Cliff’s Edge–Hidden Brunch Getaway

Eggs Benedict--poached eggs, bacon, roasted tomato hollandaise

Eggs Benedict–poached eggs, bacon, roasted tomato hollandaise

Now that the rain cloud over Los Angeles has disappeared, the skies are blue and the air is crisp…and you know what that means: it’s that time of the year for outdoor brunch! Ah, that special time of year where Angelenos can crawl out of the crack of the earth on Sundays afternoons after a long night out (topping their outfits with merely light cardigans!) to be delighted by farm fresh foods from simple egg and bacon sandwiches to chillaquiles Mexican fare. We could only wish that our brunches lasted as long as the ones in New York do, which I know are still popping on weekends at 4 p.m. On a positive note, spring is around the corner and patrons can happily sit at brunch tables on the sidewalk sipping on spicy bloody marys and bubbling guava mimosas.

Chicken Liver Terrine--candied kumquats, grainy mustard, table bread

Chicken Liver Terrine–candied kumquats, grainy mustard, table bread

Cliff’s Edge, however, has one leg up over LA restaurants with sidewalk tables–the seating is all outside, tucked deep in Silver Lake, next to a 99 Cent Store. Yet, when you walk past the large Medieval-like iron door, you get transported to a different place, a paradise of sorts, in an outdoor grotto, secluded from the rest of the world. Light leaks peek in through the trees surrounding the tables. Wooden benches adorned with turquoise and blood orange Moroccan pillows present a cozy atmosphere for long chats over cups of perfect coffee roasts.

Baked Eggs--roasted cherry tomatoes, basil, olive, goat cheese

Baked Eggs–roasted cherry tomatoes, basil, olive, goat cheese

With notable menu items like the pork belly hash, a dish that brings out the smokiness of bacon with roasted brussel sprouts, topped with a slightly runny fried egg and crumbles of feta, you’ll realize that this isn’t your average IHOP. The fried chicken boasts a rosemary essence with waffles covered in whipped maple butter and bourbon syrup. The rather large bacon and cheddar frittata is topped with a beautiful green salad with braised leeks and jalapeño crema.

Bacon + Cheddar Frittata--braised leeks, scallion, jalapeño crema, potatoes

Bacon + Cheddar Frittata–braised leeks, scallion, jalapeño crema, potatoes

The restaurant, which is also a delight for dinner after dark when the outdoor hanging lights provide a romantic ambience, has had a number of different chefs change the menu over the course of the last few years. When James Beard nominee Benjamin Bailly of Fraiche fame took over as head chef last year, his new menu was met with high acclaim. However, as quickly as he arrived, he left last September, and Public Kitchen and Bar chef Vartan Abgaryan took his place, making sure to include local, seasonal food with a sophisticated flare. Hopefully, Abgaryan remains at Cliff’s Edge, and challenges our palates with unique and elegant nuances.

Cliff’s Edge

3626 W. Sunset Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90026

323.666.6116

Brunch hours:

Sat. & Sun: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Price range:

$8 – $16

Website:

http://www.cliffsedgecafe.com/

Spaghetti and meatballs

spaghetti

I have been on an obsessive quest to make the perfect pasta sauce for years, and I am happy to report that I finally perfected it tonight.

Uproarious applause.

I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer buy any pre-made pasta sauces anymore because, frankly, who needs to? Although slightly daunting, creating your own pasta sauce–and not relying on those Prego jars that are chock full of salt and sugar that never quite fit to your refined palate–surprisingly becomes an art form. It costs the same or even less than pre-made sauces, and takes just an extra 30 minutes to make. And by extra, I’m talking about the added time tacked on from opening a stubborn jar lid.

Personally, I enjoy a pasta sauce full of sauteed garlic and onions, ribbons of fresh basil, and crushed tomatoes, brought together with a sauce base that’s on the sweeter side with lighter acidic notes. However, I’m sure other people like saltier sauces, hate onions, have a love affair with fresh oregano and parsley, and like whole tomatoes. So be it. Experiment, adjust, forage. Sometimes, my cooking is based on what I have  left in the fridge and what falls into my weekly budget, so, as the saying goes, no two snowflakes (or pasta sauces) are alike.

I may also be prone to use more basil nowadays because I just bought my first basil plant this year, and it’s the only plant sitting on my balcony. I usually announce to my boyfriend that I’m “harvesting” when I head outside to grab a few leaves.

Also, to be noted, the meatballs in this recipe only use beef because honestly, I can’t be bothered to buy ground veal (I’m not quite that bourgeois yet), and I wanted a simpler recipe. Do not fear though, the result of mere beef balls will be just fine, once you throw in some breadcrumbs and freshly grated parmesan cheese. “Voilà!” as the French say–why I’m speaking French when I’m making an Italian dish, I don’t know. But, bon appetit!

Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe.

Yields 5-6 servings

Ingredients:

For the meatballs:

1 lb of ground beef

2/3 cup of Italian seasoned bread crumbs

1/4 cup of freshly grated pecorino romano (or parmesan), with extra for garnishing later

1 tsp of kosher salt

1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp of dried parsley flakes

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 cup of warm water

Vegetable oil and olive oil

For the sauce:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)

1-1/2 tsp of minced garlic

1/2 cup of good red wine (such as Chianti)

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

7 to 8 basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons

2 tsp of dried parsley flakes

1-1/2 tsp of kosher salt

1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp of sugar

1/2 tsp of dried pepper flakes (optional if you want some spicy kick to your sauce)

For the pasta:

1 lb of angel hair pasta (preferably Barilla brand)

Directions:

For the meatballs:

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, bread crumbs, pecorino romano, salt, pepper, parsley flakes, egg, and water.  Mix and combine.

2. Using your hands, form the mixture into 2-inch balls. You will have about 12 meatballs.

3. Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.

For the sauce:

1. Heat the oil in the same pan.

2. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.

4. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes.

5. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, parsley flakes, salt, sugar, pepper, and dried pepper flakes (optional).

6. Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.

For the spaghetti:

1. Right when you return the meatballs to the sauce, boil 4-6 quarts of water over medium heat in a large pot, add in the angel hair pasta and cook for 4-5 minutes until al dente.

2. Drain and rinse with cold water.

3. Serve the pasta with meatballs and spaghetti sauce, and sprinkle a little extra grate pecorino romano/parmesan over it to taste.

Din Tai Fung Dumpling House–little packages of delight

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My boss’s father went on a business trip to Taipei, Taiwan and called his son to tell him about this revolutionary dish he had never had before–xiao long bao (also known as “soup dumplings”), a steamed dumpling filled with juicy pork and soup (inside of the dumpling!)–at a restaurant called Din Tai Fung. My boss told him that he already knew about that restaurant and that there was one right in Los Angeles. By the end of his father’s trip through Southeast Asia, every time he had a business meeting, someone would take him to a Din Tai Fung in their country–from Singapore to Japan.

Din Tai Fung is just that big and that amazing.

When I went to Taipei on a vacation in 2006, there wasn’t a direct train route to the restaurant, and I had to take two buses in the rain to get to the flagship location. There was a line outside of the narrow, three-story building; inside, waiters were zooming in and out of the kitchen, up and down the staircase, delivering woven baskets of steamed dumplings to tables. We put in a heap of sliced ginger in a sauce dish, added red vinegar, soy sauce, chili flakes, salt and pepper. The marriage of the two puzzle pieces were almost complete. We dipped the dumpling in the the sauce, put it in a soup spoon, and grabbed a few slices of ginger from the sauce and put it on top, and carefully bit into the juicy dumpling. The first time is like no other.

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Luckily, LA doesn’t just have one Din Tai Fung location, but rather two–and they’re right next to each other. Be prepared for a long wait, but it’s always worth it. If you’re going with a big group, also order a variety of items like pork fried rice, shanghai rice cakes, any of the fried noodle dishes, sauteed green beans with garlic, and don’t forget dessert–red bean dumplings are a must!

Din Tai Fung

1108 S. Baldwin Ave.

Arcadia, CA 91007

Hours:

Mon – Fri: 11:00 am – 9:30 pm

Sat: 10:00 am -9:30 pm

Sun: 10:00 am -9:00 pm

or

1088 S. Baldwin Ave.

Arcadia, CA 91007

Hours:

Mon – Fri: 11:00 am – 3:00 pm; 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm

Sat: 10:30 am – 9:30 pm

Sun: 10:30 am – 9:00 pm

Website:

http://www.dintaifungusa.com/

Black bean and olive couscous

cous

I have to admit–I have a routine whenever I go to Trader Joe’s. I usually go a little before lunch, lurk around the food sample section (the more cooking involved, the better! I could care less about chopped-up squares of banana bread), chat it up with the person serving the samples, walk away, get a coffee sample with soy milk, and then discreetly go back to get a second helping–hoping that nobody notices. To rationalize this, I think to myself that the sample server and I are homies by this point, so they won’t mind.

This is just how I roll.

Over the weekend, I ran across a Traders Joe’s dish that was so delicious, healthy, and well-balanced in flavor that I bought all the ingredients they placed in front of the sample stand–something I rarely do. The dish blended savory couscous with hearty black beans, black olives, crumbled feta, and Goddess dressing, into a slightly tangy and light meal that took me less than half an hour to make tonight for dinner. I served it with a side salad dressed with a garlicky balsamic vinaigrette…and poured lots of red wine for drinking.

Yields 6-7 servings

Ingredients:

3 cups chicken broth

2 tbsp of olive oil

2 tsp salt

12 oz box of couscous

3.8 oz can of sliced black olives, drained

15 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 bottle of 8 fl. oz Goddess dressing

2 oz. feta crumbles (Mediterranean style preferred, but regular feta works too)

Directions:

1. In a medium-sized pot, combine chicken broth, olive oil, and salt. Heat until boiling.

2. Add couscous to the pot. Remove from heat and cover with lid.

3. Let stand for five minutes.

4. Lift lid and fluff couscous with a fork.

5. Add to pot olives, beans, feta, and Goddess dressing. Mix well and serve.