Monday, July 21, 2014

Half Off Any Cheesecake Slice at Cheesecake Factory

Are you like me in that you love The Cheesecake Factory, but just know it's not the best idea in the whole wide world to simply stop by a CF for a casual Tuesday night dinner? That it could wreck both blood pressure and mental psyche for months on end? YET... you still would pretty much give your right (and left, if need be) arm to try that new'ish Toasted Marshmallow S'more Galore cheesecake?!



Either way, the generous Factory folks want you to stop by their restaurants for National Cheesecake Day. Yes, there's a National Cheesecake Day. And to celebrate, every Cheesecake Factory nationwide is offering half off any* cheesecake slice on Wednesday, July 30th and Thursday, July 31st

((Note: by *any, they mean amongst 30 popular selections; deal also only good for one slice per sit-down dining patron))

Thursday, July 17, 2014

FREE FREE FREE: Free Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches for National Ice Cream Sandwich Day August 2nd

Very few things in life equate to the pleasure of a good macaron. Add fresh, high quality, housemade ice cream in the middle making it a friggin' Macaron Ice Cream Sandwich?! Sounds pretty sweet (that was a pun...). Even better, how about getting said concoction for $0.00? 

To celebrate National Ice Cream Sandwich Day on Saturday, August 2nd, Napoleon's Macarons (two locations: Westfield Topanga and Glendale's Americana at Brand) will be giving out the so-called Maca'Longs FOR FREE from 2-4 pm. The flavors on offer for the giveaway (and everyday henceforth) will be Raspberry Pistachio, Hazelnut Lemon, Vanilla Pecan and Mocha.

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Napoleon's Macarons
Americana at Brand, 608 Americana Way, Glendale
Westfield Topanga, 6600 Topanga Canyon Road, Canoga Park

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Prepare Your Stomachs, The Taste Food Festival Returns to LA Labor Day Weekend

Good news, hungry people: The Taste returns to Paramount Studios backlot this Labor Day Weekend. The three day long LA Times-run culinary bacchanalia features many of the city's best chefs and restaurants offering up tiny bites of awesomeness. What is widely considered LA's apex when it comes to food festivals (very good, yet approachable food to satiate the gourmand AND the layman) steps it up this year even further with the addition of famed chef Thomas Keller to the Sunday brunch event. THOMAS KELLER. BRUNCH. Now try to sleep between now and Labor Day...

The rest of the lineup and deets straight from the horse's mouth:
·         Opening Night; Fri., Aug. 29th, 7:30 to 11:00 p.m.
The Times’ renowned Food staff, the festival’s co-hosts, and participating chefs and bartenders gather for a soiree with a focused collection of tastings, premium cocktail and wine offerings, and live entertainment. Restaurants include CAFÉ del REY, DeSano Pizza Bakery, Girasol, Guelaguetza, Hamasaku, Mexicali Taco & Co., Pedalers Fork, Phorage, Plan Check, Sotto, Sushi Roku, THE Blvd Restaurant, Waterloo & City.
·         Field to Fork – Hosted by Russ Parsons, Times Food Editor, and Nancy Silverton, Chef/Co-Owner of Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza; Sat., Aug. 30th, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Local flavors shine at this day defined by fresh, seasonal ingredients with demos from Silverton, Tal Ronnen (Crossroads), C.J. Jacobson (Girasol) and Bruce Kalman (Union). In addition to wine seminars that inspire the palate, the event will feature a roundtable about cooking with famers market finds moderated by Parsons with Roxana Jullapat (Cooks County), Josiah Citrin (Mélisse), Jessica Koslow (Sqirl) and Vincenzo Marianella (Copa d’Oro). Restaurants include BOA Steakhouse, Chichén Itzá, Eveleigh, Girasol, Lemonade, Lotería Grill, Lum-Ka-Naad Thai, Michaels on Naples, Napa Valley Grille, Palihouse Brasserie, Pono Burger, Tender Greens.
·         Dinner with a Twist – Hosted by Betty Hallock, Times Deputy Food Editor, Jonathan Gold, Times Restaurant Critic, John Sedlar, Chef/Owner of Rivera, and Master Bartender Julian Cox; Sat., Aug. 30th, 7:30 to 11:00 p.m.
LA’s formidable cocktail and culinary cultures collide with demos from chef & bartender duos including Sedlar & Cox, Ricardo Zarate & Deysi Alvarez (Mo-Chica, Picca, Paiché) and Michael Hung & Michael Lay (Faith & Flower). The collaborative spirit continues with a group demo featuring Alex Day & David Kaplan (Proprietors LLC), Max Deaman & Mikki Kristola (The Varnish) and Naomi Schimek (The Spare Room). Restaurants include BierBeisl, Carnitas El Momo, Craig’s Restaurant, Grub, Public School on Tap, RivaBella, Sotto, The Churchill, The Misfit Restaurant + Bar, The Raymond.
·         Sunday Brunch – Hosted by Noelle Carter, Times Test Kitchen Director, and Thomas Keller, Chef/Proprietor of The French Laundry and Bouchon; Sun., Aug. 31st, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Brunch gets its due at a family-friendly affair with demos from Carter, Karen Hatfield (The Sycamore Kitchen, Hatfield’s) and Casey Lane (The Tasting Kitchen). Russ Parsons will be on hand to discuss 20 years of The French Laundry with Chef Keller and Laundry alums Jeff Cerciello (Farmshop), David Hands (Bouchon Bistro) and Timothy Hollingsworth (Broad Museum Restaurant). Melissa Nicola (Nic’s Beverly Hills) will join Times columnist Steve Lopez to share edible creations from the students at CAKE (Culinary Arts Kids Eat). Restaurants include Del Rey Deli Co., Guelaguetza, Lotería Grill, Muddy Leek, my two cents, THE Blvd Restaurant, Wilshire Restaurant.
·         Flavors of LA – Hosted by Jonathan Gold, Times Restaurant Critic, and Michael Cimarusti, Chef/Owner of Providence, Chef/Partner of Connie and Ted’s; Sun., Aug. 31st, 7:30 to 11:00 p.m.
The closing night spotlights the city’s rich and varied tastes with demos from Cimarusti, Evan Kleiman (KCRW’s “Good Food”), Jimmy Shaw (Lotería Grill) and Amelia Posada (Lindy & Grundy). Exploring the art and science of foraging, Gold will talk found fare with chefs Ari Taymor (Alma) and Wes Avila (Guerrilla Tacos) and wild food expert Pascal Baudar. Culinary mixologist Tricia Carr will cap off the evening with a crushed cocktails how-to. Restaurants include Acabar, Ayara Thai Cuisine, Border Grill, Fishing with Dynamite, Horse Thief BBQ, Manhattan Beach Post, Meals by Genet, Mr. Chow, Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza, Phorage, Pine & Crane, Urban Garden.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Eat This Right Now: Kouign-Amann (Bread Lounge)

They may be profoundly difficult to pronounce (qween ah-MON, according to LA Weekly), but Kouign-Amanns are having their LA moment right now. The Breton pastry and its buttery-sugary crystallized nirvana suddenly appears on almost every Southland bakery menu. The best version though is definitely from DTLA's Bread Lounge. If you don't think you know Bread Lounge, you probably do. Their superlative bread can be found as the base for sandwiches all over town. They have a way with dough that's pretty unparalleled in these parts and this extends to the Kouign-Amann. Flaky like a croissant, sugary like a morning bun, enormous like a pastry for an entire breakfast should be. Go get it.

700 S. Santa Fe Ave, DTLA
Mon-Thurs, 7:30-5:30; Fri-Sat, 7-6:30; Sun, 8-5:30

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why Crumbs Failed

Disgruntling news hit today that Crumbs, the cupcakery that went light speed from local Upper West Side obsession to publicly-traded national chain in cahoots with Starbucks, was closing all of their stores. While many are quick to blame the so-called "Cupcake Fad" ending or numerous other missteps along the way, it's all pretty much rubbish. The Crumbs Collapse of 2014 has almost nothing to do with cupcakes supposedly losing their luster or appeal with the American sweettooth, nor did foolish strategic partnerships with the likes of BJ's warehouse stores doom the cupcake bakery.

The reasoning is much more obvious than that:

The cupcakes didn't taste good.

They just weren't good cupcakes.

They looked good. Towering, massive cupcakes so big you almost wonder if they should have been labeled mini-cakes, or at least two-cupcakes. Each one topped with enough brownie bits and cookie dough to be a full dessert themselves, it almost seemed impossible not to be pleased with what you were ordering. But it was all smokescreen. A classic example of the carpet not matching the drapes. The cake often dry, the frosting almost too thick to consume. For me, the well-adorned Crumbs quickly became the cupcake to bring somewhere, but not to eat.

They looked awesome; they didn't taste awesome.

So, if you are a consumer in a major US city (where almost all of the Crumbs were located) and you tried Crumbs once. Maybe twice. Both times left you wanting more. Then they slowly raise their prices.  Up to a whopping $4.50 apiece. Soon there is very little reason to return. Not when there are dozens (pun intended) of similar, better options in town. In the food biz nowadays, your product either tastes really good and you can charge whatever the market dictates or your foodstuff sells at a pricepoint considered a really good deal. Those are the two barometers and there's very little room for anything else.

Was Crumbs possibly really good before they expanded and a victim of captialism - like many other famous food chains? Possibly. I guess I'll never know. However, I do know it wasn't good by the time it made its way to Los Angeles and that was in the company's more nascent expansion stages.

As for people continuing to claim the Cupcake Fad is over. I point you to Crumbs former competition on Little Santa Monica Blvd.: Sprinkles. Sprinkles now has a whopping 17 locations. SEVENTEEN! They even recently expanded into ice cream and cookies. The love of their cupcake business though has not subsided.

How do I know this? Have I examined their books? No. I took a, well, more anthropological approach. You see, I (stupidly) went to The Grove recently on a Friday summer night, which all Los Angelenos know is an absolute no-no. It was utter, sweaty mayhem. The stuff of horror films. Know where the longest line was? Not the Apple Store or Umami Burger, instead vultures crowded near the small Sprinkles booth tucked in an innocuous corner near the parking lot entrance - and it was nearly 11 pm.

While many would claim all those Grove Sprinkles denizens MUST BE tourists, I assure you they weren't. In fact, they were almost all locals based on their line small talk. I know this because I was in line after realizing I hadn't had a Sprinkles cupcake in a while and craved one. After all, they're really good.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Happy Hour at Cecconi's is no Baloney's

When you think of a restaurant so swanky the only term that comes to mind is "hotspot" and you use "hotspot" to describe such restaurant despite absolutely loathing the term "hotspot," how would YOU envision their Happy Hour-esque menu? Probably limited, right? Probably not that great of a bargain? At the very least, small portions? Or, if anything, available during very short timeframes?

I thought all the above. And I was wrong on all accounts regarding the "4 to 7" Menu at West Hollywood hotspot, Cecconi's. The aptly-monikered bill of fare is available Tuesday through Saturday from 4-7 pm and includes NINE well-portioned $4 food items (and beer on tap) as well as an additional four sizable $7 delicacies (and cocktails). Also awesome: free valet before 6 pm. All this within the friendly turquoise and marble confines of a tony indoor/outdoor Melrose restaurant that looks exactly how  all your friends in Wisconsin imagine all Hollywood restaurants appear.

The most ballyhooed "4 to 7" foodstuff is definitely the Truffle Burger. The seat-filler, the LeBron of the menu, if you will. Rightfully so too, as there aren't many better $7 Happy Hour menu burgers in town. It's a nice, thin, but not slight, well-griddled patty, with melted fontina, a thin slice of pancetta, a whole grain mustard and a subtly strong black truffle paste-oil-aioli, all on a house-made, croissant-level flaky, onion brioche bun. It's indulgent and almost hard to finish solo, just the way Happy Hour food thrives to be, yet rarely achieves.

The burger is not the only menu standout though. Here are the three other "4 to 7" dishes you should definitely order on your next visit...

Burrata, Tomato, Avocado & Basil ($7)

Probably my four favorite ingredients on Planet Earth. All in one dish. All super duper fresh with a complimentary balsamic reduction drizzle on top. Great for sharing - or hogging like I did.

Pizzetta w/ Asparagus, Broccolini, Chili, Scamorza ($4)

As my fellow dining patron, Sam, asserted: "This is only four bucks?" Yep, that firm, yet chewy-crusted, veggie-packed gondola fresh from the wood-burning oven is a measly four buckaroos. It even comes with a fancier version of mozzarella in the form of cow's milk smoked Scamorza. 

Baked Gnocchi Romana, Gorgonzola ($4)

This is a Venetian-influenced restaurant, so it seems absurd not to order at least one pasta dish. Their mini-skillet serving of creamy, cheesy, BAKED gnocchi is a tremendous, delicious deal. No one-gnocchi-a-serving-Happy Hour here.

8764 Melrose Avenue, WeHo
"4 to 7" Menu, Tuesday through Saturday, 4-7 pm
Free valet parking before 6 pm 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Eat This Right Now: Playa Provisions' Roasted Chicken & Brie

Wait a tick, who all of a sudden made Playa del Rey the Chicken Pesto Sandwich Capital of Los Angeles? I feel like I just finished salivating over the CPS at Del Rey Deli and here I am right back in bed with another Chicken Pesto sandwich from the Playa area. 

Truth be told, the Playa Provisions (at the Kings Beach Cafe counter) entry may be even better than its predecessor. You know how cool teenagers say their new shoes are "fresh to death?" No? Oh. Well, I'm pretty sure I've heard a cool teenager say that. Either way, just imagine the term "fresh to death" because Playa Provisions' Roasted Chicken & Brie sandwich is just that. Super fresh. To death. Hot, freshly roasted chicken, a generous amount of melting brie, vibrant kale pesto, farmers' market roasted tomatoes and the sweet-spice of peppadews. All on a cushy, almost pillow-like ciabatta. 

I want it right now.

Kings Beach Cafe at Playa Provisions
119 Culver Blvd, Playa del Rey
Open every day, 7:30 am-6 pm

Friday, June 13, 2014

Eating Like an Idiot For a Weekend in San Francisco

Imagine a young man celebrating his 2nd 29th birthday. Now imagine this same young(ish) man celebrating 29-II in the midst of a nine-month long low-carb wedding diet (because he hopes of not being suffocated by his wedding suit as if it were a Bond villain). More so, imagine how this young man would want to celebrate this momentous birthday, in which he bestows upon himself an entire Cheat Weekend. He wants carbs, dude. Carbs. Thus, when it came to deciding the weekend birthday destination there really wasn't much debate. It would be San Francisco, an unparalleled carbohydrate sanctuary, and, more specifically, home to sublime sourdough bread.

This would be a Cheat Weekend that other Cheat Weekends write home to their parents about. The Cheat Weekend other Cheat Weekends shared with their grandkids. The Cheaty-est Weekend of Cheaty Weekends. The weekend in which I would leave my heart rate in San Francisco.

And I did just that. I ate like an idiot and loved every bite. 

Here is everything I (with my fiancee's kind assistance) devoured in less than 48 San Francisco hours...

BREAKFAST - Saturday, 8:47 A.M. 
Almond Croissant and Chocolate Croissant at Tartine Bakery

When you tediously wait in a decently long line at eight in the morning for a freaking pastry you want it to be really, really good. Well, Tartine's Almond Croissant is the best I've ever had. Flaky and buttery, yet crisp and almond paste-crystallized where you want it, the croissant packs serious almond flavor. And the Chocolate was still celestially hot out of the oven! I can't really envision a more ethereal croissant experience not in a country that starts with 'F' and ends with 'rance.'

LUNCH - Saturday, 12:17 P.M.
4 Formaggi Pizza and Broccoli Rabe Pizza at Pizzeria Delfina

The past few weeks I lost sleep over which pizza spot to inhabit during the visit. That's not hyperbolic b.s.; I was that conflicted. I'm a huge Tony's fan, but ultimately decided to give Pizzeria Delfina a whirl. Really delicious, solid, farm-to-table, Neopolitan-adjacent pies with a chewy, bubbly, thin crust (with A+ underbelly leopard spotting). I especially enjoyed the Broccoli Rabe because broccoli rabe is the best thing ever and I could eat it on anything. Let alone atop a high class pie.

AFTERNOON SNACK - Saturday, 1:03 P.M. 
Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Brown Sugar Caramel Swirl Ice Cream at Bi-Rite Creamery

Completely by accident the three destinations I desired to visit most WERE ON THE SAME STREET. The same block to be exact. This coincidence made it simple to glide ("roll" is probably the more proper term as my belly expanded...) from Tartine to Delfina to Bi-Rite Creamery. Bi-Rite is very good. I wouldn't say great though. Both ice creams, although smooth and tasty, possessed hints of teeny, tiny icy remnants; consequently, Bi-Rite just slightly misses the creaminess apex along the likes of Santa Monica's Sweet Rose Creamery and Princeton, New Jersey's The Bent Spoon.  

EARLY EVENING SNACK - Saturday, 4:50 P.M.
Tartine Bakery leftovers

Somehow odd bits of the croissants survived the morning and I obviously needed to take care of that.

DINNER - Saturday, 5:52 P.M.
Marlowe Burger at Marlowe

This was my only formal dinner in San Francisco. It was also my birthday dinner, so I wanted it to be extra special. Getting in the way however: we had to meet my parents near the ballpark before we caught the Giants-Mets. Although bountiful, the options around AT&T aren't exactly 2nd 29th birthday-worthy, except for Marlowe. Marlowe turned out to be a solid choice and you really can't go to Marlowe and not order the namesake burger. I mean, you can, but why do something so stupid? The well-charred patty sneakily has 20% lamb ground in and it makes all the difference. Add merited cheddar, crispy bacon, oddly effective shredded lettuce and a nose-clearing horseradish aioli and you have ambrosia. It also comes on an Acme bun, which is about as San Franciscan as an earthquake while riding a cable car. 

DESSERT - Saturday, 8:08 P.M.
A selection of baked goods from Icing on the Cake (Los Gatos)

Truth: there is nothing better in life than the smell of Icing on the Cake bakery. Not the shaky glass water scene in "Jurassic Park." Not acing an interview. Not winning the World Series. Not Golden Retriever puppies. Nothing is better. They should sell IOTC car air fresheners. It is nirvana. Located in the affluent South Bay enclave of Los Gatos, I recommend anyone with a sweet tooth make the trek to the whimsical bakery with a transcendent waft. The baked goods are also about as good as it gets. And they have a crazy large selection. I've never encountered a bakery with such a vast selection where nothing sucks. So my Dad fulfilled my birthday wish by picking up a potpouri of IOTC for the game, including my favorites Maple Moon (maple-glazed cakey-cookie), Chcoolate Chip Pound Cake (buttery awesome and probably weighs multiple pounds) and the Chunker (a chocolate chip cookie with large brownie chunks on top).

LATE NIGHT SNACK - Sunday, 12:45 A.M.
Pizzeria Delfina leftovers

After a post-game Moscow Mule at Tradition, we returned to our hotel room and went hog wild on our Delfina leftovers. Few thrills in life eclipse late-night cold, good pizza on your birthday.

Gougere from Tartine Bakery

Amidst eating like a fool Saturday we forgot about the third Tartine item we purchased: a gougere. I wouldn't call myself a Gougere Afiocionado (but, honestly, nobody should call themselves something so peculiar...), yet I can't imagine a stronger execution. Gruyere cheesy and crusty on the outside, hollow, eggy and peppery on the inside. So French I found myself saying "oui" for no particular reason.

BRUNCH - Sunday, 11:25 A.M.
Weekend Buffet at Ironside

On our way to another Giants game, we were forced to pick a ballpark-adjacent eating house again. Ironside has long been my pre-weekend afternoon game destination. Their $18 unlimited buffet (plus an additional $10 for bottomless mimosas) is simply the best deal in SF. Possibly, based on quality-to-buck-ratio, the best buffet deal on Planet Earth. Vanilla bean oatmeal, crisp silver dollar buttermilk pancakes, chipotle-garlic potatoes, cheesy eggs, cheddar grits, fried sweet plantains, chocolate bread pudding, and the piece de resistance, round spicy housemade sausage patties. Now, is an enticing, unlimited buffet the morning after you ate like an idiot a good idea? Perhaps not. That said, despite being (incredibly) full from the night before, I devoured two full plates and six sausage patties. 

Garlic Fries at AT&T Park

I shouldn't have eaten these. Especially so fast I didn't get a pic. But the garlic fries up north are so superior to Dodger Stadium's version, I almost did it out of spite. It was a hate eat.

DINNER - 8:00 P.M.
Menage A Trois Sandwich from Ike's Place

Was it worth it to take a $20 cab across town to a sandwich spot I've always wanted to check out, then lug our heavy bags about a mile to BART just to have a quality final meal while we waited for our flight to board? Depends which of us you ask I guess. I would say, YES! Despite being out of their signature halal chicken (substituted with fried chicken in my case), as well as a little sloppy and overdressed (which is sorta Ike's thing), I really enjoyed my sandwich. With cheddar, pepper jack and Swiss cheeses, BBQ sauce, honey mustard, and real honey, it reminded me of an improved version of the kitchen sink sandwiches I concoct on drunken nights. Added bonus: it came on a Dutch Crunch roll, which is a quintessential NorCal secret weapon and the perfect final bite for my birthday weekend.

So, there you have it. What started at Tartine ended at Ike's. For a whole San Francisco weekend I ate like a total idiot. And loved it. Funny enough, I didn't even end up eating the foodstuff I coveted so much it made me decide on SF in the first place, sourdough bread. Oh well, guess I'll have to return for my 3rd 29th birthday next year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

FREE FREE FREE: Free Hot Dogs Saturday at Dog Haus

With a plan for a whopping 50 locations (!) in the near future, the local King's Hawaiian bread-bunned hot dog and burger joint, Dog Haus, clearly envisions taking over the world Dr. Evil-style. Before they get ahead of themselves though they plan on opening their fourth/first franchised location this Saturday, June 14th, in Canoga Park. And they want YOU to join the opening day festivities.

As a reward? FREE HAUS DOG. 
Free. Haus. Dog.

Just stop by between 11 am - 10 pm to collect your reward. On gratis offer will be a selection of Dog Haus' most popular tube steaks, including the Sooo Cali Haus Dog (arugula, tomato, crispy onions, spicy basil aioli and avocado; pictured above) and The Cowboy Haus Dog (American cheese, smoked bacon, bbq sauce and crispy onions), amongst other hits.

Dog Haus
6501 Topanga Canyon, Canoga Park
11am - 10pm daily

Monday, June 9, 2014

Waffles de Liege going de Brick and Mortar

Well, this brings a smile to my face - and a rumble to my belly. Three humble years after launching a wee four-wheeler slinging their rich battered, pearl sugar-crystalized waffles, the Waffles de Liege gents are going brick and mortar. Sometime late this month or early July, they will be opening the doors to their Belgian waffling domicile at 21 East Holly Street in the heart of Old Pasadena.

In a possible ironic sign of the times, the gourmet waffle spot is opening in the former home of a gourmet cupcakery. Since every sweet under the sun has had its "the next cupcake" fifteen minutes, why can't liege waffles be the new hip dessert?  They've already got a cool accent.