Stepping into Smith's NYC is a bit like stepping into the horse race scene from My Fair Lady. Everything is black and white and feels oh so chic. We walked past the few sidewalk tables, past the main dining room, and into our dining corridor. It was about as wide as a train car, with booths on one side, and tiny two tops on the other. The mirrored ceiling curved overhead, reflecting the soft yellow light of the chandelier sconces. The place felt delicate and modern, though it was a bit loud. But that may be inevitable when you're in a small space with so many people.
My cousin and I had come for the Spring Chicken Dinner. On Monday and Tuesday nights, Smith's NYC offers a three course meal for two people for $35 total. Given that this is New York, where everything is almost always more expensive than it is in LA, $17.50 a person sounded pretty amazing.
After placing our order we were given a canister filled with two kinds of bread and a little ramekin of hummus. The Italian bread was feather light with a nice chewy crust and tasted so fresh it could have been baked an hour ago. The Olive bread had that same airy freshness, and the bite of the olive went beautifully with the hummus, which had a strong chickpea flavor.
First came the green salad, which did indeed taste of spring. The peppery, almost bitter greens were tossed with shaved fresh veggies like carrots, radishes, and fennel, as well as some tomatoes and snap peas. It was all dressed in a salty almost warm dressing that served to accentuate the bright, crisp flavors. .
Then came the main event, an entire chicken with two side dishes. The chicken was served in a cast iron skillet and came covered in herbs. The skin was crispy and positively packed with flavor, while the meat was delicate and tender. Although it was done perfectly, I wouldn't say this was anything to write home about. It felt like the kind of thing you should be able to make for yourself, full of chicken-y flavor, but nothing to elevate it to the realm of extraordinary. (Although, to be honest, I myself have never attempted an entire chicken and therefore have no idea how hard it is to make something this simple so tasty).
The roasted veggies were served in what looked like a mini dutch oven. (I wanted to steal all the serving dishes to do my own cooking for two!). The potatoes, onions, asparagus, and mushrooms tasted as though they'd been frolicking through fields of butter and herbs and were thoroughly enjoyable. The mushrooms in particular were delicious, thanks to their spongy texture soaking up all the delectable flavor.
Our favorite dish of the evening by far was the polenta. They must use about a pound of cheese for each ounce of polenta, as the flavor absolutely explodes in your mouth! The creamy richness was offset by a pleasing tang, probably owing to buttermilk somewhere in the mixture. The tiny dish was so indulgent that we could only finish half of it, but were left wishing we had more room in our stomachs.
We ended the evening with the Chocolate Mousse, probably our least favorite part of the meal (and it takes a lot for me to say that about dessert). Although the texture was rich and creamy, the chocolate flavor was a mere suggestion, not the powerful statement I look for it to be. The best part was the toffee bits on top, the only sparkle of sweet flavor in the whole dish.
Overall, Smith's provides a lovely atmosphere and a terrific value for a night out in NYC. I give this three and a half belt notches.
Smith's NYC has $35 Spring Chicken Dinners every Monday and Tuesday night. 79 MacDougal Street New York, NY 10012 phone: 212.260.0100 www.smithsnyc.com
My new friend L and I had decided to get together for dinner on Monday. I was excited about this, because a ton of restaurants offer great deals on Monday night since it is typically a slow time. One of the cheapest deals out there has got to be the Monday Night Supper at Little Dom's. For a mere $15 you get three courses, and for another $10 you can add a bottle of wine.
Walking in to Little Dom's is a bit like stepping back in history. The worn wooden floor and bar, the green leather booths, the black and white pictures of horse racing, the last rays of sun peeking through the wooden slats. If a Hollywood set designer was looking for inspiration for his 1950s mob movie, this would be a good place to visit. Even the waitresses are dressed in simple diner style uniforms, making the model-esque hostess in her chic black dress look a little out of place.
I made our reservation the night before, and the only times available were 6:30 or 9. So be aware - the word on this deal is out!! Plan well in advance. By the time we left at about 8:30, there wasn't a single empty seat in the place. And points to the restaurant for being very vocal about their deal: there were postcards with the $15 menu on the hostesses stand, and one was given to us with the menus.
Shortly after taking our seats at a small table by the window, the waitress dropped off a white wax paper bag filled with half a loaf of warm sesame baguette. This was served with a simple butter and was delicious. I especially loved that they were so generous with the sesame seeds!
The first course was Shaved Fennel and Parmesan on a bed of arugula. I would have never thought to put these ingredients together, but they worked wonderfully. The crisp bite of the fennel juxtaposed with the creamy robust cheese and the bitter tender greens. The whole thing was lightly dressed with just a hint of citrus to better accent all the flavors. I was happy to see there was just as much parmesan as fennel. So simple, yet so good!
Next came the main course, Beef Braciole, which, I have since learned, is Italian stuffed, rolled steak. It has a very meaty flavor, almost like a brisket or a stew meat. Probably a cheaper cut, this truly does feel like the kind of dish your old Italian grandmother would serve you in Brooklyn crying "Mangia! Mangia! You're too skinny!" (thanks imaginary grandma, I've been working out!;). The beef is rolled around a stuffing of cheese, breadcrumbs, and lots of pine nuts, then sauteed and simmered in tomato sauce. The whole thing was full of hearty meat flavor, accented by the acidity of the tomato sauce and the richness of the filling (L's favorite - she ended up scraping out all the filling from her meat and eating that). Some steamed summer squash was served on the side, a light touch to this heavy dish, though it certainly had it's fair share of butter and seasoning (and the occasional heat of a chili flake).
We ended the night with Chocolate Caramel Tart with Creme Fraiche Whip. This is pure richness on a plate, thank goodness they served such a small sliver of it! The smooth velvety ganache sits atop a thin layer of buttery creamy caramel. The caramel was mostly rich and delicious, but L and I each had one bite that tasted like we'd bitten in to a piece of rock salt. I like salted caramel as much as the next girl, but they need to learn to distribute the flavor throughout, not have it hiding in one place! The shortbread crust was light and crumbly, and the creme fraiche whip felt almost superfluous, given how much decadence was already on the plate. Being a dessert connoisseur, this was certainly not one of my favorites, but that didn't stop me from eating every last bite of it!
Overall, we had a wonderful meal and spent half the time exclaiming about what a remarkable deal this is! The portions are so generous I ended up taking home a doggie bag - so both the hubby and I had dinner for a mere $15!! As L remarked, for $15 you can sign me up for a standing reservation! (The menu does change every week - check the website to see what it will be.) Four belt notches out of five.
Little Dom's has $15 Suppers every Monday Night.
2128 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
I write a food blog because few things in this world make me as happy as good food and saving money. But there is something else that compares: getting a massage and saving money! So I just had to write and tell you all about Sunset Foot Spa.
My friend J and I decided to go on Friday night. I'd read about the place awhile ago and had been meaning to try it forever. Having now experienced it, I can't believe I didn't go YEARS before!! For a mere $25 you get an hour long massage. That's right $25!!
The place looks like a modified pedicure salon, lined with large recliners draped in towels. The walls are a soothing yellow and everyone speaks in quiet voices. The whole thing has a cheap zen sort of feel.
You start seated on an ottoman in front of your recliner. The men then drape your shoulders with a towel and give you a twenty minute neck. shoulder, and back massage. Their hands are strong and it's a pretty deep massage. Obviously, it's not quite as luxuriously flowing as a massage on your bare skin with oil would be, but it's definitely enjoyable.
Then you move into the recliner. They lean your seat back and give you a brief head and face massage while your feet soak in a tub of warm water. Following that, they spend the next forty or so minutes working mostly on your feet (with some work on the calves and thighs thrown in for good measure).
While receiving your massage, you can study the acupressure chart that shows how the different parts of your feet correspond to different parts of the body. Fascinating.
J and I arrived thinking that we'd be chatting away the whole time, but the whole thing was so soothing that we mostly just stayed in our own blissed out worlds. The only interaction came when they got to the "thyroid" portion of our feet, which was somehow very ticklish for both of us - oh those crazy thyroids!
This place would be the perfect respite after spending a night in too high heels or a crazy workout (or really any time you have $25 to spend!). And there were little Chinese candies - so I even got some dining done on this deal!
Sunset Foot Spa is located at: 5419 W. Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90027 323-898-4220 www.sunsetfootspa.com
Check their website for the other services they offer. I had called to make a reservation, but the woman didn't even take down my name, so I don't think it was altogether necessary.
Last week my job sent me to Chicago. Knowing that I would be busy with work, and also being fairly unfamiliar with the city, I didn't think I would be able to find any "deals." I simply told my friend E to take me out to a delicious meal, never mind the price (Hurray for per diems!) But, when we sat down in Ba Ba Reeba and I saw that they had "Pintxos" or bite sized tapas for $1.50, I knew I had to order them. And when I then tasted how delicious and versatile they were, I knew I would have to write about them. So, I must apologize for the quality of these pictures as I didn't have my camera on me and these are all from my iPhone.
Ba Ba Reeba is a raucous neighborhood place filled with people young and old, trendy hipsters, families, mature couples and everything in between. They have a huge menu that is entirely composed of tapas. While the tapas are primarily Spanish in nature, the variety and scope of the dishes shows that Chef GabinoSotelino (say that out loud - it's fun!) is clearly knowledgeable of many different types of cuisine.
The first bite was Artisinal Spanish Cheese and Quince. The quince was sweet and soft without being gummy - a fantastic contrast to the harder, sharp cheese (that I'm guessing was a manchego). It was a simple exploration of contrasting flavors and textures - delectable!
Next I sampled the Mushroom and Rice Croqueta. Traditional croquetas can sometimes suffer from being overly greasy, but these were light and crunchy with a rich warm center, topped with a creamy cheese. The only flaw, if I had to find one, would be that they didn't have a very strong mushroom taste - more a cheesy, creamy, sort of flavor. But, I will never complain about cheesy creamy flavors:)
Then came the Short Rib Stuffed Piquillo Pepper. The roasted piquillo was sweet as a bell pepper. It draped over the juicy short ribs like a perky little cap and the entire thing perched atop a crunchy whole wheat toast bite. For $1.50, that's a pretty substantial mouthful!
Then came a spear of Serrano Ham, one of the most classical tapas out there. However, chef Sotelino has jazzed this one up with a tip from the islands: Caramelized Pineapple. Again we have that delicious combination of sweet and salty - classically addicting.
Our last little bite was a Goat Cheese Croqueta. They must raise these goats on a steady diet of lemonade, I can conceive of no other way they could make the cheese taste SO lemony!! It's almost like a cheesy, lemon mousse, though with enough salt to keep it firmly out of the dessert realm and in the mouthwatering appetizer realm.
$7.50 later, our meal was off to a fabulous start. Given my choice, I would literally have an entire meal composed entirely of small bites. Should you ever find yourself in Chicago, Ba Ba Reeba is well worth the trip!
So I'm adding a new section to the blog called: "Everyday Deals." These are the places where you can get absolutely fabulous food for under $10 an entree everyday. No waiting for Tuesday nights or Happy Hours (though I'm more then happy to wait for those as well:) So, what better way to start of this section, then with a place people have been raving about: Umami Burger.
It's easy to miss the restaurant, as it is a nondescript store front on La Brea, wedged between such non epicurean delights as a donut shop and a car wash. But find it we did. Normally, I try and avoid valet parking (what's the point of $3 chicken when you've paid $10 for valet?), but for a mere $2, Umami gets the prize for the cheapest valet parking around.
H and I walked in to be greeted by our dear friend J. It's really a very small restaurant, but they've made delightful use of the space, using warm woods and neutral colors, as well as leaving one wall entirely open to windows so that light pours in. We settled in to to the simple table with a paper table cloth and small succulent plant.
The menu is simple: one narrow page of burgers with the reverse of the page detailing sides, drinks, and desserts. But I say, if you do one thing and do it well, then that's all you need. I'm sick of the cheese cake factories of the world doing a mediocre job on EVERYTHING. I hope this micro-specialization continues.
And speaking of micro-specialization, these guys specialize in Cola! They don't have a liquor license, but they will happily send you across the street if you want to bring in your own booze. But... should you be less alcohol inclined, they have a wonderful assortment of unusual sodas. I opted for a Chai Cola. The first sweet sip is filled with the complex spices of chai tea, although it does have a bitter aftertaste. Think next time I'll opt for a different unusual option.
Then came the house specialty: The $9 Umami Burger. Umami is that fifth elusive taste. When it's not sweet, spicy, sour, or bitter, it's: Umami. And this burger has it in spades. Juicy, perfectly cooked beef, earthy complex mushrooms, a crispy parmesan cracker, a sharp, melted cheese that I'm guessing is gruyere, and an oven roasted tomato, all encased in a meltingly soft bun. They warn you that you will crave this one, and they are indeed correct. Be prepared to get hooked into a lifetime of deliciousness.
Being a SoCal kinda girl, my beautiful friend H opted for the $9 SoCal Burger. This lovely patty is topped with butter lettuce, caramelized onions, oven roasted tomato, and what they call: house made processed cheese. Do not be put off by visions of kraft singles dancing in your head. This is more akin to a manchego: creamy and flavorful. This burger is sweeter then the Umami, but still cravably delicious.
J opted for the $10 Turkey Confit Burger, which, while tasty, simply wasn't in the same league as the other two. I would skip this one if I were you.
We ordered the $3 triple cooked hand cut fries. While they had a crisp exterior and a nice dusting of salt, they were so thick that it almost seemed more like eating a potato then eating a french fry. Of course, the house made ketchup made anything utterly palatable.
Far superior in the realm of sides is the $2.5 malt liquor tempura onion rings. The light tempura coating and the complex hint of the malt flavor elevate these onion rings far above their normally greasy, soggy counterparts. (Oh, these are greasy too, it's just a different, yummier kind of grease:) I think I'd eat just about anything in that malt liquor tempura batter.
We ended with Cake Monkey's $3.75 Raspberry Red Velvet Ding Dong. The red velvet cake is light and spongey, and the chocolate coating actually tastes like chocolate. I imagine this is what ding dongs used to taste like before all the chemicals came rushing in to make things taste like plastic. Oh, and then there's the delectable tang of the raspberry filling all mushed together in your mouth. Perfectly sweet!
Overall, we had a wonderfully delicious evening at Umami Burger and will certainly be back for more. Four and a half belt notches!!
One Caveat: get there early! We arrived at 7pm and sat down in a mostly empty restaurant. By the time we left at 8:30, hordes of hungry diners stared longingly through the glass at our table. This is not a restaurant to linger in!! Get in, eat scrumptious burgers, and then move on before ravenous diners start swiping food off your plate.
Walking down Rodeo drive past all the designer clothing stores, one can't help but feel posh. (Even if one happens to be wearing a T shirt and is feeling smug for having found free street parking.) So I was excited for my Friday night date with P at Cafe Rodeo in Hotel Luxe.
The outdoor patio was bustling with people when I arrived at 6:45, but I had requested indoor seating (given that I normally freeze whenever I'm outside unless it's 100 degrees.) So I walked down a perfumed hall curtained in white and arrived at the actual Cafe. It was smaller then expected and, as there was no hostess, I had to just grab a passing waiter to tell him I had a reservation (wanted to make sure I got credit on my opentable.com account!).
The interior can't quite make up it's mind as to the look it's going for. The large skylight, creamy neutral palette, and aerodynamic silverware suggest something airy and modern, but the uptempo continental music, the servers all in black, and the recessed lighting seemed to suggest they are going for more of a loungey feel. The crowd was mostly in their late thirties and forties. If I had to guess...I'd say 80% tourists. Hmmm...not a good sign.
We began with what was listed on the menu as $7 Pork Tacos. However, our server informed us that they were out of pork, so instead they brought us Braised Beef Tacos. The meat was tender, moist, and full of flavor. The natural sweetness of braised beef was accented by the bits of pineapple, cut with a fiery chipotle sauce. Add to this the crisp bite of the iceberg lettuce and you get one textured and complex mouthful! This was by far the best thing we had all night, it's a shame it's not on their regular menu.
Next I dived into their $3.60 Fried Chicken Skewers. For that price, how could you go wrong? Well, I wouldn't say they went wrong - but they certainly didn't go right. The chicken itself was moist and tasty, but the coating was bland and lacked the crunch I expect from "fried" chicken. And forget about the sauces. We might as well have gone to McDonalds for the BBQ sauce and grabbed some little packets from our Chinese Takeout place for the Duck Sauce. Nothing exciting there. My least favorite of the night was the $9 Filet Mignon Sliders with Blue Cheese and Grilled Onions. I expect Filet Mignon to be melt in your mouth tender, but these little nubbins were filled with sinew and fat (and not the marbled, tasty kind, more the clumpy, hard to chew kind). The dusting of blue cheese and three or four strands of onion were barely present enough to give much flavor. The "buns" were little circles cut out of English Muffins that were not toasted. They pretty much just served to remind you how small and sad the whole dish was.
We also got the $3.60 Parmesan Fries. While I do wish they had been dusted with a little more parm, they were piping hot, crunchy on the outside, and soft of the inside. Plus, they were presented in a sweet little pot.
Having found the food adequate but not at all special, P and I decided to skip dessert, since we imagined it wouldn't be anything special. After waiting forever for the over worked waiter to pick up the check, we headed off in search of tastier desserts. Sadly, we forgot that it's Beverly Hills and most places are closed by eight. Foiled Again! Overall, I give this 2 belt notches out of five - not worth your time. But, should you still wish to go..
Cafe Rodeo has Happy Hour Monday-Saturday from 4-7:30pm. They are located in Hotel Luxe at:
As my friend C and I stepped out of the car parked three blocks away, the heady scent of wood, smoke, and meat filled our nostrils. BBQ powerful enough to traverse three city blocks? This was going to be a good day. Anticipation only mounted as we crossed the bridge over the PCH and saw the rows of white tents waiting for us, each containing their own secret ingredents, believed to hold the key to the very best barbecue.
Stepping inside, we were surrounded by barbecue enthusiasts of every age, race, color and creed. There were the hipsters, the aging hippies, the frat boys, the beach bums, the families, all of them gathered in joyous celebration of grilled meat. Perhaps the UN should start holding more 'ques.
We decided to scope out all the options before commiting to any plates. After all $10 got you quite a hunk of meat in addition to a side, so we knew going in that we would probably only be able to sample about three different kinds. **Note to organizers: it would be amazing if next year each booth had small plates (a rib or two) for just a few bucks so that attendees could sample more varieties.** We immediately eliminated all LA based vendors, vowing instead to actually go and try out those restaurants at some later date. So then it was all about deciding which regions looked the most scrumptious. C has eaten her way across the country multiple times, and she said those Missourians knew their 'que. So we opted to get the Kansas City Spare Ribs and Baked Beans from L.C.'s BBQ. They use a wet rub, which leads to the meat being incredibly moist with a flavor that invades your mouth with the force of a hurricane. The ribs had a nice warmth without being overly spicy, as well as a crunchy crust. If only they'd had just a pinch less salt they would have been perfect. But the baked beans, rife with pork fat, were phenomenal! Sweet and spicy, they literally melted in my mouth.
Having procured our wet ribs, we also wanted to try a dry rub, so we purchased Memphis Championship BBQ's Ribs and Coleslaw. (A disclaimer, I don't like coleslaw, so I won't be reviewing it). I'll be honest, the main reason I insisted on these ribs was that this recipe was named the Champion at the 1902 World's Fair. Are you kidding me? I had to try any recipe older then anyone I know. The ribs were tasty and the spices well balanced, but the flavor was not nearly as powerful as I would have liked.
For our third dish, we went with the Pulled Pork Sandwich from Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ in New Jersey. This was my favorite of all three! The pork was as tender as a dream, and the extra sauce that I slathered on was delicious, complex, sharp, sweet, tangy and so much more. The sauce and pork juices were all soaked up by the bottom bun, transforming an overwhelmingly ordinary piece of bread into a pillowy burst of flavor. (Note to BBQers - your meat is fantastic, but it might be time to investigate some better bread!). My one quibble was that the meat was not as hot as I would have liked, but I partly attribute that to the massive amount of sauce I used to smother the meat. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, this was C's least favorite dish. A Boston girl at heart, she's enjoyed the best "BBQ sandwich" out of a shack somewhere in the middle of Mississippi, and, for her, there's just no going back (certainly not to Jersey!). But for my money, these Jersey Boys can do the 'que.
Thoroughly stuffed, we nonetheless made room for $3 Polkatots Cupcakes! These cupcakes are smaller then most, but still pack plenty of flavor. Their Vanilla cupcake is good, with a sweet, smooth frosting and moist vanilla cake contrasting with the crunchy "blue sparkles" on top. But it's their Dulce de Leche cupcake that is a revelation!! They have somehow figured out a way to pack enormous Dulce flavor into the creamy softness of frosting. Add to that the extra punch of actual Dulce de Leche squiggled on top and you have one of the most phenomenal cupcakes I've ever tasted (and trust me, I have tasted my fair share...someday I may write an entire essay on cupcakes in LA). If you ever find yourself anywhere NEAR Pasadena, go get these cupcakes!
Author's note: Lost in my Dulce de Leche rapture, I suddenly looked up to discover that C had dissapeared. Apparently, despite her full stomach, the lure of a Texas Sausage proved irresistable and she went back for fourths. And, man, she was glad she did (as was I, as it left more of the cupcakes for me!)
Overall, we had a wonderful day at the festival. Good people, delicious aromas, and a stomach full of pork and cupcakes. What more could a girl want?
Hello dear readers. This isn't an actual review - just two exciting bits of news that I wanted to share with you!
The first is that there is a BBQ festival in Santa Monica this weekend. Admission is $10 for a regular pass or $50 for a VIP pass. After that, $10 can get you a plate of award winning bbq from such far flung places as Texas or Missouri (plus, of course, the best that LA has to offer). Oh, and they have dessert too!! I will definitely be in attendence, so look for a review some time next week. You can check out all the details here:
The second announcement is that I have started cooking school! I figured if I'm going to be writing about cooking every week, I should understand what goes into the whole process. Hurrah, I am so excited! We meet once a week for twenty four weeks, so probably not enough time to become a top chef, but I'm hoping to get a good handle on the basics and be able to throw amazing dinner parties by the time I'm through! Wish me luck!
At lunch with a friend the other day, she happened to mention that the Dolce group (Dolce, Bella, Ketchup, etc.) has 50% off nights at their different restaurants. Amazing! I called and had secured reservations for the following Tuesday. But, dear readers be aware, you must mention it to your server! They do not promote this special at all (on the menu, on the Bella website) - it's only mentioned on the Dolce website. So make sure you ask for your half off, or they will charge you full price!!
I stepped out of the hustle and bustle of Hollywood Blvd. and into this dimly lit little haven. It's a small but efficiently designed space, with a bar taking up one long wall and booths under slender windows taking up the other. My friends J, H, and I lounged in a roomy booth in the back. High ceilings, black glass chandeliers, and black and white photos of celebrities give the place a trendy, almost masculine vibe. The Dolce group has clearly perfected the art of cool.
My first bite of the focaccia bread made me think that perhaps it was a little past it's prime. The flavor was still fine, but it was a little dried out, like day old bread. Luckily, it is served with a tangy, vinegary, tomato dip. This lovely sauce helped to moisten the bread and had a fantastic flavor.
We decided to start by splitting the $3.50 Gnocchi in a Basil Pesto Sauce. The gnocchi was silky smooth, as soft and pliant as you could wish for. The sauce was creamy and packed a garlicky basil-y punch. A scrumptious combination - I could have ordered two and happily called it a meal.
Since it was 50% off Tuesday, I decided to go all out and get the Rack of Lamb for a mere $13! Although the meat was a little overcooked, it was still mouth-wateringly delicious, thanks in large part to a crunchy pistachio crust and a heady blackberry demi-glaze. The sweet and tart sauce was so generously portioned I decided to try it on everything, including the medley of fresh steamed vegetables - an experiment that payed off richly. The plate also came with a heaping mound of parmesan mashed potatoes. The sharpness of the cheese complimented the creaminess of the potatoes wonderfully. And thanks to the ample portion size, I was able to enjoy the whole meal again for lunch the next day. Altogether, a steal for $13!!
We ended the night with the $4 Molten Chocolate Cake. Typically, it is served with vanilla ice cream, but since they were out we opted for the strawberry sorbet. The cake was indeed dense and chocolaty, though not as meltingly molten as advertised. I think it could have used another minute or two in the oven as the very center was even a little cool. The sorbet, on the other hand was light and rich at the same time with a potent strawberry flavor.
All in all, my friends and I enjoyed a wonderful night on the town with good food in a trendy atmosphere for not a lot of cash. Go check it out!
Bella offers 50% off all food all night on Tuesday Nights (Drinks are still full price.)
Los Angeles is a city full of diet conscious people. We have our vegans, our raw foodies, our macro-biotics (I'm not judging, as I have enjoyed the cuisine of all three.) But couple that with the fact that so many of our residents are as tanned and toned as the cast of 90210, and you may start to think there's little full fat, purely indulgent gastro-fun in the City of Angles. Enter: The Grilled Cheese Invitational.
By the time the gates opened at noon the line stretched all the way around the park and back! This is probably because the first 1700 people got to JUDGE the contest. As we waited in line, my friend N and I signed waivers giving them the right to kill us, steal from us, and basically do anything they wished without us holding them accountable. Then the nice folks at Kraft handed out little triangles of Kraft Singles Grilled Cheese. Now you know I'm not one to turn down free food, but I could only hope the quality level would skyrocket after that.
As we judges began milling around the fenced in park, the excitement level was so high I overheard one girl exclaim, "This is going to be the best day of my life!" And indeed it would seem so. Many competitors upped their cheesiness factor with kooky costumes such as robes and berets, balloon hats, cheese heads, etc. Most spirit points has to go to the Challah team, who sported sweat bands and kept inciting the crowd to "Challah!!!"
Then came the organizers, clearly kings of cheesiness. There was a Mayor of Cheese to welcome us all, an Irreverent Reverend to give the benediction, and the organizer of the whole shebang, Mr. Tim Walker, sporting a bright red fez. He spoke of "A sea of cheese that longs to melt, butter that yearns to fry, and bread that cries out to be grilled!" The Reverend actually went so far as to suggest that the answer to all of our nations woes might be found in a Grilled Cheese Sammich, reminding us that we were presently surrounded by 1.75 batrillion slices of hope. We can only hope dear Reverend, we can only hope.
The day had four heats: Missionary (just bread, cheese, and butter, nothing else), Kama Sutra - Vegetarian (Anything goes as long as it also includes the above three and no meat), Kama Sutra - Meat (self explanatory), and Honey Pot (Desserts!). Now here is the sad part: Each judge gets only TWO samples. Yes, of the hundreds of options, you could only try two. N and I of course decided to split our samples, but still four bites of different grilled cheeses does not exactly a feast make. Each sample came with a ballot on which you could rate the grilled cheese. Now, I understand that you can not ask competitors to make 1700 samples, but this still strikes me as a highly arbitrary way to judge. Especially considering the fact that in order to get a sample, you had to enter a crush of people, wave your ticket madly, and hope that the "runner" would take your ticket and give you a sample. You didn't even have any way of knowing exactly what was in each sammich. N and I just tried to spot a few ingredients we liked and then go for that.
This strategy produced mixed results throughout the day. Next year, I wouldn't waste any tickets on the "Missionary" heat as it was just too simple. The sample we procured there was a huge disappointment, just a step or two up from the Kraft samples. But the samples vastly improved with the Kama Sutra round. The best one we tried there had goat cheese, thinly sliced apple, some sort of spread, and a beet cut out in a star on top. Very tasty.
But the most delicious aspect of the day had to be the demonstration I attended by Chef Eric Greenspan of The Foundry. As last year's winner, he was serving up a decadent creation made of creamy and sharp Tallegio, oven dried tomatoes, arugula, braised beef, and an apricot caper puree with white wine, all of which was served up on a nutty bread that had been grilled in about a pound of butter. AMAZING! This sammich is apparently a fixture on his bar menu at The Foundry, so you may just see a review of that coming soon!
N. and I left the competition having been entertained and heartened by this show of a community in support of cheese, and we are now determined to enter next year! So be on the lookout, we're thinking we'll wear cheesy ballgowns as our costumes!:)
The Grilled Cheese Invitational takes place once a year and costs $5 (Certainly a deal considering they had free Kraft Singles Grilled Cheese and Izze Soda in addition to the competitor's samples).
I wanted to take my friend, M, out to a nice place in order to celebrate her birthday. From the second we arrived, I knew La Boheme would fit the bill perfectly. We were greeted out front by twinkling white lights wound through the wrought iron fence, inviting us to a world of whimsy. We stepped in to find soaring ceilings, funky chandeliers, large statues, and a huge fireplace. Both of us are east coasters, and the sight of a roaring fire warmed our little snow starved hearts! The whole place reminded me of nothing so much as Beast's castle in Beauty and the Beast. Luckily, the plates did not start singing:)
We walked in to the bar area. With it's dangling red lights and plush chairs it has the feel of an intimate and classy lounge. However, La Boheme is the only place I know that offers Happy Hour from 5-8pm, and when we arrived at 7:15 it was packed!! Hurrah for late Happy Hours - let's hope this is a trend! Not a problem at all though, the very friendly manager escorted us to a table in the main dining room.
We began to study the menu of small bites and sandwiches. The prices ranged from $6-$22 which struck us as reasonable for such a nice place. But no, it's actually an additional half off those prices!! Phenomenal!! We decided to go all out and order five dishes - at these prices, you can't go wrong!
We began with the $4 Grilled Lamb Skewers served with a Cucumber Mint Tzatziki Sauce. The lamb itself was slightly overdone, but it still had a very strong flavor, almost gamy. The sauce had a perfectly cool tang, although I can't say I detected much mint in there. Individually, neither element was stellar, but taken together the two complimented each other nicely.
The rest of our order came all at once after that. I was still busy taking notes on the lamb, but I positively could not resist the aroma of the $4 Four Cheese Mac and Cheese wafting toward me, it smelled like I had died and gone to cheese heaven. This is probably one of the least goopy Mac and Cheeses I have ever had. It feels more like they just tossed the noddles in a bunch of cheese and cooked it, which is perfectly fine by me! The four cheeses played well together, starting out with a creamy mildness and then gradually growing sharper the more you chewed. This was M's favorite dish of the night!
The $4 Veggie Spring Rolls definitely win the award for loveliest presentation (at least until we get to dessert). They were light and crispy, but not altogether different from what you'd get at your local Chinese restaurant. What did set them apart was the House Plum Sauce and the Chinese Mustard. The plum sauce was sweet and pungent, nicely setting off the savory spring rolls.
Next we had what as billed as Japanese Fried Chicken for $4. The all white meat was tender and moist, and the soy based dipping sauce had a hint of heat, but I could have dealt with a little more crunch on the breading.
Finally we come to my favorite of the night: $3 Bacon Wrapped Dates with a Blue Cheese and Pecan Stuffing. In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that bacon wrapped dates are one of my favorite things in this world, and the addition of blue cheese and pecan stuffing is a stroke of genius. These little bites contain everything a mouth could wish for: salty, sweet, crunchy, smooth, pungent, and mild. Amazing!! While these were not the juiciest dates I have ever had, they were still out of this world DE-LICI-OUS!!!
We ended our meal with the Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding with Caramelized Bananas and Cinnamon Ice Cream. Normally this dish goes for $8, but we were charged the Happy Hour Price of $4. (In all honesty, I'm not sure if that was a mistake since it didn't say desserts were included in the half off special, but it was certainly a happy accident!). Regardless, this dish is certainly worth full price! The bread pudding was warm, soft, and so comforting it might as well be giving you a hug. The chocolate chips tasted like they had a high concentration of cocoa, almost like the bars you can get that are 60-70% chocolate. But, the cinnamon ice cream and accompanying sauces were sweet enough that it all balanced out. And I must mention the Caramelized Bananas - what an ingenious combination of creamy raw bananas with their crisply caramelized tops. Fantastic!
Overall, we very much enjoyed our experience at La Boheme - it is certainly a FANTASTIC deal - probably the best I've found yet! The two of us ate our fill of tasty food for under $25, and had plenty of leftovers to bring home! This gets four belt notches out of five, for overall value.