Category Archives: Chow N Tell

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Dogs and Cats Join Forces with Burgers and Beers at Plan Check

This post originally appeared at FlyandDine.com

If you’ve ever wondered what a meal heavily seasoned with cuteness tastes like,  LA gastropub  favorite Plan Check has the answer waiting for you this month. From June 10-July 10th, they are offering their latest menu collaboration with Hello Kitty creators Sanrio. For $39, diners will get a 5-item meal featuring the dog and cat duo of Pompompurin and Chococat.

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Holding up the savory core of the meal is the Pompompurin Grilled Sausage Sausage sandwich, made with house blended sausage, and topped with kimchi slaw and kewpie cilantro mayonnaise (kewpie mayo is a popular Japanese condiment made with rice vinegar instead of distilled vinegar). The whole thing is served on Plan Check’s signature crunch bun emblazoned with the image of the stylist beret-wearing puppy character.

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On the side, dig into Togarashi potato chips –  essentially Yukon gold potato chips seasoned with a Japanese spice mixture. Accompanying them is a very Plan Check version of mac and cheese, made with Americanized Dashi cheese, bread crumbs, and parmigiano reggiano to form a creamy, delicious umami bomb. Definitely plan to be begging your server for seconds on this one.

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Heading into dessert, you’ve got a very Instagram-worthy Chococat cookie served with vanilla ice cream, and a Vanilla cream soda with whipped cream adorned with the chocolate powder likeness of Pompompurin.

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Diners will leave with a full belly, melted heart, and boosted karma, because a portion of the meal proceeds will be donated to L.A. Love and Leashes,  an animal adoption space created by non-profit Friends of LA animal shelters.

What’s a Vegan Donut??

*This story originally appeared at FlyandDine.com*.

Cupcake craze out, non-traditional donut craze in. At least, that is what you can assume from the influx of specialty donuts taking over Southern California: Brioche donuts from Portland’s Blue Star; artisanal, seasonal donuts from OC’s Sidecar; baked donuts at Mid-City’s Fonuts; and now, organic vegan donuts from Bay Area’s Donut Farm.

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You’ve probably never given much thought to whether donuts are vegan or not. As it turns out, most donuts have some kind of dairy hidden inside – be it milk powder, butter, or eggs. But is milk powder some kind of magic ingredient that makes a donut the sweet, hollow-centered fried joy that it is, you ask? Nope! Texture-wise, Donut Farms’ donuts don’t seem to be vastly different from their dairy-laden counterparts, save for being a little less greasy.

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Donut Farm Founder and NorCal native Josh Levine first stumbled across vegan donuts back in Seattle in 2005, thought to himself “that sounds fun”, and proceeded to formulate his own version mad-scientist style in his home kitchen. Eleven years and three Bay-area locations later, Donut Farm has landed in Echo Park, in an easy-to-miss strip mall on Sunset. The space is small, with two trays of donuts on view displaying both traditional and more fun flavors to choose from (we’re talking Mexican chocolate, whiskey tangerine fig, and matcha green tea for starters). After an initial tasting, a personal favorite was the basic, raised glazed donut. It was fluffy, fried dough perfection and created by a sexy sourdough starter named Francois that was grown on-site (yes, really).

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In a break from the status quo, Donut Farm is a 100% organic and vegan fried-dough establishment, making it the only one of its kind in LaLa Land. A wall mural from urban folk artist Bunnie Reiss and sweatshirts emblazoned with an inverted pentagram donut logo make it clear that these are donuts with a punk rock soul.

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Perhaps even more impressive than being vegan is the fact that Donut Farm is 100% organic, yet has a price point that comes in on par/under what other non-organic “artisanal” donut shops are charging. While Josh describes his donuts as “Level 5” vegan (no honey, sustainable palm oil, etc.), he is clearly not trying to push a vegan agenda on his patrons. In fact, there is no vegan/organic signage in or out of shop. “Vegan donuts are not for vegans…..they are for everyone”, he explains, sharing that his goal at Donut Farm was to create a “pure food expression of the donut for everybody”.

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Grand Central Marvelous: why DTLA is your next stop when hunger hits

At first mention,  DTLA’s  Grand Central Market’s name might be enough to pique your interest : it’s grand (a whopping 30,000 sq. feet), and central (-ish: because nothing  can really be central in a megalopolis like the City of Angels). Most Angelenos I talk to have no idea that it even exists. That’s easy to believe, because despite its impressive square footage, GCM is  easy to miss. Chances are, you’ve driven down Broadway a thousand times and never noticed it (ten times, if you live on the Westside). In addition to those suggested by its moniker, there are many more, less apparent qualities that should make this urban gem your next dining destination. If you are anything like me, you will find yourself going back to this open-air food bazaar again and again….and again. Wondering if you and I are kindred dining spirits? The answer lies below.

1. I like eating at the bar.

GCM has bar-eating options aplenty.  I prefer to cut out the middle man, sit where the action is, and chow down.

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2. I prefer to be overwhelmed with dining options.

Thai food? Mexican food? Chinese food? Grass-fed burger? Egg dishes of loose morals? Bratwurst? Coffee? Pastries? Cold-pressed juice? Pizza? GCM has me covered. It also helps with the classic “I thought I wanted a juice but I realized I wanted a burger” scenario (This happens to me. A lot).

Sticky Rice's Papaya Salad

Sticky Rice’s Papaya Salad: they do it right

Egg Slut's the Slut

Egg Slut’s the Slut: you know you want it…and it definitely wants you.

Blood Orange and Vanilla Cream tart from Valerie

Blood Orange and Vanilla Cream tart from Valerie: pretty pastry perfection

The organic, grass-fed Belcampo burger with beef-tallow fries: Mr. Ketchup's face says it all

The organic, grass-fed Belcampo burger with beef-tallow fries: Mr. Ketchup’s face says it all

3. I like peppers.

See below.

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Valeria’s: one-stop pepper shop

4. I eat meat, and I like to feel good about eating it.

I tried vegetarianism – it didn’t work out.  I decided that the next best thing is to eat meat that has been humanely and sustainably raised. That usually means I need to put my money where my mouth is and pay a little more. In the case of the ultra-awesome Belcampo Meat Co., I don’t mind one bit. They have some of the most beautiful, tasty meat I have ever had the pleasure of devouring. These guys are everything I could possibly hope for in a butcher shop – they raise their animals on their own farm and butcher their meat by hand, in their own processing facility. Please take a moment to look at their website to learn more about them. I also have gladly pronounced their burger  my new Favorite Burger in LA (eaten at the bar, ‘natch). Do yourself a favor and get an order of their spicy fried broccolini to balance out the meat intake while you are there – it’s the best thing a piece of broccolini could ever aspire to be.

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Belcampo Butchers giving good service

5. Sometimes, I miss New York.

I’m a LA girl through and through, but every so often I feel a pang of longing for my favorite city on the opposite coast (worth noting: this never happens anytime during December-March). No, there is no substitute for the feeling of walking the streets of NYC. But, GCM has a fantastic city vibe  that is very contrary to the non-urban experience that many areas of LA can be. It’s a little gritty, it’s not solely filled with white people, and it’s old (built in 1917 – ancient by LA standards).  Situated in the ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building, its walls are filled with LA history, such as  housing Frank Lloyd Wright’s office space in the 20’s. There is a ton to see/eat/do within walking distance (yes- walking!!). You can even grab a bagel, lox, and cream cheese at Wexler’s  Deli and pretend you are at Katz’s (it’s a stretch, but work with me).  Like The Big Apple, GCM is ever-evolving. New vendors are announced regularly, and word on the street is that we might even have some NYC chef transplants in our midst here soon.

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So, if you have found that you like to eat all kinds of delicious food while basking in urban vibes like me, head down to GCM ASAP. There is even free garage parking, which is so rare in downtown that you might as well go just for that experience. (The downside – its only an hour, and validation can be trickier than assembling a desk from Ikea.) One of my main gripes about GCM is their hours – 8am- 6pm, which makes it REALLY hard for the under-65 crowd to have dinner. Well, as of July 3rd, the market will now be open until 9pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Rejoice, my darling Angelenos, your warm summer nights just got a WHOLE lot tastier.

Grand Central Market : 317 S. Broadway. LA, CA 90013

Chewing and Telling: LA Weekly’s Food and Wine Event

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 Sunday, March 9, 2014 was a momentous day for many Angelenos. Thousands pushed themselves to never-before-reached limits of physical and emotional achievement in the LA Marathon, running through pain and fatigue until they hit the finish line. I thought of them often that day as I, too, tested my endurance and willed my body to new limits of food consumption at LA Weekly’s 6th Annual Food and Wine event .

Situated in DTLA’s LA Mart, this impeccably curated event featured 40-plus members of LA’s all-star restaurant roster. Chefs from the likes of Animal, Bestia, and Lucques had tables featuring bites of their best culinary creations. The event had sold out about a week before, and as I arrived a I was alarmed to find a seemingly endless line around the block. It became clear that the potential for this to be a culinary sh**-show was running about 99%. I finally made it to the entrance of the event about a half hour after I arrived, and as I saw swarms of people crowding around tables for bites of the city’s best, I had a realization:  there was no way there was going to be enough food for all of these people. Everyone looked like they had fasted all morning in anticipation of gorging themselves. This wasn’t going to be a casual, take-your-time-and-savor-each-bite kind of food event. No……this was going to be a real-life Hunger Games.   People were hungry, and survival instincts were about to kick in en masse. Luckily, there is one area of my life where I feel I have Katniss-level superpowers, and that is eating. “What about the lines of people, the crowds, and just plain old etiquette“, you ask? To which I say, “May the odds be ever in their favor”.  Luckily I had my fellow food zealot Melanie in tow, and quickly we devised a plan to divide and conquer.

My first stop was at Mexicali Taco Company (which I was unfamiliar with), and I immediately met my first challenge as I was presented an escargot taco (aptly named the “Taco Frances”). Snails – not really my thing. But, I made a decision that this was going to be a day of no-holds-barred eating, and down the taco went. It was the right decision – the combination of the chipotle-garlic sauteéd escargot, cilantro-lime gremolata, micro-greens and cheese hit all the right notes and made for a delicious bite.
What ensued after this was a rapid-fire onslaught of samples, detailed here:

Superba Snack Bar: Fried chicken with pickled chilies and red wine vinegar glaze. Yep, it was as delicious as it sounds -crunchy, salty, and tangy.
The Oinkster: House-cured Pastrami sandwich. It was good. It was a pastrami sandwich – no more, no less.
Nickel Diner: a trio of delectable treats: Maple-bacon doughnut holes, strawberry-jam doughnut holes, and Nickel Ho-Ho’s. (The Ho-Ho’s were the best; I had to swoop back around for a second one)
Night+Market: Papaya Salad. It was tasty, to be sure, but I guess I had hoped for their all-star chicken wings, which are one of the greatest things you can possibly eat in this city.
Bestia: octopus carpaccio. Absolutely stellar. Beautiful presentation and so delicious. Bestia can do no wrong. (Extra props to Genevieve who was plating beautiful bites while very preggo. She makes some of the best desserts in town- that kid has got it made)
Animal: Big-eye tuna crudo. Oh my, this was delicious. John and Vinny have had one of the most beloved restaurants in LA for the last 5 years, and they are clearly still bringing their A-game.
Beverly Soon Tofu: Spicy Kimchi, and cucumber salad. Fresh, light, and delicious.
chi SPACCA: Spicy spreadable salami. Yes – spreadable salami. Genius…and definitely spicy. I have had this relatively new Italian heavy-hitter on my list to try, and they did not disappoint.
Coni’seafood: Ceviche and shrimp tacos from Inglewood’s renowned Mexican restaurant. Yummy.
Jitlada: Spicy tofu curry with green beans. This was really great – I don’t particularly love tofu, but it was delicious once Jitladified. Also, extra shout-out to them because they were one of the only booths with food left at 3pm
Starry Kitchen: Singaporean popcorn-shrimp with curry leaves and red jalapeño “shooters” – consumed while an asian man in a blonde mullet wig chanted for me to “down it!!” Of course, I succumbed to peer pressure.
AOC: Lamb tartare. It was ok. I don’t really like consuming baby animals, so this one was a little hard to enjoy.
Little Sister: A super-tasty green papaya salad with shrimp, served in adorable chinese takeout containers. I will definitely have to make the trek down to Manhattan Beach to check this new asian-fusion establishment.
Drago Centro: To be honest, all I remember was that it was some kind of pasta dish, and it was savory and rich. This is about the point where it was all starting to get hazy. But fear not! I powered through….
Angelini Osteria: The restaurant’s famed lasagna verde with beef and veal ragu. Yes, it was delicious, and I was so excited to try one of the venerable Gino Angelini’s creations. Again, though, baby animals were involved, so guilt muddled the taste of this expertly crafted bite.
Hinoki and the Bird: I was thrilled to see this restaurant participating as it has been on my “to try” list for ages. They were serving up an “avocado mousse” dessert – topped with chocolate crumble and beet-juice soaked chia seeds. This was both a simple and special creation, and re-affirmed that this is a must-try LA dining establishment. At this point, supplies were dwindling, so I ate it this splendid mousse concoction with a knife (pictured above).
Sqirl: YES! I Love Sqirl! (See my last post). These east-siders did not disappoint with a delicious sampling of their Crispy Kokuho Rose Brown Rice Salad – followed by a chocolate cookie. I love Sqirl.
Craft: presented a pretty plate of avocado, tomatillo, hearts of palm, and spiced peanuts. Though it seemed a bit “light”, I was grateful..as I was hitting a feeling I had truly never had before:

I could not eat one more thing. The idea of putting one more morsel of food in my mouth made me want to cry. You see, in addition to all that was listed above, there were samples of ice cream, candy, tea, and juice – all consumed in under 90 minutes. Luckily, my stomach has “trained” for this challenge over time, but I knew I had just crossed my own personal food consumption finish line. I came, I ate (…a lot), I felt enormous pain, and in the end….I conquered (with a little help from my friend – thanks, Melanie!)  It is worth mentioning that there were still several restaurants that I was sad I did not get to try (Allumette, Chichen Itza, Salt’s Cure, and Church & State, to name a few).

On a final note, the folks at LA Weekly did an amazing job of curating a wonderful event at a reasonable price. It gave a lot of people the opportunity to try great restaurants that may normally be out of their budget. Sadly, though, most of the vendors were out of food by 3pm….with two hours left to go. At that point, most  people began channeling their efforts in to getting wasted on the free alcohol, the only thing left. (Imagine the poor, hungry schmuck who showed up at 4pm in an effort to “avoid the crowds”). Maybe next year there will be a better system to ensure that everyone gets to eat. Until then, I’ll be continuing my excessive-food-consumption training, one meal at a time.

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  • Superba’s fried chicken,  Mexicali’s escargot taco, and Oinkster’s Pastrami Sandwich
  • Trio of treats from Nickel Diner
  • Animal’s Big Eye Tuna Crudo

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  • Bestia’s Octopus carpaccio
  • Cone’Seafood’s ceviche tacos
  • Beverly Soon Tofu’s Kimchee and Cucumbers

 

 

 

 

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Nuts over Sqirl

“Mmmmmm…….Squirrel.” These words have probably been uttered together in the backwoods of America. Luckily, furry tree-dwelling nut hunters in the City of Angels need not fret if they overhear that phrase. Chances are, it’s a hungry human getting ready to pounce on East Hollywood’s delectable Sqirl cafe.

Opened in Fall of 2012 by jam-maker Jessica Koslow, Sqirl is a breakfast- and-lunch-serving delight on an unassuming stretch of Virgil Avenue. Jessica’s jams permeate the menu and come in a nice variety of drool-inducing flavors (Blueberry Rhubarb? Raspberry Lavender? Strawberry Rose Geranium? Yes, yes, and YES!)

While there is no shortage of great breakfasts being served in LA, it’s Sqirl’s unique take on savory first-meal-of-the -day fare that really sets it apart.  For example, let’s break down the Kokuho Rose Brown Rice bowl.  I’m sure the name alone invites the question – “What the heck is Kokuho Rose Brown Rice??”. Answer: it’s an heirloom Japanese-style brown rice grown on Koda farms here in California.  Take this high-quality rice, and top it with a sorrel pesto, preserved meyer lemon, lacto-fermented hot sauce, french feta, and a perfectly poached egg. All these parts come together to create a deliciously tangy and savory whole. While some of these ingredients may not be entirely familiar to the everyday diner, one thing is clear….these Sqirl folks aimed to create a next-level delicious breakfast dish. I thoroughly enjoyed the complex combinations of flavor in every bite.

Still thinking about that jam??  Well, how about putting it on a slightly charred piece of buttery brioche, which has already been topped with a delicious mound of house-made ricotta? Let me confirm what you already suspect…it is crunchy, sweet and creamy mouthful that will definitely show up in your dreams all week long. (Did I mention the ricotta is made in-house??)

If, oddly enough, those items don’t tickle your fancy (in which case…I’m judging you), other carefully crafted menu items abound. (Daily quiches, frittatas, brown rice porridge, and granola with in-house almond milk, to name a few).  Take a seat in the lovely outside patio – no doubt there will be furry friends in the trees supporting your Sqirl (not squirrel) consumption.

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sqirl  720 N. Virgil Avenue. Los Angeles, 90029