Saturday, February 28, 2009

The NYT's Frugal Traveler in Venice With Baby Tow

Just in case you missed it, in yesterday's NYT's the Frugal Traveler detailed the Venice trip he took with his wife and six-week old daughter. Wow, Venice in winter, brilliant! Chilly, yes, but no crowds or hot weather and how did we not know Italians adored babies so much?

It seems crazy to travel with a newborn, but now that our guy is nine months old, we see the wisdom. In those first weeks and months, they're predictable little creatures who sleep an awful lot. Now that he's nine months old, he's all over the place, crawling, babbling, playing, etc. While I can't imagine he's going to mellow out any time soon, life (which, in our world, includes traveling and dining in restaurants) does not stop so we'll learn to travel with him just as we've learned how to dine out with him.

We have trips to Chicago (Tater's first time on a plane!) and Cape Cod (and maybe Paris in 2010!) planned so we're stocking up on helpful hints from traveling families all over the web. If you have any wisdom to impart or any suggestions, do post a comment or email me directly.

Scenes from our 2007 trip to Cape Cod, Boston, and New York.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NY Times/Leite's Chocolate Chip Cookies at the Curious Palate?

As many of you probably recall David Leite of the fabulous site Leite's Culinaria wrote a NY Times article last July about the search for the elusive perfect chocolate chip cookie. The article concluded with a cookie recipe that has been extensively blogged about, tested, modified, and photographed (picture above from the article!). Do a search for "NY Times chocolate chip cookie" for some serious food porn.

Baking these legendary cookies has been on my to-do list for a while now but it's more involved than your standard cookie recipe and only makes six giant cookies per batch so I hadn't yet made them.

Flash-forward to this past Sunday. We were going to my step-mom's for brunch on the Westside and we needed to get her a belated birthday gift so I thought of the Curious Palate which I've wanted to try. Gourmet foodstuffs, farmer's market-driven menu, etc.

As soon as I walked in I was drawn, of course, to the three large glass jars on the counter, each piled high with cookies and bars. They had samples of each on little plates so, even though it was 10am, I had to at least taste them. It was then that I noticed the chocolate chip cookies were glistening. The helpful and awfully sweet woman behind the counter confirmed that the cookies had just come out of the oven.

Well folks, I didn't ask, and I hope I'm not spoiling any sort of secret, but I'm pretty sure that these absolutely incredible cookies are the famous NY Times cookies or very similar adaptations. OK, how to describe them? Salty, buttery, soft with just a hint of crispness, these thin and large babies were warm and the chocolate was still gooey. The cookies were so good that my husband and I agreed the chocolate chips were almost superfluous. Really, the elusive perfect chocolate chip cookie. I took two to go and we almost inhaled both by the time we got to brunch.

Mar Vistans are so lucky to have such a yummy spot in their hood. And I am thankful that it's far enough away to only be an occasional destination, though I already feel those cookies calling me back! A trip to Mar Vista is certainly easier and faster than making these cookies from scratch.

The Curious Palate
12034 Venice Blvd
LA, 90066

Friday, February 20, 2009

Umami - Part 1: Fiasco, Part 2: Much Improved

Umami, Part One

Have you, by chance, heard the This American Life show about fiascos, specifically the part about the school play that devolves into one hilarious fiasco? If not, head over for a listen. As Tater and I were driving down Pico on the way home from lunch at Umami, I was thinking about how unfair it is to review a newly opened restaurant. And I was reminded of this classic This American Life bit.

Now let me pause to just say several trustworthy bloggers have been to and enjoyed meals at Umami, so my first experience may have certainly been an exception. But as Tater and I were sitting there, waiting and waiting for my sliders, I realized I had just witnessed a true fiasco. I'd also just like to say up front that the sliders were pretty darn good, so at least the food is off to an encouraging start. And they carry Cake Monkey's amazing cakewiches and cookies which is always a good thing. And the music was great: the Shins.

It turns out that Heather John, from Foodinista, was also at Umami at the time and caught the second of the two arguments I heard. The first, between the owner and a couple and then one between the couple and another table. There was actually talk of "taking it outside" during the second fight!

Anyhow, in the hour or so that we were there, we witnessed two tables angrily walk out, two confrontations, and the poor cashier/server running around overwhelmed, yet trying to remain calm. It took way too long to order and even longer to finally get the sliders. I'm pretty sure they forgot my order, even though by the time I got my order I was the only table in the place! The sliders turned out to be pretty tasty, though there was just the tiniest bit of blue cheese and just a few onions.

They ran out of food which prompted an early closing. It felt like things were spinning out of control and I left wondering just how this place would fare.

Umami, Part Two
I didn't want to review Umami without trying it one more time, so the three of us went today on the way to shopping for glasses. Good news, Umami was SO much better today in almost all areas. The owner seemed more relaxed, there was a busser and more staff in general, our burger was delicious, and there were no brawls. The fries were pretty good (I prefer shoestrings), even better with the aioli and the buttery bun was perfect. A couple menu changes: the sliders are only for kids now (with blue cheese and onions??) and the order of fries is larger and $3.

While Umami is quite small, there's enough space for the portable high chair and I think loud baby noises would be fine. Tater didn't freak out during both of our visits so I'd say he seems to like it. They must have amazing PR because they're being mentioned everywhere (see here, here, and here). I'm hoping their operation can keep up with the crowds.

Umami Burger
850 South La Brea

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chow Balla - How Does She Find The Time?

I was just exploring Heather John's great foodie/fashion blog, Foodinista, when I noticed "Chow Balla" in her blog roll. Is this a new blog by the indefatigable Lesley Balla, formerly of Eater LA and now with Tasting Table LA?

A quick jump over confirmed it: Lesley's blogging in addition to her Tasting Table gig. This is only good news as she's often one of the most in-the-know food world folks around and always willing to share her latest scoops. Good luck with your new ventures, Lesley. I'm already enjoying Tasting Table and looking forward to reading your blog!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sweets For The Soul - Atwater Village

Rich brownies made with high-quality ingredients? Check.
Fawning over Tater? Check.
Extensive chatting about babies in general? Check.
Obama-related sweets? Check.
Down-to-earth staff? Check.
Close to us? Check.

It's a little pricey for brownies especially since I can make some darn good brownies myself. But if we're in Atwater with a chocolate craving, we'll definitely stop by Sweets for the Soul.

Sweets for the Soul
3169 Glendale Blvd.
LA, CA 90039

(Picture from their website)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fran's Caramels - My Sweetie Knows the Way to My Heart

Ok, so I've been just the slightest bit obsessed with all things Obama lately and I know I'm not alone because of the difficulty in finding some of his favorite things: Honest Tea's Black Forest Berry and Fran's caramels.

I finally spotted the Honest Tea at our local Whole Foods and it is indeed yummy, though way too sweet for me. But no such luck with the caramels.

Leave it to my sweetie to draw my obsessive search (I was making excuses to go to Whole Foods just to see if maybe they'd have it this time) to a close by ordering a box for Valentine's Day. And even better, he went with a box with both Barack and Michelle's favorites: milk chocolate with smoked sea salt for him, dark chocolate with grey salt for her.

If I didn't adore the Obamas before, this sealed the deal. The caramels are buttery and silky, salty and sweet, excellent.

Though he's up to his ears in brittle and baby, he's still the most thoughtful honey around.

Fran's Chocolates, Ltd.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Butter Tart Cafe - Sticky, Sweet, and Boring

So we finally visited Butter Tart in Glassel Park today and I have to say I was quite disappointed. Part of the problem is that I don't think I had a clear understanding of what butter tarts are all about. Knew they were a popular Canadian thing, but didn't realize they'd be so sticky and gooey. I ordered one plain, one with bacon, and a coconut cupcake. Both tarts featured a nice tart shell filled with a boring, sickeningly sweet custardy/pudding filling.

To be fair, there's a lot of good stuff going on at Butter Tart. The ladies who helped me were friendly, helpful, and generous (two scones were on the house - it was the end of the day so they would have wound up in the trash) and the cafe was filled with natural light and a clean design. Loved the cardboard deer (or were they moose?) heads mounted on the walls - a nod to Canada perhaps? And the maple scone was not half bad.

My cousin just married a Canadian, who happens to be lovely, but these things are popular in Canada? Yuck! What are they thinking? And to build a whole cafe around the butter tart? It must be me because a lot of people seem to like them, especially the ones with bacon. My husband thought the plain one was one dimensional so he sprinkled a little fleur de sel on it and declared it improved.

The cupcake was fine, but in a city still cupcake crazy, you have to do better than this. Dense cake, slightly tangy cream cheese frosting, again, just ok.

Butter Tart Cafe
4126 Verdugo Road
Los Angeles, CA 90065
(323) 258-TART (8278)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tater's First Visit to the Apple Pan

As a native Angeleno, I've been eating at the Apple Pan for as long as I can remember. And in all those years, nothing has ever changed. Those perfect California-style burgers, the soda in paper cone cups, the all-business and extremely efficient waiters who have worked there for decades, the u-shaped counter that requires Father's Office-esque hovering have always remained unchanged.

While we rarely cross La Cienega from our neck of the woods, we had to do a little stroller shopping over in Century City so off to the Pan we went. (Isn't this a great shot of the electric Maclaren?!)

We were hoping to use our portable highchair but unfortunately the counter was too thick so Tater had to stay in his stroller next to us. Luckily we finagled a corner seat next to the cash register which had an extra space that was perfect for the stroller.

We tried a tuna sandwich for the first time and a hickory burger with an order of fries. Predictably, our waiter quickly brought over our drinks and our little plate of fries.
He knew we were splitting the sandwich and burger so he had the kitchen cut each in half - so thoughtful. Tuna was great and the Hickory Burger was heaven, as perfect as we had remembered. And as always, we didn't leave room for pie. Someday.

Towards the end of our meal, Tater was a bit upset, so I held him in my arms, introducing him to the Pan and telling him that someday we'll bring him back for his own little Hickory Burger, or maybe just a few bites of mine!

There are a handful of just perfectly classic LA spots that provide visitors with a feeling of the LA of yesteryear. I think the Apple Pan rests comfortably at the top of the list.
For two great write-ups about the Apple Pan, see here and here.

The Apple Pan
10801 Pico Boulevard
LA, CA 90064
(310) 475-3585

Friday, February 6, 2009

Mother's LIttle Helper - Cake Monkey

I think we can safely say I'm addicted to Cake Monkey's irresistible snack cakes and cookies. While my comfort food cravings usually involve something salty and fried, lately I just cannot get enough of baked goods.

If we're on the Westside near the stroller store, we like Clementine, Auntie Em's in Eagle Rock, Lark in Silver Lake, and Delilah's in EP. Adore the chocolate babka at Diamond's, which freezes beautifully by the way. All are favorites we (really just I) frequent way too often.

Recently, however, I cannot get Cake Monkey out of my head. Perhaps it's the deceivingly simple packaging, a foil wrapping for the cakewiches, reminiscent of Ding Dongs. Or maybe it's the sense that I'm eating the most amazing snack cake from childhood, evoking memories of grandparents long gone. Perhaps it's knowing that as much as I love to bake, there's no way I could ever create such wonders.

When it comes down to it, Elizabeth Belkind is just an incredible baker who uses only the finest ingredients and makes everything with a commitment to perfection. And every bite is really, really good.

I believe you can only find Cake Monkey in a few spots around town (a Cake Monkey storefront is on the horizon) but one of them, lucky for me, is Silver Lake Wine. I never know what Cake Monkey goodies will be there. Last time they had their 'Nuff Said cookies (chocolate crumble cookies with housemade marshmallow, dark chocolate, pecans, caramel and sea salt) and mini-oatmeal cookies. Time before that I think they had a few different flavors of their cakewiches and oatmeal cream pies. I love that there's always that suspense of not knowing what will be there or if, heaven forbid, they're sold out. It also feels slightly subversive making a special trip to the wine store just for a cookie.

Unfortunately, I've never had their little layer cakes, so I can only imagine how wonderful they are. But Tater's first birthday is coming up in May and I think "The Classic" with yellow velvet layer cake and milk chocolate frosting will be a perfect first cake experience for him and a good excuse for us to eat more Cake Monkey!

Cake Monkey Bakery
(877) 640-CAKE or

Thursday, February 5, 2009

First Thoughts: Two Boots

After reading about Two Boots' soft opening tonight in the Daily Dish blog, I couldn't resist heading down the hill to grab a couple slices, even though we had already schlepped to Kogi in Little Tokyo for their yummy Korean BBQ tacos.

The cashier and manager (?) were sweet and clearly excited that they had finally opened their doors. I didn't count but it seemed like all or most of their pizzas were available by the slice. After much deliberating, I chose two slices (one was on the house!): the Cleopatra Jones (sweet Italian sausage, roasted peppers, onions, and mozzarella) and the Bayou Beast (BBQ shrimp, crawfish, andouille, jalapenos, and mozzarella).

Honestly, as excited as I have been about Two Boots coming to town, I wasn't expecting much because of the large number of mixed reviews from NY. But I'm happy to report that Two Boots exceeded my low expectations. My slices had clearly been sitting around for some time, but they were still quite good, with the Cleopatra being our favorite of the two.

Next time, we're going to jump into their non-pizza options, maybe a po' boy or a calzone and we'll definitely have to try the cajun garlic bread. Oh and it's the perfect place for Tater, who I'm sure would be able to cry hysterically without anyone caring!