Erven Snags Best New Restaurant Title

When I popped into buzzy Erven, the eatery that inhabits the old RFD space at 514-516 Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica, to sample the much-lauded beer battered tofu sandwich, the staff that evening looked particularly chuffed.  I assumed that was because of the recent attention being showered on the vegan restaurant, and a good review from Jonathon Gold.  So when I congratulated them on their review, I got this response: “Which one?”  While it’s not out in print yet, turns out that Erven has just been named #1 of Los Angeles’ Best New Restaurants of 2016 by Los Angeles Magazine. You can see for yourself here.  Congratulations!

erven

 

 

Stella Rosa Building On Lincoln And Lucille In Venice

Have you been wondering what those banners announcing Stella Rosa wines (not to be confused with Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica) on the sides of the construction site on the corner of Lucille and Lincoln Blvd. in Venice are doing there?  Well, according to an official associated with the winery, the construction site will be a future “cool, upscale, office building”.  No word on what will be inhabiting the building quite yet…  Look for a September unveiling. stellarosawines

stella

True Food Kitchen Opens Today…

I got a chance to check out True Food Kitchen over the weekend.  The restaurant, which is on the ground floor of Santa Monica Place facing 2nd Street, officially opens today.  The space is bright and airy, with curving, warm lines and colors that soften the slightly industrial feel.  Since it faces west, the dining room is awash in light.  The kitchen and the prep areas are in the open and you can watch the staff hand-stuffing ravioli or chopping vegetables.  The menu is large, drawing from many different influences including Asian, Mediterranean, and American.  The concept for the menu is, according to their website, “simple, sustainable, fresh and pure” and is based on health guru Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet principles.  (The only complaint I heard on this visit was from my dining companion who thought the menu was too diverse and a bit difficult to navigate.)  There was a large selection of clearly marked vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items as well as meats.   The shiitake and tofu lettuce cups that I started with were delicious and hinted of ginger, toasted garlic, and soy.  I then sampled a roasted asparagus pizza, which was topped with smoked mozzarella, red onion, and marjoram.  The crust was thin and the flavors well-thought out.  And I’m a sucker for anything with marjoram in it.  I also tried a market vegetable scramble: fresh vegetables and egg over a hash made from sweet potato that was earthy, filling, and satisfying.  Everything was washed down with a cucumber refresher, but they do have a full bar, beer, and small but careful wine list sorted by bottle price ranging from $24 to $48 (although they do have a select few bottles over that).  Everything was served efficiently by friendly staff that went out of their way to explain inflammatory diet principles or point out things like house-made ice cream.  I have hight hopes for True Food Kitchen.  The overall feeling of the experience was neighborhood-y and relaxed.  This could be a great go-to restaurant when you just don’t know where to go.  The eclectic menu would please anyone.  And with a nod to healthy diet,  who wouldn’t feel good about eating here?  Read more at http://www.truefoodkitchen.com/.

Shiitake & tofu lettuce cup
Roasted asparagus pizza
Strawberry and rhubarb crisp
Flourless chocolate cake

Alfred Molina Loves La Dolce Vita

In case you haven’t had a chance to read the February issue of Bon Appetit magazine, the last page, which normally interviews a celebrity about food, caught up with British actor Alfred Molina.  Guess what he said was his favorite restaurant?  Our very own La Dolce Vita in Beverly Hills.  Long a favorite of mine, I love the rat pack vibe, the classic service, and the caesar salad, prepared at a special station while you watch, is the best in town (and can be made anchovy-less upon request!)  Request the ‘Ronald Reagan’ booth for one of the most entertaining shows in town: Hollywood high-rollers, Bev Hills doyennes in hats and opera gloves, and celebrities (I recently sat next to Tom Ford and his partner).  Going to La Dolce Vita is an event not just a meal.  Good choice, Alfie. 

http://www.ladolcevitabeverlyhills.com/

Bar Toscana, Brentwood

I got a chance to check out the new Bar Toscana in Brentwood.  First read:  this place is fantastic.  The vibe was hip and cool with a beautiful crowd lounging and sipping signature cocktails to indie music.  The decor was modern with a “New York-y” feel.  A lot of attention has clearly gone into the details from the undulating bar shelves, well-thought out presentation of food, and the spectacular digital projection art by local artist Jennifer Steinkamp.  Illuminating one wall and the floors of the front window, the images of plants and seasons constantly shift and change.  The effect is mesmerizing.  Service was snappy and cheerful.  From the Italian tapas menu, we settled on the vegetarian choices which included an amazing Polentine which are small cubes of polenta that are then dipped into a cheese fondue with shaved black truffle.  The dish was warm, satisfying comfort food at its best.  We also loved the Stuzzichino Toscana that arrived as three small jars containing an earthy fava been puree, an artichoke spread, and a vibrantly flavored tomato jam.  Toasted bread sits alongside.  I love playing with different flavor combinations and this was a knockout.  We also enjoyed the Zuppa di Carciofi (pureed artichoke soup with Parmigiano crisps), Insalata di Zucca (a roasted pumpkin salad with grilled chanterelle mushrooms, frisee, and goat cheese), an Italian cheese plate (served on an olive wood board-a small detail I loved), and finally we finished with a Bonet Piemontese a luscious warm chocolate cake with amaretti and caramel sauce.  The quantity was just enough and the timing of the service allowed us to pick and graze luxuriously over lively conversation the entire evening.  Ever watchful Sauro and Roberto checked in with us a number of times to ensure that everything was perfect.  They can rest assured that it was. 

The bar

Polentine, Stuzzichino Toscana

 

digital art by Jennifer Steinkamp

Hold On Irene! Bread Problem Fixed At Obikà, Century City

If you read S. Irene Virbila’s upbeat and positive review of Obikà Mozzarella Bar in the Westfield Century City Shopping Center, then you know that the one flaw she encountered was the lackluster bread, which she described as, “Squishy as Wonder Bread.”  (LA Times 10/18/10 http://articles.latimes.com/2010/oct/18/entertainment/la-et-earlybird18-20101018)  Well Sweetie, you can rest assured the problem has been remedied, even before your review went to print.  The bread, we were informed by manager Reagan, was now from Breadbar and was perfect accompaniment with the featured Mozzarella di Bufala DOP which, as you all know by now, is flown in fresh three times weekly.  On our recent visit, the food was everything Sister Irene promised.  We loved the tasting of fried mozzarella and vegetables with sage leaves and a spicy tomato sauce, the fried breaded mozzarella di bufala was a comforting treat of a grilled cheese, and the roasted bread topped with cherry tomatoes, caperberries, olives, fresh oregano, salted ricotta, and mozzarella di bufala DOP exploded with fresh mediterranean flavors punctuated by an intense salty caper bite.  We tried many other dishes as well, all thoroughly enjoyable.  But the hands-down winner at our table was the Rice and Eggplant Tortino with Smoked Mozzarella de Bufala Compana DOP.  I arrived at our table molded, the smoky mozzarella rice carefully hidden beneath grilled eggplant.  The light and fluffy rice was a perfect foil for the flavors of the eggplant, cheese, and pesto.  An unusual dish, but one that left us in awe.  Completely satisfied and stuffed, on the way out, we were introduced to the owners Nilde and Raimondo, whose friendliness, warmth, and genuine interest in us reminded us of dreamy evenings spent in trattorias in Southern Italy.  We instantly felt like family.  We were even treated with limoncello at the end of the evening!  While Century City Shopping Center may not feel like Italy, Obikà gets it right;  delicious, innovative food and friendly, warm staff. 

The new breadbasket by Breadbar
 
The Rice and Eggplant Tortino
Obikà (310) 556-2452  www.obikala.com

Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se, Artesia

Why can’t LA manage to come up with at least one really great Indian restaurant?  I’m talking about the likes of which one sees in London.  They have the most fantastic places like Amaya (http://www.amaya.biz/) that are  sleek blends of hip style, incredible food, chill beats, and lively bar scenes.  Going out for Indian is a whole night of entertainment.  Sadly, LA lacks anything like it.  I know there’s Tanzore.  I like the ambiance but the food, while good enough, never manages to deliver the wow punch.  Then there’s reliable old Bombay Cafe, which hasn’t changed in years.  It’s more of mid-week restaurant than a big night out.  There are a smattering of places in Beverly Hills and across the city, but still…they just fall a little short.  So I give up.  I decided to try to create an Indian dinner party at home.  Hip Bollywood remixes, lush tropical flowers, and exotic scents set the mood.  I chose a few fusion-y starters and nibbles, as well as a mango fool for dessert. For the main, I settled on a Goan curry from Camellia Panjabi’s authoritative tome, “The Great Curries Of India”.  Where was I going to find all the ingredients for this meal?  Little India of course!  I headed straight to Pioneer Blvd in Artesia for one-stop shopping.  I found everything easily enough (except for “true Kashmiri chilis” that Ms. Panjabi insists upon).  But I had another motive for driving that far.  Ever since I read in the LA Times about a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that specializes in Mumbai street food, and in particular a sandwich called a “dabeli”, I had to try it.  So after much searching and u-turns, I eventually ended up at Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se (From the streets of Mumbai).  Inside the simply decorated restaurant, I met the owner, Sailesh Shah, who with his wife have shaken up the Artesia food scene.   A gentle, unassuming man, Sailesh spoke to me at length about his profound beliefs in vegetarianism and the teachings of Gandhi.  It seemed clear to me that he was a deeply spiritual man.  He took time away from his busy day to go through my shopping list, instructing me on what to look for and which of the local markets was likely to have the obscure ingredients.  Then he added my name to a waiting list of people desperate to spend an afternoon in a cooking class with him, his 13-year-old daughter (who he brags is an amazing chef), and another Italian/Indian fusion chef from Napa.  The list has grown to 400 since the article in the Times.  Finally he brought me the dabeli, or to be more exact, two dabeli which is one order.  They consist of a feathery toasted bun cradling a wonderfully spicy, soft, and crumbly Mumbai-masala potato patty.  The flavors are then layered with chili peanuts, halved green grapes, raw onion, and pomegranate seeds.  The effect is dazzling!  The sandwiches are spicy, salty, sweet, tart, crunchy all at the same time.  The overall sensation is pure heaven.  I ate in a trance, washing them down with an iced yogurt drink flavored with saffron, cardamom, pistachio, and almond.  The complexity of this “piyush” floored me and left me feeling refreshed, exhilarated, and extremely lucky.  Ever since I shook hands with Sailesh and left Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se, I have not been able to stop thinking about the dabeli.  Perhaps I’ll have to host another Indian dinner party soon…  Oh, and the evening was a smash success!

Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se

17705 Pioneer Blvd, Artesia, Ca 90701 (562) 860-6699

www.mumbaikgs.com