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/

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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/

You can’t curry love…a CoCo Ichiban experience

Left: CoCo Ichiban experience in Japan in 2005. Right: CoCo Ichiban in USA in 2012.

Left: CoCo Ichiban experience in Japan in 2005. Right: CoCo Ichiban in USA in 2012.

Seven years ago, my best friend and I hopped on a plane to begin a year-long adventure on the other side of the world in Japan. At that point, we hadn’t had much more culinary experience besides the chicken marsala at Cheesecake factory or the carne asada burritos at Alberto’s. To be honest, our palates were as advanced as it could get for poor college kids.

We figured we already knew about sushi, and thought that was sufficient enough. Little did we know what was in store for our taste buds as we spent every day walking from Japanese/French patisseries to udon noodle soup shops in train station stops. We were introduced to the yakitori stand hidden in a dark alley by our office, where we would wait in line with dozens of other people (rain or shine) eating skewered chicken livers, tail, hearts and gizzards covered in a sweet and savory soy sauce-based marinade and charred to perfection. There were the holiday festivals (boy, were there many!) that were held at local parks where we would get taiyaki – pastries with a pancake softness filled with mashed red bean paste in the shape of fish.

However, some of my fondest memories were spent at CoCo Ichiban – a curry rice restaurant chain that you could find all over Japan. This was my first introduction to Japanese curry – a thick curry roux served over rice with a variety of meat and vegetable toppings. Definitely not a fancy place, but known for fast service and delicious food, CoCo Ichiban specialized in the warmest of comfort foods. They allowed for customized curry dishes – from choosing between potato croquettes, fried chicken, pork katsu, among numerous other items, to selecting the spice levels, rice portions and extra add-ons. My personal favorite combination was fried chicken with level 2 spice and a potato croquette and shredded cheese as add-ons (trust me, always add the cheese even if it sounds strange).

Another specialty of CoCo Ichiban’s that separated itself from the other curry houses was their jar of pickled radishes on each table. I would mix in spoonfuls of the radishes in the curry every time, sometimes even sheepishly asking the waiter to refill the jar. To be honest, I haven’t found any other curry house with anything remotely similar to the amazing pickled radish recipe this restaurant has.

All that being said, I was ecstatic to find that CoCo Ichiban was spreading its wings and opened a location in Torrance, CA a few years ago, tucked away in a little strip mall. Although the menu is a little overwhelming to look at because of the plethora of options to mix and match plates, it felt no different from when I first looked at the menu in Japan. The ambiance is casual and perfect for a quick lunch or dinner date. The quality of the food is just the same, and most importantly, sitting on each table is a jar of pickled radishes!

CoCo Ichibanya

2455 Sepulveda Blvd, Ste C

Torrance, CA 90501

Hours:

Mon. – Sun. – 11 am – 10 pm

Price Range:

$3 – $12.50 (+ any additional toppings you choose will cost extra)

Website:

http://www.ichibanyausa.com/

California Donuts, a Hollywood treasure

Donut

Yup, I just wanted to include a glorious photo of a donut to make you drool.

California Donuts, a little gem of a shop hidden in a strip mall in Hollywood, offers a large and classic variety of donuts – glazed, maple glazed, sprinkles, apple fritters, chocolate, cherry-filled, chocolate coconut (oh my!). It’s a mom and pop shop with great service and high-quality desserts (and apparently killer sandwiches, which I plan on trying on my next visit). Biting into one of their donuts and feeling the glaze crack and the sweet maple dissolve in your mouth will make you want to sing in falsetto.

The faded “California Donuts” sign in front of the store is in a surfer font – something you’d expect to see in the opening credits of the 1950s TV show “Gidget.” The parking lot always has one or two police cars; the donuts must be good if police officers are frequently visiting it! The store inside is tiny and nothing to rave home about, but a store is always worth visiting when you’re greeted by a smiling store owner who will you an extra free donut with your $8 dozen.

California Donuts:

5753 Hollywood Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90028

(323) 871-0778

Hours:

Monday to Fridays, 4:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Saturdays, 4:00 am to 5:30 p.m.

Sundays, 4:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Happy National Cupcake Day!

cupcake

In observance of National Cupcake Day, I made sure to wear my t-shirt that says “Cupcakes…I’z Eatin’ Them” as I headed over to Los Feliz for a lazy Saturday afternoon of drinking and eating. I had gone to a few bakeries in search for the most delectable cupcake, but a number of them were out of cupcakes by the time I had finally left my house in the late afternoon. (Sadly, I can only blame myself for this.) So, I headed over to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for a little red velvet cupcake with cream cheese fix and it did the trick.

The real prize of the day was that I rolled into 1739 Public House – one of my favorite local pubs – for one of the best happy hour deals out there. Every day of the week, including weekends, patrons who order a beer at full price at $6.75 get a free personal cheese pizza. The pizza is surprisingly larger than expected for being free; the marinara sauce is sweet and the thin crust has a cheddar/mozzarella blend so stringy that every time you take a bite, you feel like a magician pulling a string of handkerchiefs out of a hat.

Their list of beers on tap is extensive – over 60 domestic and imported. Your senses will probably never be bored as there is every sport imaginable playing on the dozen or so large flat-screen TVs. (Since I’m not a particularly huge sports fan, it was a nice change of pace to see “Forbidden Planet” playing on one of their TVs today and Leslie Nielsen at age 30!)

Summer is the best time to visit this place, as there is an outdoor patio out front on the sidewalk (great for people watching and groups) and the large windows and doors open up for natural light to fill the bar.

Here is a full list of deals Public House offers:

-Mondays and Tuesdays, any meal on the menu is $7 or less

-Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., $9 brunch meals; $3 Bloody Mary or Mimosa with meal

-Mondays through Saturdays from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. and Sundays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., free cheese pizza with any full priced beer (or cocktails over $6.75)

1739 Public House

1739 N. Vermont Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90027

http://www.1739PublicHouse.com/

Tinga – muy bueno restaurante

Los Angeles is the hub for all sorts of Mexican food, from my favorite taco stand, Cactus, in Hollywood, to the famous little taco truck, Taco Arizas, in Echo Park. If there are so many Mexican restaurants in the area, then what makes another taco shop stand out in Los Angeles? And for a narrower focus in this post – what vegetarian options are out there besides a bean and cheese burrito?

tingacorn

Tinga is a restaurant that luckily is able to stand out in a different category – the gourmet Mexican taco for foodies. Tinga opened up a couple of years ago on La Brea Ave. as a small, casual sit-down Mexican restaurant with dishes that were inspired by Julia Child’s favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara – La Super Rica.  Soft homemade tortillas and fresh and local ingredients make noticeable differences for the dishes.  Although a little more costly than your average taco, there is something to be said about the quality of the food that makes it worth it.

People have been willing to shell out the extra dollars for Tinga’s food, as the restaurant has grown in popularity, expanding in the past year and taking over the space next door.  The design of the restaurant has improved as well, with the exposed ceiling with lights draped like a wired chandelier.  A large wooden communal table sits at the entrance of the room with potted plants on it. The newly expanded area has a Mod style with wood paneling and circular mirrors adorning the walls. Dark and intimate, yet good for groups, there is always a healthy dose of indie music filling the room.

The modernity of the restaurant reflects the style of the food, which although is centered on tacos, features an array of other traditional, yet contemporary dishes.  One of the best side dishes Tinga serves up is the Elote Especial – a roasted corn dish reminiscent of the Mexican corn on the cob covered in mayonnaise and spices that are sold off of carts pushed on the streets in the summer.  The sweet corn in this dish, however, it cut off the cob and mixed with a kick of lime, poblano puree, chili, and crema.  Highly addictive and the taste is haunting. Try scooping it up with some housemade chips.

Tinga’s quesadillas are all inspired and innovative, yet keep with the  familiar old-fashioned style. The Mushroom Quesadilla is full of Monterey jack cheese and has a spread of wild mushroom pate. The dish doesn’t lack in hearty servings of avocado, salsa and the housemade crema, complimenting the dish and binding it together full of flavor.

tingaqueso

The restaurant excels in another side dish – Arroz Con Crema – a creamy risotto, that although is a little less complex in flavor from the other dishes, is delicious due to its simplicity. There is a comfort food quality to the rice dish, which is topped with salsa verde, pickled onion, and crumbled cojita cheese.

At a first glance, Tinga’s menu may look like a carnivore’s dream-come-true, but there are a variety of vegetarian items that are all creative and full of flavor.  Grab a Mexican coke or a Dirty Horchata– an horchata with two shots of espresso – to compliment the meals.

Tinga

142 S. La Brea Ave.

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Hours:

Mon. – Thu., Sun. – 12 pm – 9 pm

Fri. – 12 pm – 10 pm

Sat. – 11 am – 10 pm

Price range:

$4.50 – $13.50

Website:

http://www.tingabuena.com/