posts displayed by category
Since their opening last October, I find myself at SQIRL once a week, mostly because their food tastes like home cooking ratcheted up to a notch that I myself would never bother with, but am happy paying $5-12 dollars to enjoy. SQIRL summons a steady cult following that consistently crowds its small Silver Lake space for their simple, farm-fresh fare (focusing on homemade jams and ingredients sourced within 350 miles) and adventurous daily specials. Their changing chalkboard menu lists such basics as brioche toast slathered with nut butters and house-made jams, pesto rice bowls, pies and quiches as well as unusual seasonal specials, like squid ink cavatelli, lobster rolls and duck confit.
My usual meal at SQIRL is some variation on their brioche toast—they make it savory or sweet, buttered and browned with any combination of spreads, house-made ricotta, jam, and nut butter, or heaped with sautéed kale, tomatillo jam, a subtle lacto-fermented hot sauce and a fried egg. This week I settled on the brioche topped with a silken ricotta and Black Mission Fig & La Clarine Mourvedre jam. Basically that is a fancy, hifalutin way of saying fig and red wine jam, but SQIRL, with their tiny kitchen and mismatched serving plates and silverware, does not come off as pretentious in their execution or follow the farm-to-table fad blindly. There is an earnestness and sincerity to all that they do.
My brioche toast, as usual, was optimally crisped on the outside while remaining soft and buttery in the center. The warm toasted bread paired well with the slight chill of the smooth ricotta, and the fresh fig jam added just the right note of sweetness, with satisfying chunks of chewy, marinated figs.
Here’s what I know about poutine:
- Traditionally it’s a dish comprised of fries, gravy and cheese curds.
- It hails from rural Quebec, but can now be found Canada-wide—they even sell it at McDonald’s.
- It was invented in the 1957 by restaurateur Fernand Lachance. He shook up a bag of cheese curds and fries, and violà, poutine was born.
- In the 50s,“poutine” was slang for “a mess,” which is exactly what Fernand said when he saw what was in the bag.
- Up until a few years ago, poutine was considered pretty low-brow in Quebec, served mostly in greasy spoons, but like a lot of other comfort foods, it’s made its way onto some fancy restaurant menus. You can even get it with foie gras for $23 at at famed Au Pied Cochon in Montreal.
I should also add that it’s freaking delicious, which is why I was—and I never use this word—stoked when I got an invite to try out The Poutine Truck, Debbie Lee’s (also of the Ahn Joo truck) newest food project. Even better was that this gravy fries extravaganza was to take place at Echo Park’s City Sip, where Four Brix wine would be paired with each poutine course.
The Poutine Truck offers traditional and more laissez-faire varieties of the dish. The abbreviated menu gives you the choice 3 gravies (brown onion beef gravy and chicken or veggie veloute) and 3 locally-sourced, organic cheese curd varieties (plain, garlic herb and firehouse), which are generously laid upon freshly cut and made-to-order Kennebec potato fries. You can also take your poutine to the limit by adding bacon, chicken or flatiron steak.
Long anticipated or dreaded, depending on your point of view, Mohawk Bend is finally opening in Echo Park later this month. The “drinking and eating outpost” has taken over the former Ramona Theater space next door to Elf restaurant and will be serving a mostly vegan menu along with some vegetarian and meaty dishes.
Last night I attended Mohawk Bend’s media preview party, and I have to say I was pretty impressed with the transformation. Designed by Spacecraft, the once-forlorn theater is now an impressive modern space, boasting high ceilings, patio seating, skylights, exposed brick, vintage beer signs, and an atrium-like room with long communal tables and a fireplace.
Food-wise, it wasn’t bad. While I wasn’t blown away by anything, I did enjoy most of what I ate. High marks go to the Petite Sirah dipping sauce that came with the Fire Roasted Artichoke and The Flash Gordon Salad with flash-grilled Little Gem lettuce (similar to hearts of romaine), grapefruit, avocado, pickled onions and dill dressing. Owner Tony Yanow says the locavore/organic menu will change weekly to reflect the seasonal comings and goings of produce.
I complain a lot. But it’s mostly about one thing: my commute. If you already know me, then you know this to be a fact, and if you ever meet me, the subject will most definitely come up. I think I’m entitled, though, since I endure the dreaded Los Angeles east to west commute everyday.
Festering in traffic 2-plus hours a day is harrowing enough, but doing the math makes it worse: 12 hours wasted on a weekly basis. That’s why I rarely venture any further than Lincoln Heights on the weekends and compulsively dream of a job Downtown.
This being my lot, I relish the rare opportunities I get to work from home. Avoiding the drive is a treat, but even sweeter is the chance to lunch in the eastern hemisphere of LA…on a weekday! Just last week week, such an opportunity arose and I found myself at Forage in Silver Lake.
It was kind of thrilling to be so far east of Santa Monica at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday. So thrilling, in fact that I got a little out of hand and ordered the ham and cheddar bread pudding. Though a little salty for my tastes, every rich and savory bite was joyous. The slab they piled on my plate was remarkably moist inside (is there egg in that thing?), with a crispy baked top crust and thinly sliced ham pieces with a nicely seared texture—no flimsy, soggy pork here.
To squeeze in a bit of nutrition, I chose kale salad and beet and citrus salad as my sides. However, seeing as the kale salad had a parmesan bread crumb topping (a perfect texture contrast for the kale) and the beets had more cheese, I barely fooled myself.
But, I was celebrating my freedom from the 10 freeway so…
If you ask me, 2010 was Heirloom-LA’s year. The catering company, armed with its “farm-to-plate” ethos and lasagna cupcakes, was suddenly everywhere—food blogs, coffeehouses, wine bars, neighborhood grocers… you name it. They even showed up on this blog when I tried and loved their hearty Wild Boar Bolognese.
As it turns out, this year might be even more momentous for Heirloom-LA, seeing that they just launched a food truck. Yeah, I know, it’s hard to get excited by the latest food-on-wheels concept, but Heirloom does it right. For one thing, Heirloom’s food is locally sourced from small farms, and for another, their menu will change daily. None of the usual food truck doldrums here.
The space that houses the newly opened FOOD +LAB might be cursed. A few doors down from Dusty’s, near the corner of Sunset and Descanso, the teeny storefront was most recently occupied by the very short-lived Meet Market and Flore Café before that. If not cursed, it’s not exactly lucky.
Yet, despite the open-and-shutter reputation of its address, FOOD+LAB’s future looks bright. For one thing, this is the third installment of the mini chain founded by mother-son catering team Esther and Nino Linsmayer—they also have a location in West Hollywood and a kiosk in the Pacific Design Center. For another, their menu is innovative and full of the fresh, organic ingredients that everyone seems to be craving these days.
Currently serving breakfast and lunch (a dinner menu is coming soon), FOOD+LAB offers a long list of traditional sandwiches with major personality. Think: Organic Turkey with pear, honey, and fig compote; Austrian Meatloaf with dried tomato aioli, fried onions and Dijon; Grilled Cheese with three fancy cheeses and caramelized onion. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available.
I ordered the Egg Salad Sandwich with asparagus on 5 grain bread. No complaints. It wasn’t overrun with mayo and the asparagus had a nice snap to it. The mayo-chicken ratio was a little off on the Pulled Chicken Salad, but the additions of apples, grapes, candied pecans and mandarins saved it. For better or worse, the portions are huge.
The chalkboard menu also features complete coffee selection and a range of fresh juices. I had the lemonade, which was pretty thick and easily split (and diluted) to make two full glasses. Also squeezed into the small café is a market section of sweets, teas, coffee and other tantalizing goods to take home.
Sandwiches: $8-12; Organic Salads: $11-13; Breakfast: $5-12.
3206 West Sunset Blvd (Map It)
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Artisanal LA was a food lover’s carnival. The community event held in the Cooper Design Building this past weekend showcased some of LA’s most interesting food artisans with handmade wares ranging from chocolates and baked goods to cheese and pickles. Even better, there were plenty of samples.
The event was a pretty low-key experience–there were no relentless crowds or long lines. Of course, that probably won’t last. This event is sure to become a bigger draw as word of mouth spreads though food-crazy Los Angeles, but this time was blissfully delicious.
Here were some of my favorite sights and tastes from Artisanal LA:
Tartist had one of the most beautiful displays of the day. I believe that marscapone cheese lies below those apples and honey-vinegar glaze on top. Sigh. As if that weren’t enough, all the fruit and herbs used to make it came from Tartist Xárene’s (and her friends’) very own garden. No pesticides or fertilizers used in the growing process and the dairy used is sourced from Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.
Photo by Anne Pak
One of my favorites from Four’s summer menu was undoubtedly their Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho. A departure from the traditionally chunky preparation, this vegan soup is a smooth purée of tomato and roasted red peppers topped with chopped cucumbers. Also setting this gazpacho apart from the rest is the tangy-sweet balsamic reduction that’s swirled on top. Unexpected but welcome.
This hot weather gave me a serious cold soup craving, and as luck would have it, it’s still on the menu until October 6, when their seasonal menu changes. Get it while it’s hot…I mean cold.
2122 1/2 Colorado Blvd
Eagle Rock CA 90041 (Map It)
It’s not that I’m anti fake meat. I actually enjoy a good “chicken” mole or “B”LT once in awhile, and places like Flore and Cinnamon do the veg-meat thing really well. However, there’s a special place in my heart for Echo Park’s Elf Café, where whole foods are the focus of their all-vegetarian cuisine, and there’s no tofu, tempeh, or wheat meat to be seen…or tasted.
With a creative and drop-dead delicious menu, this tiny restaurant with no sign to speak of has become a mainstay on Sunset Blvd. since opening in 2006, and even carnivores like me lust after their eastern Mediterranean fare. There’s nothing I love more than introducing “I-have-to-eat-meat-every-meal” friends to this place and watching their looks of skepticism (read: complete and total resistance) turn into utter satisfaction.
The starters at Elf are very tempting, and I love going with a group in order to justify getting at least two. One must is the Labneh, which I’ve praised here before. The light, fluffy texture and tang of the goat yogurt cheese is the perfect match for the richness of the date and kalamata tapenade that sits atop it. Spread on the whole wheat pita with a bit of roasted garlic to punctuate it, this is exactly what I look for in an appetizer.
Earl’s Gourmet Grub is one of my favorite new places in LA. The Mar Vista sandwich shop offers everything I love—fresh ingredients, uncommon flavor combinations, and unabashed passion.
Take the Tuna Sandwich (pictured above) for instance. It’s an unexpected mix of tuna with layers of thinly sliced gruyere, fig hash and pepperoncini between two slices nutty bread. Sounds like overkill, but somehow the flavors stay distinct and, well, super yummy. Co-owner Yvonne McDonald (her partner is Dean Harada) says that’s all part of the plan: “We put a lot of thought and experimentation into the sandwiches, every element is meant to create the perfect balance for your eating experience.”
The Earl’s concept took shape in a popular farmer’s market stall, where their Pig n’ Fig (Prosciutto, blue cheese, fig hash and arugala) became a hit—it’s still their most popular. Now, in their new brick and mortar digs, they’re keeping it real, making everything from scratch while using mostly organic/local ingredients and all natural meat.
Here’s the Heartichoke Sandwich, so named for its chunks of marinated artichoke and hearts of palm. The cheese is goat, which works well texture-wise with the veggies. Plus, the mildness of the chevre didn’t mess with the tang of the artichokes and pickled onions. There’s also an artichoke-jalapeno spread that I really didn’t notice much, but I did like the addition of nutty-flavored mache.
The Who Dat Crab Po-Boy doesn’t boast the traditional fried filling, but it’s still marked by richness—the baguette is spread with melted parsley butter that mixes with the Canjun mayo and a hefty lump of snow crab. The cabbage adds a cool crunch.