Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bite No. 2: a week of deals in Echo Park

Q: What Olympic event was won by American Frank Shorter in 1972?

If there's one thing I know I'm good at (who am I kidding? I'm good at lots of things!), it's finding a good deal. And I'm not talking about shopping at Ross or the 99 cents store, I'm talking about finding quality places that offer great products at a great rate for all of you recession-istas out there. These are budget conscience times, so looking for a good deal is no shame... in fact, it's a reason to be proud.
The Park at 1400 Sunset Blvd in (you guessed it) Echo Park is a lovely neighborhood restaurant that offers fantastic dining prices not one, not two, but three nights a week! And it's no hole in the wall. Sure the restaurant is small, quaint, modestly and tastefull y decorated (you know, everything a cozy restaurant should be), but the food packs a wallop. Main dishes are large, flavorful, and complex- focusing on American fare with fresh, local ingredients. Even when deals aren't being offered, the menu is a steal, considering whatever dish that comes out of that very visible small window to the kitchen is prepared with love.
But screw love when you could save a couple of bucks. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are the nights to go to The Park, as each night brings in the reservations thanks to their stellar deals. Tuesday is a 3 course fixed price menu for $15, typically themed for whatever holiday or ocassion currently graces the calendar. For example, this past week the menu featured Matzoh ball soup, brisket with kasha varnishkes and escarole, and profiteroles with ice cream and chocolate sauce for dessert in honor of Passover. All of that for $15!? You got it.
If Tuesday is too early in the week for you to dine out, just wait until Wednesday when you can come into The Park for a Burger and a side for $5. That's right, it's cheaper than most fast food value meals and twice as good. What the hell, ten times as good. Considering that your munching on a 6 oz sirloin or veggie burger with a choice of potato salad, pasta salad, french fries, cole slaw, or a side salad, in a place that allows you to BYOB (beer, wine, what have you) for a small corkage fee, you can't find a more inexpensive evening out. And in case you are a person who wants to be a part of a "scene," don't worry, The Park brings in hipsters, yuppies, and everything in between with its fantastic deals.
Are you a person who only treats themselves on the weekends? Well then you have Friday night to visit The Park, when you choose an appetizer, main course, and dessert from the regular dinner menu for only $20. Here's some perspective for you: on the regular dinner menu the starters range from $8-10. the main courses from $12-18, and the desserts are all priced at $7. Even if you ordered the least expensive option in each category, you end up saving yourself $7 (or the price of an extra dessert)! This kind of deal can be found in Los Angeles on a Friday night? At 1400 Sunset Blvd it can.
But how's the grub, you might be asking yourself. Well on a recent Friday night visit, I indulged in the Gorgonzola Dolce & Roast Pear Galette, the Roast Jidori Half Chicken, and the warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream. This was a meal full of bold flavors. My gorgonzola dolce and Roast Pear Galette was the perfect combination of warm appetizer and salad. Warm, flaky pastry pockets of gorgonzola cheese were topped carefully with slices of perfectly tart pear, toasted almonds, warm frisee, and spinach, drizzled with a light brown butter vinegarette. I couldn't have asked for more flavor on one plate. My dining companion ordered the caesar salad (nothing to write home about), but its worth mentioning that the salad came with real anchovies. Got to love that. The main entrees were fantastic. Really. Not only was my chicken absolutely huge, but the heaping pile of pommes frites, and the generous portion of wild arugula, perfectly showcased how happy a customer can be when quantity meets quality. My dining companion may have one-upped my main course selection with a perfectly cooked (rare, and if you get a steak cooked anything over, you are the killing the cow twice over) grilled 8 oz. Vintage Hanger Steak. And the pan roasted brussel sprouts with bernaise sauce is worth mentioning as well.
It breaks my heart to tell you that with a deal as good as this one, there has to be one area of dissapointment. The desserts were less than fantastic. My piping hot mug (yes it was in a mug) of an apple crisp tart was unwisely topped with a scoop of cold vanilla ice cream. Now when I say piping hot, I do mean PIPING hot. Who tops this with ice cream? I found myself scooping the ice cream off of the tart so that it wouldn't melt into soup in 30 seconds. My efforts were in vain, as most of the ice cream had already melted and the apple crisp tart was too hot to even enjoy with what little ice cream I had left. Too bad. And my companion's chocolate pot-de-creme? Clearly made the night before. Just ask the pudding skin that crowned the top of it.
But hey, I can forgive dessert, because both my stomach and my wallet left fat and happy. With such a cute place like The Park pumping out such good food in such a quaint setting at such affordable prices, it makes you want to visit Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, completing a true eating-out marathon.

A: the marathon

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bite No. 1: Akasha in Culver

Q: What organ in the body is divided into the duodenum, jejunum, and the ileum?

Last Friday night I had plans to dine with a friend. My friend needed to be picked up in Culver City, as he was without a car or a magic carpet. Culver City? Boy, haven't been there since Beacon beckoned me there for my very first meal in Los Angeles (true story... although the address says Culver City, so maybe it doesn't count). Anyways, since I was picking up my friend in Culver City, I thought this a prime time to visit one of downtown Culver's many up-and-coming restaurants. Quickly I reached for the LA Weekly and thumbed to the dining in Culver section. Top of the list? Akasha, recommended by the publication. Eco-friendly, good location, good wine list...sold. But what started off as an experience ripe for enjoyment, ended up in an experience in which I learned a lot about what separates fine dining from eh-it-was-fine dining.

Akasha is beautiful. The historic Hull Building was restored by chef Akasha Richmond and her team to reflect the new modernity in downtown Culver. And everything is "green" of course: recycled ceiling, recycled tile, local limestone, beeswax touches, etc. Okay, so not only does the place look good, but it makes us feel like we are doing Mother Earth a favor by supporting such a restaurant. But let's not kid ourselves. We don't go out to eat because we want to please mother earth, we go out to eat because we want to please our appetite. We want to feel sophisticated, taken care of, in on a "scene," and most importantly, deliciously fed. Akasha failed to deliver on most. Take for example, sophistication. We were seated in a timely manner but some very friendly hostesses and were even accommodated when the table given to us didn't please my highly choosy taste in tables (you will discover that I find that where I sit in the restaurant is of the utmost importance). I opened the beautiful hard cover menu to find loose leaf paper. Wrinkled, stained, and surprising, the paper (as I later learned) is post consumer waste paper, recycled and brought to us diners. Okay. Fine. Sacrificing a bit of sophistication for mother earth, I get it. Our server gave us her spiel and then turned around to head back to the kitchen. Wait a second... behind that black collared shirt and that clean black apron is a pair of jeans. Really? Here? Oh but they are 100% organic cotton jeans from Levi's. I then look at the menu and the prices. There are small plates ranging from $7-15, pizzas from $10-13, and big plates from $12-25. Wait, did I get that right? $12-25 for an entree. That's right, in the same category as a seared albacore filet, a zinfandel braised pot roast, and a pan roasted Idaho trout, is an organic turkey burger with choice of salad or fries for $14. But the cheapest beer on the list is $7... for a Fat Tire. I don't get it. But I did get it. I ordered the turkey burger with a salad for $14. Perhaps it was the jeans or maybe it was the paper menu, but something was telling me that it was alright to only spend $14 on my dinner that evening instead of upping my experience to a $25 flatiron steak with Parmesan crusted dutch potatoes, green beans, and chimichurri. Never mind that the Gruyere on my burger was cold and congealed or that the burger meat itself tasted miraculously like meatloaf minus the ketchup. (But there was ketchup on the side... which was actually pretty good). And you know what? I'm not complaining because for someone who is as money conscience as I am, a $14 option is nice. I just think Akasha missed the boat here. It's Friday night and I was ready to drop some dough on dinner, that's why I picked such a nice place with such a nice write up. And it looked great from the outside. But there were so many casual touches to the restaurant, that part of me couldn't bring myself to spend beyond a TGI Friday's budget.
Am I a snob? Maybe. But I root for restaurants in this lackluster economy, and when I go to one that so easily could be a true, fine dining experience, and I believe is billed as such, and then gives me faux-nice packaged in recycled hemp wrapping, I'm underwhelmed. All I know is that next time I'm dining in Culver, I'm going to head to Ford's Filling Station, where I hear you can order a whole roasted pig at least ten days in advance. I'll save the neck for you, Clark, but you had best leave the intestines for me.

A: the small intestine

(The trivia question is taken from this week's set of questions from King Trivia. Join me, Quizmaster Brandon, at Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas on Tuesdays at 8pm, Weiland Brewery in downtown L.A. on Thursdays at 6pm, and TGI Fridays in Woodland Hills on Sunday at 9pm. Bar trivia: it's fun, it's free, and you can win free drinks. What's not to love?)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bite No. 1

My first blog entry. Why a blog? Because I am an interesting personality and want to market myself as such! I want everyone to know about my bubbly personality and my unapologetic opinions. Nothing is off limits- restaurants, fashion, politics, news, travel, film, theater, and of course, trivia. I want to find a focus for my blog eventually. But for now, its just me. And there you have it, entry number one.