Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Next Stop: Culver City

Photo Courtesy Richard Hawkins of Focus at Infinity
After almost eight years -- with a brief Brentwood stint in the middle -- I am departing Santa Monica. It certainly is not easy. I love Santa Monica. Especially the food. Scarfing down a Pier Burger with the Pacific as your backdrop is the American dream Washington fought for. As is downing a few too many margs at Border Grill. Hell, I could probably go on and on about the places in Santa Monica that make me jolly and rotund-- Okay, I will... Huckleberry, your bread pudding and I will always have a thing. Same for the garlic knots of Milo + Olive. Samesies for Sweet Rose Creamery's Salted Caramel 'scream. Just the mere thought of popping a bottle of cheap red on the Cha Cha Chicken patio causes my heart to go all aflutter. Bru's, your chicken and waffles don't suck. Neither do your chocolate chip cookies, M Street, or your rugelach, Sweet Lady Jane. And, Bay Cities, oh, DEAR BAY CITIES, as the sun sets, there is not a more romantic spot on this ENTIRE EARTH.

A few weeks ago our landlords suddenly informed us they needed our bungalow for a family member. This came as a total surprise. With wedding planning also in full swing, we needed to find a new abode ASAP. After traversing Santa Monica for an available spot, we came up empty. We broadened the search a tad and found a great house just a little east. Obviously not too east, I am a Westsider through and through. It's not like I'm moving to New York or something. Or worse, the eastside... (I kid. Or do I?)

Lindsay and I are landing in Culver City. Right by Helms. That way I can continue to relive my Santa Monica memories via the other Father's Office location.

Now, for the important information: this will not affect the blog. Unemployed Eater may have originated in Santa Monica, but over the past few years I've tried my darnedest to widen its scope by covering Los Angeles' best food deals EVERYWHERE IN LA. While it maintains a Santa Monica slant, I would hope UE readers appreciate the traversal coverage. This will not change. I still love Santa Monica and plan to heavily cover the local food news. Yet, I think the Culver City relocation will only help the blog. It centralizes everything a bit and plops this hungry man child a little bit closer to other Southland enivorns.

Wish me luck. Or don't. Up to you. But thanks for and continuing to read Unemployed Eater. I truly am beyond grateful. I promise the Culver move will only make things peachier around here. Even though it's only 7 miles and 12 driving minutes away, it's foreign soil - and that really excites my stomach.

You live in Culver? Any gems I should check out? Leave them in the Comments. Also, what is a Culver City resident? A Culverian? Culvite? CCman?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Milo + Olive Expanding?

UPDATE (4/17/14): Eater has an update on the expansion. M+O is indeed taking over the adjacent space, which previously housed a clothing retailer. The new space will include a second pizza oven and an expanded overall menu. Hopes are everything will be done by "early October."


Milo + Olive, the Santa Monica pizzeria bakery that has been the popular cheerleader since inception back in 2011, may FINALLY be growing in size. The above picture was posted to their Instagram account with the following caption:

This will come as over-joyous, ticker tape parade-like news to any Westsider who has braved the current M+O seating arrangement that comfortably welcomes twenty customers - at best. Lines stretching down the restaurant's entry ramp and out onto the Wilshire sidewalk have become commonplace. The restaurant has often emphasized their take-out option, but like most great pizza places, the goods are best eaten fresh from the oven. This dining room addition should allow such an occurrence for substantially more patrons.

No other details for now, but I will stay on this with total seats added and possible opening date, amongst other details, to come.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Whole Foods At Your Door: $10 Credit Plus Free Grocery Delivery Via Instacart

Instacart, a popular same day grocery delivery service in San Francisco and major cities throughout the eastern seaboard, has finally landed in our fair city. To celebrate the LA launch, Instacart wants to offer Unemployed Eater readers a nice little discount: $10 toward your initial order plus free delivery. Simply click this super special link here.

For now, they are delivering Whole Foods in Hollywood and Santa Monica only, but plan to expand soon to the whole city. That means pita chips and schmancy yogurt at your door without moving from the couch you're currently planted on! Instacart is also open to other grocery market suggestions beyond WF. Anywhere you would like to get same day delivery from in the southland? Leave suggestions in the comments section below.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Three Foodstuffs You Should Definitely Order at the new Oliver's Prime

Last week was a big one in the LA steakhouse arena. Caught up in the small plates and pork belly frenzy of the past year plus, it had been a hot second since the area was graced with some new, intriguing abodes de red meat. Not just did Oliver's Prime open at The Grafton hotel on Sunset, but so did Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak in Glendale. Since Glendale is more than a hop, skip and a jump from the westside, I unfortunately haven't made it out there yet. Luckily, fellow blogger/writer/cool person Gastronomy did. I did, however, fight the traffic and the after dark dastradly dwellers of Sunset Blvd to give the swanky Oliver's Prime a whirl. The new restaurant is the initial phase of a total remodel at the Grafton that will include a new bar, lobby and guest rooms. 

Although it's fair to say the restaurant and its menu remain in their nascent stages (the sides and salads both desire some tinkering), there are three foodstuffs you definitely should order at Oliver's...

Start with the Lobster Caprese. Don't even think about not doing it. Over the past few years nouveau steakhouses have struggled with their appetizers. A constant discussion and attempt to stick to old steakhouse classics, while also hoping to modernize. This often leads to dishes that just don't work in that particular setting. Oliver's Lobster Caprese tightropes the line well - a fresh salad of cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozz, vibrantly green basil pesto, reduced aged balsamic and hearty lobster meat. The sweetness of the thick balsamic works especially well with the crustacean. 

The beef filet at Oliver's is fine. Juicy, tasty, adequate. Just like at any high end carne shack. What you need to order at O.P. is the Bison. Not widely available in this neck of the woods, the bison steak is leaner and healthier than most beef steaks. This despite tasting incredibly similar. A blind taste test probably would prove the differences null to the average palette. Also, unlike most of the competition in 2014, Oliver's does not upsell on rubs and dipping sauces. Every meat order comes with one complimentary selection; I recommend the Sea Salt and Peppercorn rub and Creamy Horseradish Sauce.

We weren't even going to order dessert (I'm on a low-carb wedding diet after all), but it's really, really hard for me to resist Bread Pudding. It's very much my kryptonite. I'm really glad we ordered it this time too because Oliver's serves one of the city's most playful and overall best bread puddings. What can basically be described as a deconstructed version of the dish, it breaks down to long brioche sticks (like a better version of Burger King's French Toast Sticks), house-whipped chocolate chip whipped cream, a smooth creme anglaise and "cinnamon smoke." Yes, cinnamon smoke. Lifting up that glass on the left there unleashes a burnt cinnamon aroma that fills the table and surrounding area. Gimmicky? Sure. Still pretty whimsical and fun? Sure.

Oliver's Prime (at The Grafton on Sunset)
8462 W. Sunset Blvd, WeHo
Valet parking available

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mo-Chica Offers One of the City's Best Lunch Specials

I'll be forthright: I kinda, sorta forgot about Mo-Chica. And you probably did too. Ricardo Zarate's modern take on Peruvian comfort food was all that and a bag of chips when it first premiered tucked away in a somewhat derelict downtown food court in 2009. It was a destination restaurant for Los Angelenos from all corners of the Southland. Then for many westsiders like myself, the opening of his second restaurant, Picca, near the Kosher Corridor, meant there was now a Zarate restaurant sans the traffic. Then came Paiche in Marina del Rey. So, despite opening a bigger, brightly-colored, more inviting, stand alone, cavern-like, Mo-Chica in DTLA, the restaurant slipped from memory.

However, after receiving an invite to grant the restaurant another try, it certainly won't be forgotten again. And you should probably re-visit it too. Especially at lunch time as Mo-Chica offers one of the city's most creative and filling lunch specials. Like Mozza, Mo-Chica is the type of restaurant that doesn't need to offer a lunch special. It's generally crowded and beloved by downtown denizens. It's regular prices aren't astronomical either. Rather, by offering the special, it enables patrons to experience and experiment amongst a whopping 15 different entrees and, in doing so, remind everyone why Zarate won Food & Wine's Best New Chef in 2011. All for $15.

Every day the lunch special comes with two "daily sides." On my visit, they offered a Spinach Salad and a Quinoa Salad. The Spinach Salad was pretty straight forward, but the slight spice of its aji pepper vinaigrette set it apart from your normal ho-hum spinach salad. The Quinoa Salad was even better. Full of fresh red and golden beets, the dish also consisted of a mix of both fluffy AND baked quinoa, along with a little creamy dressing. The crunch from the baked quinoa added a layer that you just don't get in most quinoa salads. Even more unexpected coming on a "daily side" portion of a lunch special. Slight touches like this demonstrate Mo-Chica's deft.

Although the Lunch Special alone would have been plenty fine, it's pretty tough (see: IMPOSSIBLE) to go to a Zarate restaurant and not order a raw fish dish. Based on recommendations, I went with the Tiradito de Seabass (basically Peruvian sashimi of seabass), which was delightful. Yes, I said, 'delightful.' The slightly seared seabass, cilantro and citrusy aji sauce make for a refreshing (w/ spice undertones) early Spring appetizer. Furthermore, the kitchen's addition of a "garlic chip" atop each piece (once again) added nice overall texture. 

Choosing the entree wasn't easy. There were 15 choices after all. Ultimately I decided on the most popular entree on the menu, Lomo Saltado, and my dining partner went a little bit more adventurous in ordering the Estofado de Alpaca. First note on both entrees: they were sizeable portions. I don't know exactly what I expected, but often lunch specials leave a diner wanting more. Both of these lunch servings were plenty big. The beef filet of the Lomo Saltado was ideally tender and the flavor balance of the tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and wine vinegar created a familiar, yet destinct taste. The accompanying thick Kennebec fries were perfect to soak up the extra sauce. The Estofado de Alpaca on the other hand was the first time I had ever had alpaca and I didn't hate it. Similar in texture to a short rib stew, the spicy alpaca worked well with the housemade eggy noodles below. Can't really complain about the egg atop either. 

Not that they were necessary, but the restaurant also provided three sauces of varying heats. Our favorite was the orange in the middle.

Mo-Chica prides themselves on their Pisco Sour and it certainly had a bite. The restaurant's logo on the upper foam is pretty cool too.

Each lunch special comes with a dessert of the day. Although it's a crapshoot, I was really hoping for the Tres Leche cake as I read about it in various spots. And what do you know: the dessert of the day was the Mo-Chica Tres Leche cake. It was perfectly milky with caramel undertones and rather decadent for tres leches. The kitchen decided one dessert wasn't enough for us though and also sent out their Alfajores. The Peruvian cookies, one with chocolate and the other with dulce de leche filling, were a great ending to a great lunch.

This meal really is an incredible downtown bargain. Like with a similar multi-course lunch special at Mozza, it makes a local step back and remember how friggin' lucky we are to be eating in LA right now. National award-winning restaurants all over town, offering LUNCH SPECIALS. Deals that enable us to really sample the menu. And Mo-Chica's menu is a menu worth sampling.

514 W. 7th Street, DTLA
Lunch Daily 11:30 am - 2:30 pm

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Update: CIBOTECA, an Italian "Fast Casual Gourmet Marketplace," Now Open Down the Street From Bay Cities

For years Santa Monicans, sick of waiting in endless Bay Cities lines, have cried themselves to sleep at night in search of nearby high-end deli competition. Well, their prayers are finally being answered as the Piccolo Group (Piccolo Venice, Hostaria del Piccolo) opens CIBOTECA, right down the street at 606 Broadway in Santa Monica.

Very much an Italian deli with California sensibilities, the "fast casual gourmet marketplace" promises "panini to insalate, seasonal sides and take-away creations, whimsical pastries" as well as Caffe Luxxe coffee and housemade and imported goods. On the sandwich menu, the Cotoletta (veal milanese, dijon mustard, shaved parmesan, mizuna) and Salmone (smoked salmon, roasted mushrooms, robiolina soft cheese) sound especially enticing - on some solid-looking Bread Lounge bread. As for the patisserie, the Green Tea Tiramisu should be a stand out.

With Bay Cities finally receiving big league competition in the 'hood, it will be interesting to see if the BC hysteria dies down at all. Probably not. Yet still enthralling to have a new beachside Italian deli.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

First Thoughts: Whiz, a K-Town Cheesesteak Joint

All photos courtesy of Aaron Horwitz
Have you ever met someone who didn't like a Philly cheesesteak? If so, please disassociate yourself from this crazy lunatic immediately. Cheesesteaks are America's food. Right up there with ice cream, hot dogs, cheeseburgers and apple pie. You don't like cheesesteaks, than, obviously, you pretty much don't like America. Their utter loveliness aside, Los Angelenos often find themselves lacking cheesesteak options. They just aren't available on every street corner like some other major cities. 

The people behind popular Koreatown upscale bar food/craft beer haven, Beer Belly, want to change that with the recent introduction of Whiz. Named after the sacred 'steak cheese sauce, Whiz, located a few K-Town blocks west of Beer Belly, fancies itself as "a neighborhood joint," serving East Coast-style hoagies (a.k.a. BIG, gluttonous, and with an accent), but don't be fooled: this is a classic cheesesteak shop. Sure, there are other items on the menu, but I wouldn't bother yourself. Especially if you make the trek from the westside. Walk into the quaint/tiny/not that big space, order a cheesesteak, maybe two, go back outside, plop down at one of the few tables and anxiously await the Philadelphia experience. Maybe while you bask in the sun, take out your cell phone and call it a "phoon" or, at the very least, ensure everyone in the vicinity knows Rocky is your hero.

All Whiz cheesesteaks come on authentic 9" Amoroso's rolls. Also, unlike many West Coast cheesesteak joints, Whiz does not skimp on the meat. In fact, all their sandwiches are filled beyond the brim and at times the bread simply cannot contain its inhabitants. 

On my inaugural Whiz experience, my dining partner and I sampled three cheesesteak varietals...

Atop there is the Bacon American (American cheese and Applewood Smoked Bacon), then the Philly Steak (Grilled Onions - with added Provolone) and finally, the Jalapeno Jack (housemade Pepper Jack Whiz and house-pickled Jalapenos). In an attempt to confuse the heck out of you, I inconveniently placed these pictures in descending order of least favorite to most favorite. The Bacon American, while an interesting twist on the classic cheesesteak with the addition of bacon and American, didn't thrill. There's a gimmicky feeling and taste to the sandwich. The bacon seems a tad superfluous on a sandwich loaded with steak. And American cheese clearly deserves the bronze when it comes to cheesesteak cheese options. 

However, I did enjoy both the Philly Steak and Jalapeno Jack. The Philly Steak is about as traditional of a Philly-style steak as one will come by in the Southland - and that is meant with sincere appreciation. No frills, just a quintessential steak and cheese. Thin, finely chopped ribeye and deftly caramelized, grilled onions. I added some sweet peppers, but the steak, cheese and onions had plenty of flavor on their own. My favorite of the afternoon though was the Jalapeno Jack. I don't even love cheese whiz, but the housemade, slightly spicy sauce really elevated the sandwich (note: they also offer regular, homemade cheese whiz as well). Initially used as the base to the mac and cheese at sister restaurant, Beer Belly, the whiz is creamy and ideally complimentary to the steak. Unlike the Bacon American, the Jalapeno Jack added a twist to the archetypal cheesesteak and, in doing so, elevated it. Only complaint: the whiz made the sandwich a little soggy and forced some utensil usage. 

We also ordered a side of fries and while I wouldn't dissuade from ordering them, be aware they are your basic krinkle fries. They are especially crisp though.

If you have a hankering for a classic cheesesteak, you will like Whiz. It's conveniently located near The Wiltern and will certainly be my pre-show stop from this point forward. It's a boon to Koreatown - joining other nearby 'steak shop, Boo's. No matter your cheese allegiances though, don't be a fool, go with the namesake, order "wit whiz."

3901 W. 6th Street, Koreatown.
Open 7 days a week, 11:30 am - 9 pm.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

5 Questions With... The Grilled Cheese Invitational Founder On This Year's Final GCI

Twelve years ago a Los Angeleno by the name of Tim Walker had an ingenious idea: a celebration of grilled cheese and only grilled cheese. What started in his tiny apartment has grown over the years into an annual cheesy bacchanalia of thousands of competitors and grilled cheese tasters alike. However, like all great things, The Grilled Cheese Invitational will be coming to an end this year as Tim recently announced the April 12th GCI will be its last

As someone who has helped executive judge the past three GCIs I was greatly saddened by the news, yet I understood it. The GCI has grown so exponentially the past few years it was almost impossible to keep up with the demand. Tim and his crew have worked tirelessly to put on an amazing event - and they deserve a rest. That said, I am stoked for The Last Grilled Cheese Invitational and you should be too. Tim was generous enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the history of the event and what will make this final go around so special...

(Note: I threw in some of my favorite sandwiches from last year's events; photo cred: Aaron Horwitz)

1. Describe what the first GCI was like. Back then did you have any idea what it would become?

When I first started the event back in 2003, I really didn't know just how crazy it was going to become. At the beginning, it was a bunch of good friends, getting together for a party where we cooked and ate grilled cheese. That first time we had only 16 competitors and 90 people showed up to judge. Someone even showed up with a flamethrower to cook their grilled cheese (in my living room, no joke), which made us write our first rule of "No Flamethrowers!"

The event was a total blast and we all knew we were going to do a second event.

At the second event, we introduced trophies and that was the thing that made it take off. That's when it became bloodsport. 

Really, though, the moment that had the most effect on my was when we moved the event to Los Angeles Center Studios in 2010.

The crowd we had that year was sooo huge that it put me in to a state of shock as to just how crazy this thing had become.  From the very beginning, we've tried to make it as crazy and funny and FUN as we could and to be at that moment, where we had that many people who wanted to be a part of it was really an amazing thing.

2. Do you think there's something special about grilled cheese that transcends just being a sandwich?

I do. It's a gateway to gourmet. The Grilled Cheese sandwich was relegated, held prisoner even, to the kids menu at most restaurants.  Most everyone's first experience was with a grilled cheese that their mom made. It connects to the synapses in your brain where everything that ailed you, everything that you had to deal with at that time in your life, could be cured with something as simple and pure and good as a grilled cheese that your mom made for you.

Now that the marketplace has exploded with gourmet ingredients, one can build upon that experience and update it with a modern palate with unlimited possibilities and help serve as a spring board into more awesome fare.

3. What led you to decide this year would be the last Invitational?

This event has brought many people, myself included, an amazing amount of joy and craziness. When we started, the idea of gourmet grilled cheese didn't exist. 

Now the sandwich is more connected to the gourmet experience than the kids menu.

To change the course of food, to change the course of the american menu, is a crazy notion. 

The event has created empires. People who came to the event, competed and changed their lives forever, all because of a Grilled Cheese. The fact that you can get a damn good Grilled Cheese sandwich in pretty much every city across the country means we won the battle.

Most importantly, it's just....time. The event has been a backbreaking amount of work and each year it doesn't get any easier. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to take an underground and essentially illegal event and make it a real, public thing, without sacrificing the vibe and the original spirit with which the event was created. I think we've been largely successful with that. But it's come at a price. The event happens because of hundreds of volunteers and a key staff of volunteers who have put THOUSANDS of hours of sweat equity into the project. It's been a great time.  We've changed the world...and, well, we're all tired.

Initially, there wasn't going to be an event this year. We were all searching for the gumption and the reason to make it happen. I wasn't having any luck with sponsorship money, key staff were set on retiring, etc. so I had already called it as over.

But then I realized that it was unfair to do that to the fans, and everyone who helped make the event what it is. That in order to do this right, we should hold one, last Grilled Cheese Invitational and do so with the knowledge that it's the last and that we're here to celebrate our accomplishments and take a curtain call for what's been done.

4. What is your/are your favorite grilled cheeses from past GCIs?

Most of my favorites are from the dessert category, if only because before our event, the very notion of a dessert Grilled Cheese was Poppycock! In 2012, someone even candied actual $5 bills to add to the sandwich as accoutrement. Since the money was candied, it was technically not bribing the judges and we allowed it.

My most favorite Grilled Cheese was a dessert grilled cheese that my partner Gallagher won with in 2005.  It was homemade banana bread grilled in banana infused butter, with a frozen, rum infused ricotta cannoli filling and drizzled with homemade caramel. It was the Iced Italian Stallion, and it was out of this goddamn world.

5. Why should people -- both former attendees and newbies -- attend the last GCI?

People should still come to the event because it's still the craziest goddamn food based event, anywhere. It's not watching competitive eaters try for prize money, it's not a passive Rib Cook Off where all one is supposed to do is show up and eat, it's the Grilled Cheese Invitational! Where yelling is not only allowed, it's encouraged! It's the event where everyday people can transform into champions, all thanks to their creativity with the best damn sandwich America has ever seen.

Most importantly, though, you should buy tickets and come to the event to help me thank all the volunteers, all the key staff people, all the ordinary Joes and Josephines who spent a good amount of their valuable free time and effort to put on the cheesiest damn thing the world has ever seen.

Monday, March 17, 2014

M Street Kitchen Wants To Reward You For Wearing Your Collegiate Colors

Santa Monica's M Street Kitchen may not have made any of the menu alterations they promised yet, but that doesn't mean it still isn't a great spot for a great deal. In accord with the NCAA Basketball Tournament, which starts tomorrow, the beachside restaurant known for their peerless Chicken Nachitos and life-size Chocolate Chip Cookies will offer a 20% discount to all customers wearing "college team" attire. Patrons are also offered the opportunity to experience Happy Hour drinking pricing instead. And good news to fellow fans of not-good-at-sports colleges (my BU Terriers got so damn close this year...): the deal is kosher for any college team. So throw on those UNC Carolina Blue shorts - or dust off that UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs hat - and enjoy some good grub at a good price for the next two weeks.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Santa Monica Doughnut Scene About To Get Fancified Via Sidecar

Eater LA recently broke the exciting news that Sidecar Doughnuts is coming to Santa Monica. With this in mind, I reached out to the little Orange County doughnut shop phenom to pilfer more intel for those who may be unacquainted. First off, know this: these doughnuts are good. Very good. Not just their adventurous varietals like Cara Cara Orange and Membrillo & Manchego, but their classics, like Butter & Salt and Apple Fritter. Sorry DK and Primo's, but they will immediately become the best doughnuts this side of the 405. In fact, ever since they opened their Costa Mesa shop in late Spring last year, Sidecar has widely been praised as the best 'nut purveyor in all of SoCal. 

It seemed like only a matter of time before they expanded - and luckily for westsiders, they chose Santa Monica as their first LA location. Although SC was scant on exact details, they plan to open somewhere in Santa Monica in "the fall." Like the Costa Mesa shop, the menu will rotate monthly based on ingredient seasonality, holidays and the such. Here's the March menu, for example. All of which sound pretty friggin' delicious. Their stalwarts, including Maple Bacon and Huckleberry will remain available throughout the year. They also serve (superb) Stumptown Coffee, making Sidecar an ideal morning stop on your way into the office. Or, say, on your way to returning to your couch.

Honestly it's about time the westside joins the fancy doughnut parade. Seemed odd a Donut Friend or Donut Snob competitor hadn't popped up oceanside. More so, to think in the very near future Santa Monicans can enjoy a top notch doughnut for breakfast AND a quality cookie for lunch/snack. Obviously, this will be both a blessing and a curse. I look forward to it greatly.

Opening in Santa Monica, Fall '14