Summertime date night in Echo Park

Low on cash but want to impress that special someone? I highly recommend grabbing a few tacos and drink from a taco truck in Echo Park (my truck of choice is Tacos Arizas on Sunset and Logan Street). With food in hand, walk down Logan to Echo Park.

Top: Echo Park at dusk. Bottom: Tacos from Tacos Arizas.

Top: Echo Park at dusk. Bottom: Tacos from Tacos Arizas.

Ever since the Echo Park reopened in June, there been new energy and life in the neighborhood. More people having picnics, kids on bikes – and the smell of delicious BBQ subtly making it’s way through the air. Plus, there are some great benches to sit and enjoy each other’s company. Happy date night!

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Ramekin: L.A.’s new sweet spot

It’s not often you see a good dessert place open late in Los Angeles. True, on that strip of Beverly Blvd., you’ll come across Susina and Milk but not all of us can get ourselves to Mid-Wilshire. Luckily, if you live on the east side, Ramekin in Los Feliz is serving up some amazing ice cream and seasonal desserts. Best part is that they are open late (closes at 11:00pm on weekdays and at 1:00am on Friday and Saturday nights)!

I first learned about Ramekin from my friend Gregory. He knows chef Jason Park who makes the delicious baked goods and homemade ice cream. Earlier this year, we were invited to the soft opening – it was truly a treat! We didn’t want to leave after the first round of tasting the desserts. From seasonal ice creams (made in-house!) to panna cotta to seasonal tarts – all are served in ramekins.

Homemade ice cream and sorbets at Ramekin.

Homemade ice cream and sorbet at Ramekin.

The menu changes seasonally and they get a lot of their ingredients from the local farmer’s markets like Hollywood and Santa Monica. There’s an emphasis in non-GMO ingredients and it feels good to talk to a chef who knows exactly where his ingredients are from and how it was grown.

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Banana cream pie at Ramekin.

Since the opening of Ramekin, I’ve gone back countless times. The menu changes slightly because they use seasonal fruits. But one of my favorite desserts that I often crave is a standard on the menu: Chocolate bread pudding. It’s not your typical bread pudding so don’t try to compare. The toasted bread is hot and caramelized from being baked in the often. The smell is sweet and buttery. And to top it off, a scoop of Tahitian vanilla ice cream slowly melts into the crevices of the cubed bread. The first bite is the best – I get my spoon and dig straight into the ice cream — it’s important to get a little bit of ice cream, bread, and chocolate all on one spoon to get have the perfect first bite experience. What’s there not to love?

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Chocolate bread pudding at Ramekin.

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Pistachio ice cream at Ramekin.

It’s great to see how this spot has become part of the Los Feliz neighorhood since it has been open. You’re saying “Duh, it’s in Los Feliz – of course it’s PART of the neighborhood.” But I’m talking about walking in to see people playing boardgames at the communal table with friends while drinking their Handsome coffee and having a cookie. You see the Ramekin staff say hi to regulars as they come in to try their latest ice cream flavors. Indeed, these are all the things I saw when I was recently there. Looking forward to many more visits to Ramekin and seeing more people discover this sweet gem on the east side.

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My friends at the soft opening of Ramekin in February.

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Ramekin
1726 N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
323.667.9627

Summertime cold treats to beat the heat

We’re finally seeing a break in the heat wave in Los Angeles. Woohoo! One reason why L.A.’s a good place to be when it’s hot are the cold treats. Here are a few of my favorite cold desserts that helped me stay cool this summer.

Milk
7290 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

First up, Milk. Located on the corner of Beverly and Poinsettia, this corner shop often has a line of people going out the front door. Who would blame them when you see the array of frozen treats in their fridge waiting for you.

One of their popular ice cream desserts is the bright green Grasshopper. It’s mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiched between two pistachio macaroon cookies and dipped in chocolate.  How’s your sweet doing now?

However, on my recent visit, I opted to get ice cream. You see, I have a weakness for blueberry pie and cobbler and when I saw they had an ice cream this particular day with blueberry cobbler ice cream, I had to get it.


The ice cream was creamy and the bits of the cobbler crust added good texture. The best part was the abundance of blueberries swimming in the rich cream. When I’ve had blueberry ice cream before, there are usually few pieces of blueberry that look like raisins or the cream itself is infused with blueberry but there aren’t actually berries I can sink my teeth into. Well done, Milk!

Pazzo Gelato
3827 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Another frozen dessert I love is gelato! My friends and I often stop by Pazzo Gelato in Silverlake. They use local ingredients and also offer vegan flavors. On the weekends and on hot summer days, it’s not surprise they have lines that go out the door — but the lines usually go pretty fast.

My favorite flavor is blood orange sorbet. I love it because you can actually taste the blood orange – it’s not hidden by extra sugary sweetness or icy texture. Their sorbet is flavorful and easily scoops onto the gelato spoons and melts away on your tongue with a tangy aftertaste. When I was there last, I didn’t see the blood orange sorbet and I didn’t know what to order. I stood there… confused and lost. The guy behind the counter said I looked like I was looking for something and told him I usually get the blood orange sorbet. He said he had some in the back and brought it out. That’s service!

Half and Half Teahouse
141 N Atlantic Blvd, Ste 112
Monterey Park, CA 91754

For real Chinese food in Los Angeles, you head east to San Gabriel Valley. The suburbs in SGV are known for quality savory eats but also dessert. This summer, my friend introduced me to a boba drink with a twist. Boba milk tea, also known as pearl tea or tapioca milk tea, is a popular drink in the summer. But at Half and Half, they’ve stepped it up a notch and have made the beverage into a dessert meal.

I ordered the iced milk drink with chocolate, pudding, and honey boba. It was intense sweetness. First off, the cup is larger than your regular boba drink. And when you’re slurping the drink and tapioca balls, you’ll also get chunks of rich pudding. If you look closely to the picture, you’ll see yellow chunks – that’s the pudding.

I thought my tastebuds would be confused by all the rich sweet flavors but it actually worked out. The chewy honey tapioca balls balanced the rich pudding that balanced the  heavy chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t like sweet rich beverages, this may not be for you – but if you want to indulge or have a sweet tooth, you must order one of these. This is something I wouldn’t order everyday but it’s definitely something I would have again on a hot day… or just for dessert.

If you have a favorite summer treat you’ve had this summer, please share your tip! In L.A., summer doesn’t truly end until October so I’ll definitely need to try other cool eats!

Off-the-menu eats at Short Order LA

My friend had a Blackboard Eats deal she wanted to use at Short Order LA – a gourmet hamburger place that’s a  collaboration of Amy Pressman and Nancy Silverton. Don’t be afraid because I wrote “gourmet” – the scene is very casual and I’ve walked by this place many times but haven’t tried it because I often choose the farmer’s market food court on the other side because of the selection and affordability. But like everyone else who is part of the deal craze, we decided to check out the pricy side of life thanks to my friend’s deal.

My friend’s deal got us orders of off-the-menu-burgers, fries, and cocktails. It was a beautiful spread as you can see.

The burger off-the-menu was the Rocky Mountain Burger that was topped with fried shallots and homemade BBQ sauce. The shallots weren’t overwhelming like onion rings – it’s crispy well-seasoned flavor was thanks to the cornmeal batter . The burger part was a mix of three cuts of beef (brisket, short rib, and flat iron). It was topped with iceberg lettuce, and aged chedder cheese. The BBQ sauce was sweet and tangy and paired well with the fried shallots. This is definitely a beautiful burger and beyond filling.

We shared a side of fries and let me tell you, the fries were just right! Served fresh and crisp with the right amount of salt. I admit we did overdo it with the fried food during this meal but don’t fret because we washed it down with cocktails. Here’s my “Blow the Whistle”, which reminded me of a “greyhound,” in the foreground and my friend’s “Frisco Sour” in the background.

I admit I didn’t finish my meal because it was all quite filling. I definitely recommend if you head out to Short Order LA, enjoy the patio with some cocktails and appetizers and perhaps split a burger if you don’t have a large appetite. I’m looking forward to going back and trying something on-the-menu next time!

Coffee and pretzels at Coffee Tomo

I’m a fan of the good eats on Sawtelle. I’ve previously blogged about shave ice at Blockheads and Brian’s Shave Ice. Those are some cool refreshing desserts but what if you just want some warm comfort snacks? Luckily, Coffee Tomo serves up made-to-order freshly baked pretzels and slow drip coffee. They’ve been open for less than a year. Looking at the full tables, it looks like they’ve got a good following.

The space inside is pretty tight but the service is great and the unique pretzels are a perfect companion to their coffee.

I wanted to indulge and ended up ordering a mocha. I couldn’t help but watch the barista’s technique as he swiftly poured by drink. Look at it – it’s beautiful! Almost too beautiful to drink!

I asked the barista which pretzel I should order since it was my first time at Coffee Tomo. Without hesitation, he suggested the sweet potato cheese. I wasn’t sure if I heard him right and I asked, “Did you said sweet potato and cheese?” and he nodded yes and said it was the popular one and that I would love it. With an endorsement like that, I couldn’t resist.

I got my coffee first and they brought the freshly baked pretzel to me a few minutes later. I could see the steam rising from it — and the cheese oozing out of each end.

The bread was soft and chewy – the mozzarella cheese and sweet potato puree in the center had this great savory and sweet mix. My tongue first tasted the salty cheese – but the flavors rounded out to the smooth sweet potato that was sandwiched in between the pretzel dough and cheese.

Tomo Coffee
11309 Mississippi Ave.
Los Angeles

 

Taco Tuesday: Sergio’s Tacos

I love tacos. It’s one of the best things you can eat in Los Angeles. The best tacos are simple – a quality tortilla, meat, and cilantro/onions with some hot sauce. My friends know I’m always on the look out for a good taco and recently my friend Ruth gave me an awesome recommendation. She said it was a little taco stand outside of LA in the city of Commerce called Sergio’s Tacos.

It’s close to the Citadel Outlets but you take a turn on Atlantic Blvd. and you see the small stand on a corner. The parking lot only fits a handful of cars and when you walk in there are just a few tables. But let me tell you, this place is definitely on my list for best tacos! Check out my order for a carne asada and a carnitas taco.

The tacos are made to order. The tortillas are perfect. Really. At first bite, it’s warm with a slight toasty edge then the savory marinated carne asada meat and carntitas were tender – not chewy and dry which can happen at some taco stands that reheat the meat. What tops it off is the hot sauce. I prefer the green (tomatillo) sauce but if you like hot, ask for the red sauce which is their house sauce. Here’s a closer look at my carne asada taco in the foreground and my carnitas taco in the background.

So if you’re headed to the outlets or traveling down the 5 freeway, take a detour off Atlantic Blvd. to Sergio’s and let me know what you think of their tacos. Also, I’m always open to your taco recommendations!

Sergio’s Tacos
2216 S Atlantic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90040

Brian’s Shave Ice + Dole Whip! [DEAL]

If you’re a regular to this blog, you know I love Hawaiian shave ice from reading my previous posts. Today in my inbox I found a deal on Living Social for Brian’s Shave Ice. This place is located around the corner from  Blockheads Shavery. I actually went to this place a few months before Blockheads had opened and I was very pleased with the shave ice – it was fine ice, not granulated, and had a good assortment of syrup flavors.

It’s a traditional Hawaiian shave ice place but the bonus is that they also serve Dole Whip. Yes, THE Dole Whip – the one that was only found at Disneyland and Hawaii.

Now you can get it on a cone or at the center of Hawaiian shave ice at Brian’s. Note: If you only want Dole Whip, there’s also a place that opened up in West Hollywood that only serves different fruity combination of the soft serve. Here’s the menu and various combinations you can get at Brian’s.

That’s Brian shaving some ice in the photo above. He’s a cool guy and brought his love of Hawaiian shave ice to West LA.

My friend and I each got a shave ice with Dole Whip. For my syrup flavors, I got pineapple, melona, and POG (passion, orange, guava). Also, I topped it off with some li-hing mui powder.

Check out that dollop of Dole Whip! It’s a nice smooth surprise at the end of the shave ice. You know when the syrup runs to the bottom, it can get a bit soup? Well, the soft serve mixes in and makes it easy for you to finish it off. This is a light dessert that won’t weight you done after a big meal – it’s just fine shavings of ice. I have to say, I’m so happy that Hawaiian style shave ice is here on the mainland – it seems so right!

If you miss the Living Social deal, no worries because they post specials on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Brian’s Shave Ice
11301 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Weekly food round-up – Taco Bell, Alinea, and artisan coffee! [VIDEOS]

Since I’m listening to doctor’s orders and staying in, I’ve been catching up on food stories on the internet – ranging from the unbelievable to the awesome. Here’s a round-up of some links and videos that caught my attention.

Alinea presents… edible helium ballons! You have to see it, then you’ll want to inhale it!

And for you Angelenos who live off of coffee, looks like artisan coffee is the big thing right now. I’ve added some coffeehouse brewing porn for you…

Handsome Coffee, Downtown LA Arts District

DripLA, Koreatown

Demitasse Cafe, Little Tokyo

Cheese or Cool Ranch taco shells? Taco Bell test kitchen has been testing Doritos taco shells and looks like you might be able to try one yourself! And if you want proof, humorist John Eick is tweeting about it.

Vegan eats at Larchmont’s Cafe Gratitude

I know it’s Valentine’s Day and restaurants will be crawling with couples. Blech!!! This post isn’t about where couples should go for a V-day dinner – this post is about going out to a place that appreciates you today… and gives YOU gratitude.

Cafe Gratitude is a popular vegan spot in my neighborhood that I’ve been wanting to try but also at the same time trying to avoid because of the crowds. However, one night I met up with my friend and his vegetarian girlfriend from Minnesota. I suggested this place because he vegan dishes are something the Twin Cities wouldn’t have. Cafe Gratitude has had their bit of news lately but this post is about the food so let’s get to it.

One of the really unique things about this place is the positive affirmation labeled dishes they serve up. They all start with the first person, “I”, and a positive descriptor. For my main dish, I ordered “I am transformed.” And yes, when they serve the dish to you, they say “You” and the descriptor.

My “I am transformed” was basically corn tacos with caramelized butternut squash, black beans, avocado, salsa fresca, and cashew nacho cheese with a side salad. The tacos were surprisingly filling and also rich with flavor. I liked the little kick in the sauce. When I finished the tacos, I saw this little surprise on my plate…

They had the same message on my “I’m so adoring” (aka tiramisu) plate.

The tiramisu is vegan so that means there’s no dairy. I was a bit hesitant at first but the waitress insisted it was one of her favorites. My fork smoothly cut through my slice of tiramisu that had layers of chocolate mousse, whipped cream, and almond-espresso batter. Because of the almond, it had a nice rounded nutty after-taste that I liked. This is a pretty dense dessert so I recommend splitting it with someone – I wasn’t able to finish it on my own.

So on this Valentine’s Day, I hope you give gratitude to yourself and enjoy some good food.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cafe Gratitude
639 N Larchmont Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004

Grand opening: The Blue Cow kitchen & bar

When I’m craving a quality sandwich in downtown Los Angeles, I head over to Mendocino Farms. Their seasonal menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches are made with fresh ingredients and prepared to order.  And I admit, you can’t beat their rainy day special for their Ham And Gruyere grilled cheese for just $6.50. But why am I talking about them when this post is about The Blue Cow?

My food blogger pal, Lynn Chen, told me the Mendocino Farms folks were opening a sit-down restaurant and bar in downtown Los Angeles. Immediately, my tastebuds perked up when I heard this! Lynn then invited me as her plus one for one of the preview days where we had our meals comped. How could I resist!? The new restaurant is called The Blue Cow kitchen & bar. It’s located in California Plaza where Casa used to be and grand opening to the public is… today, Monday, February 13, 2012.

From the moment you approach the restaurant to scanning the interiors, the aesthetics is very Mendocino Farms – rustic and comfortable.

And yes, this place has a bar with bars on tap and a menu of specialty cocktails. For this trip, we didn’t have any alcoholic beverage but I’m hoping to head back one of these days to check out their happy hour – yes, they have one!

Let’s talk about the food. They have a lunch and dinner menu. We chose from the lunch menu. We started with the “Baked and Fried Potatoes” that came with housemade horseradish ketchup and sour cream-onion whip dip.

The potatoes had a perfect crunch when you took a bite – and it was hot and soft in the middle – perfectly done. These are large potato wedges and perfect to share for 2-3 people as an appetizer. We also got an order of the “Root Chips ‘n Dips” which is basically crispy roots that are thinly sliced and crunchy like potato chips served with a side of sour cream-onion whip dip.

For the main course, I wanted to be different and get a plate but I couldn’t resist the hamburger. It’s an 8 oz. grass fed Marin county beef paddy with butter lettuce and some spicy remoulade on a buttermilk bun… also added a applewood bacon to indulge myself a little. I figure if you can serve up a simple burger well, other stuff on the menu is worth coming back for. I was not disappointed.

The burger paddy was juicy and flavorful. The buttermilk bun and stuffing was a perfect combination. It’s a tall burger so I had to smash it down but despite that, they kept the burger simple yet refined. I hate it when burgers are complicated – it should be simple where you can taste each of the layers between the bun. Well done, Blue Cow.

Across the table from me, Lynn ordered the “BarbaFaux’s Torta” which is a vegan dish.

The torta roll is stuffed with seitan and pinto beans that have been braised in chipotle agave BBQ sauce. There’s also some tofu, avacado, and lettuce. I’m usually on the fence about seitan and tofu because if it’s not marinated properly, it’s pretty tasteless. I have to say, Blue Cow did a great job of putting flavor into this torta. Granted, I only had a bite of it. If you want the close-up photos and more info, check out Lynn’s post here.

We had hoped to try their dessert but they only serve that for dinner. Guess I’ll have to go back for that… and happy hour!

The Blue Cow kitchen & bar
350 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90071