a Miller Lite then having the staff try and steer them to something similar but infinitely better. The food menu is just as amazing and very affordable. This is a strong serious food menu that features roasted bone marrow on the appetizers. Father’s Office is justifiably famous for its Office Burger, its signature creation. What I love about it is the Cabrales Blue Cheese they smear on the bottom. The bottom of a burger is usually neglected in other places but that’s where the juices from perfect a medium rare burger pool. If you put butter, mayo, or in this case cheese on the bottom, it combines with the burger jus and creates a sauce better than anything you’ve ever had. On the top is a sweet balsamic glazed onion a small handful of arugula. Get it with a basket of their sweet potato fries. My sister and I split and order and after a hot day it was perfect.

We ended our day in Hollywood. She wanted to see the Arclight. While we waited for our show, I took her to our last foodie stop Boho. A relative newcomer, this gastropub took over the spot where Charcoal used to be. It’s relaxed and unfussy but still ambitious. Not quite up to Father’s Office standards it still has an excellent beer selection and an adventurous menu featuring a charcuterie plate with wild boar rillettes and a braised oxtail entrée. We weren’t that hungry so we settled in for beers and an order of zeppolis. These deep fried doughnuts are served with powdered sugar and three dipping sauces, chocolate, raspberry, and best of all lemon curd. Make sure to use knives to avoid double dipping!

So there it is a fine foodie day out in LA. Well one of them. There are so many places, I can’t wait for my next family visit!

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Saturday Part 1

So my sister, a fellow foodie is town for the week visiting her boyfriend and his family. We decide to get together for the day, just the two of us and I’ll to take her to some of the better food stops I know in Los Angeles. It’s a pretty big day for me because exactly one week before I was laid up with a serious case of food poisoning that didn’t leave my system for four days. I’d been on Gatorade and saltines for most of the week. The good part was I’d lost a lot of weight. The bad part was…well everything else. But by the time Saturday rolled around I was back on shall we say solid ground.

Now if you’re in LA and you want to show a foodie friend or relative a good time and you only have one day where do you begin?

I started with the Koreatown Galleria. Both the Galleria and the Plaza in Koreatown have amazing food markets. I like the Galleria a little more because it is a bit more glitzy with a few more features. But you have to get there early. It’s free parking at both places and they both fill up and get very crazy around noon. My sister and I started out at the small bakery near the market entrance where we grabbed a rice doughnut and a cup of coffee. The doughnuts were chewier than any pastry either of us had had before and just lightly sweetened. They were the perfect light snack to take with us as we walked around the market. Korean markets offer a whole range of foodie surprises even to people who know Asian cuisine. The Koreans make use of unique greens and root vegetables like sesame leaf. The meat section is always a must in Korean markets. In the Galleria they had tons of beautifully packaged pork belly and suddenly we rued the fact that we didn’t have an ice filled cooler.

The fish counter at the Galleria is even more impressive filled with fresh fish on ice and tanks filled with live lobsters, abalone, periwinkles, blue crab and baby octopus.

“Imagine trying to wriggle one of those down,” my sister joked. And yeah if I had the time and cash I’d pick up a few and try wrestling them down my gullet like I’ve seen on Bizarre Foods. In previous trips I’ve seen them stock live geoduck clams and seas squirts as well.

But what really sets the Galleria apart from the Plaza in my mind is the room of hot panchan. Hungry and time pressed Koreans can grab a bag of steamed rice and go down the row and pick out the marinated greens, the stewed oysters, the spicy dried squid, the stewed garlic stems, a complete meal for most people.

There’s so much more to see in Koreatown, BCD Tofu House and Soot Bull Jeep to be specific. But we only had so many hours in the day so it was off to Culver City next.