Showing posts with label Los Angeles Restaurants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Los Angeles Restaurants. Show all posts

Farmshop: LA -- Shake the Hand That Feeds You...

If you live on a farm, never name the animals, because if they become pets they also become the source of tragedy. But names are important -- they give distinction.

Farmshop LA is a terrific, inventive restaurant in Santa Monica, with an inspired chef trained by top chef Thomas Keller. Wait a sec. Just a knife's throw away in Santa Monica is LA Farm, a terrific, inventive restaurant with an inspired chef who was on Top Chef, Stefan Richter.

I love both restaurants, but last night I went to Farmshop for the fourth time. I don't always visit one place that many times in a month, but some consistent factors kept me coming back.

Farmshop Food Market

1. This quote from chef-owner Jeff Cerciello should be tattooed on the neck of everyone in the restaurant business:  

Everything we serve and, in fact, everything you see at Farmshop starts with a name, a face and a long-standing relationship that we believe in.

He means the food, he means the customers, he means himself. Jeff's credits include French Laundry; his partner Michael Darmon worked at Per Se. Shutthefuckup.

2. Location. Farmshop is at 26th and San Vicente. Close to anyone on the Westside, so you won't have to dangle a caramelized carrot to get them there. If you need to coax someone from the Valley or Hollywood, this is a good middle ground. They won't be driving deep into Santa Monica, they're just dipping their toes in. Just say it's in Brentwood. Explain that you can't drive to the Valley or Hollywood, fighting traffic in that direction is like an obstinate egg in a fallopian tube dodging sperm, determined to fail.

The restaurant is located inside the dark, creamy center of the Brentwood Country Mart, the ever-evolving neighborhood hodgepodge of shops with a casual food-court nucleus. Parts look like they are held together with tape and hope.

They waved a wand and transformed the Mart's decrepit old grocery store into sexy, swanky Farmshop. When you walk in, you see a case full of great meats and funky cheeses, and their counters hold fun, rare and creative foods to take home.  Cruise the products before or after your meal to discover some creative fare that restores your faith in artisan and small production passion.

The room is divided in half, the to-go counter on one side, and a chef's tasting table in the middle. On the right is the dining side, farm-style wooden tables line both walls, and another row runs down the center. Despite the high ceiling, noise is not a problem. I could hear both my dining companions and the waiter. The dining room is stark, letting me expect the food to be the star. A busy restaurant covered in decor that distracts from the food is like buying a feather coat for a bird. Farmshop is a clean, crisp and light apple pie. 

Farmshop LA dining room

3. Service.  The host is standing there as you walk in, but they don't react like I've walked in on them taking a shower or interrupted their private life. Because I haven't. This place understands that the hosts are the first point of contact I have with the joint. I don't eat at restaurants with anyone who greets me rudely or has any weird attitude -- that tells me that the food might be served with the same lack of care, and there are so many places to eat. Whether I have called, or walked in, this host and management team has been, um, accommodating.

The waiters are top notch. When a waiter clocks in, perhaps he's had a bad day. Maybe a bankruptcy led to a fight that led to a breakup that led to a hangover --- but I don't want to taste that with my meal. I want a pro. The waiter is the chef's agent, he has to sell the food. The chef's unable to come out to the dining room and sing for his supper. You think he doesn't want to? Of course he does -- the dining room is the glory. Sometimes the chef will come out, take a little humble bow and then retreat back to braising his pork belly.
Farmshop waiters understand that they are the link that can't be missing between food and customer. Each time mine has passionately described the dishes, and freely given recommendations when asked. A waiter walks a fine line when adjusting your order with their opinion, but do it right, and the usual tip becomes greater -- and then the waiter has actualized your experience, and his.
Last night I asked the waiter a few questions, vacillating on whether or not have the sweet potato soup, deliberating as if I were adopting a cat. I finished my order, no soup. He paused just before he left, leaned down closer, but not too close, and smiled. Perhaps if the chef splits the soup in two bowls? The madras curry oil and buttered cashews are niiiice. His smile made me smile.

sweet potato soup

Smart waiter got another $12 out of me. The soup surprised me, it was really good, I forgot sweet potatoes weren't all orange. I wish their service didn't surprise me -- I wish that all waiters were this helpful and into their jobs, the customers and the food. The entire crew works as a team; you can feel it; you can see it. If your plate needs clearing, a hand swoops in and removes it. Look up and it might not be your waiter. Or is it? 

4. Food. For me, since the ban, pork belly is the new foie gras. I love the flavor. This crispy skin resists, but I win, and soon my knife has slid effortlessly through the tender flesh and is making a scraping noise across the plate.

Farmshop pork belly

I asked the waiter how long it is braised. A really long time, is all I need to hear.  The chef probably stayed overnight in the kitchen on a cot, setting his alarm and checking the pork like a new parent checking their sleeping baby.

Hummus with Pomegranade seeds and Black Sesame seeds

Hummus is sprinkled with pomegranate seeds on one visit, roasted figs on another. Maybe the chefs bore easily. I hope they don't discover Nintendo or charity work -- I need them in that kitchen cranking out beef short ribs that are served sprinkled with a surprise, unannounced, and so very appropriate gremolata all over the top like bright green, lemony snow. The cioppino had a slight smell of fennel in the broth, detected as I raised the spoon to my mouth. But when I took the bite, the fennel didn't stand out -- the dish was harmonious and supportive, every flavor got along without one's need to be the star.

The Jidori Chicken is their signature dish.  And they should be proud of their beautiful creation. Chef Jeff did not bring the petite portion sizes of the French Laundry to his Farmshop's table -- here you don't get a dainty little fashion model chick, you get a va-va-va-voom chick-en. Every fashion designer knows to run some color across a models mouth before she hits the runway, Chef Jeff slashes the chicken with luscious red lipstick peppers before sending it out to your party.

Jidori Chicken

I had been curious about the beet cured trout. The waiter's eyes lit up and he sounded as if he were selling his almost virtuous sister. She was the perfect pink, stained by the beets. I do love their health benefits, but I didn't love this dish. Yes, it was pretty, but I had it at dinner and it felt more like a brunch item. If a dish is going to be that pretty, I expect her to be cold, heartless and distant. Instead, the fish was warm and oily, more of a slut who'd been out all night than a fresh, tempting young thing.

beet cured trout

Dessert at Farmshop can be really good like pear tarts or great chocolate cake. Or this Lavender Meringue, with hibiscus candied quince & Meyer lemon curd. Treat this like a pinata, and once you bust open the meringue and set the lemon curd free, scramble like a kid to get it all. This dessert is Elizabeth Taylor -- on the outside it's glamorous, beautiful, and a little puffy. But giving and sweet and so much more on the inside. 

Read owner-chef Jeff's philosophy again, but just pay attention to this: "Everything we serve and, in fact, everything you see at Farmshop starts with a name, a face and a long-standing relationship that we believe in." Why that little kitchen Kierkegaard!

Food, customers, employees, everything. Nicest touch: If you take leftovers home, they hold them at the front door, and kindly hand them to you as you leave, turning my short term memory into a long lasting impression.

I've never learned my Farmshop waitress or waiter's name. I just can't take it if one day they disappear.

Farmshop. 225 26th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90049 (310) 566-2400.

El Cholo: Santa Monica - Beach Boy Latin Love

El Cholo invented nachos. 

I figured nachos just happened, like at some guy's house one night when he had some people over to watch the game.  A bag of chips in one hand, a jar of salsa in the other, and touchdown! The gang cheered and high-fived, spilling salsa on the chips, creating an easy to make and easy to eat snack. Also the source of bro-mance.

But nope -- universally loved nachos were created at El Cholo in 1959 by Carmen Rocha, a woman with a heart as big as her panties. She simply shared a dish she made in San Antonio.

A proud, tradition-honoring people, Mexicans are willing to give only so much of their flavor to us. Pedro marries Jessica, and gives her his heart, but not his mole recipe. The Rio Grande slashes across the Southwest, carrying people and their cuisine coursing through, and sometimes across, the border. By the time they dry off, what we get is a diluted, more white-man palatable cuisine on our plates, known as Cal-Mex, Tex-Mex, or as I say, Texican.

Los Angeles is it's own movie, based on the movie industry. Sets pop up and are torn down, so are buildings, actresses, and restaurants. El Cholo has survived. They have been serving delicioso food since 1922, from the original downtown location and in Santa Monica since 1997.

They slam a basket of freshly-fried handmade tortilla chips with a ramekin of fresh salsa down on your table before they even offer you one of their legendary margaritas (first bar to use Quervo 1800!).

El Cholo chips and salsa

The best time to eat there is, well, right this second, but if you go in high season, May-October they have their signature, soft green corn tamales. You may only know the semi-hard, gelatinous masa tamales with mysterious animal parts hiding inside like they are being smuggled in, but these kinder, softer tamales are a must-have. Peel open the corn husk only part-way, and greedily dig into the gooey, cheesy soft corn mixed with love, chiles and butter.

El Cholo green corn tamales

They have classic, reliable combination plates for about $10, with perfectly good enchiladas, tacos, and chile rellenos. I imagine the founders grandson, just graduated from USC and pleading with his abuela in the kitchen, Look old woman, no one wants your tired old tamales! We need to please the twitter foodie crowd and offer exotic shit like cumin souffles and do some ancho chile molecular gastronomy.  She gave him her you gotta to dance with the one that brung you speech for the hundredth time, which goes: Take these tacos out to the thousands of customers who come back day after day. They pay your rent you MBA idiot.

If I need to take a break from my non-stop cheese fiesta, I like their blue corn enchiladas with black beans and guacamole. I still get my queso on, just less:

El Cholo blue corn enchiladas

As I walked into El Cholo last week, I noticed a Bentley in the parking lot, trying to look less conspicuous huddled between two ubiquitous Priuses. But you can't hide that ride under an eco-friendly bushel, so I struck my usual pose and stood against the driver's door, waiting for someone to see me. Then I pulled away like I had just parked and was closing the door to my wicked whip of the west, praying I don't trip the alarm.

I love the high-backed booths in their dining room and the privacy they provide.  I also love the good acoustics. I overheard a man in the next booth preaching fuego and brimstone to his dining companion. "Your soul is eternally damned; it is up to Jesus to forgive you and welcome you back into his flock."  I thought he said your salsa is eternally damned and I dropped my chip, picturing myself praying to the porcelain god later -- but the preacher stood up for emphasis and/or to leave, and revealed thyself to be none other than holy rock-and-roller Mike Love, of Beach Boy infamy.  The Bentley mystery was solved.

Dining at El Cholo invokes the feeling that you're visiting the home of a loving, huge Mexican family that everyone wants to be part of. Sometimes it is packed with other "relatives",  but the wait is short. Their hospitable spirit ensures that your drinks and food is served quickly. Every time I have ever been, the waiter warns hot plate. My OCD kicks in and I touch it lightly anyway, just to do it. The waitresses often have a flower in their hair, and wear long, colorful full skirts, that make you think they are going to break out in a swirling festive dance at any moment.

Enjoy your time at El Cholo, that is their intent from the moment you walk in their welcoming door.  They will have you at ola.

El Cholo Santa Monica

Oh, I feel I should probably tell you that a Mexican restaurant in Tijuana created the Caesar Salad.

El Cholo. 1025 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA, 90401. (310) 899-1106

Mozza: Los Angeles - The Perfect Man

And on the eighth day, Mozza was created by a trinity of godly chefs Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich.

The genius behind the genesis is three unique Italian restaurants busily buzzing under one roof. Mozza, like mankind, is comprised of mind, body and soul.

A single, sorta slutty friend recently wished aloud that she'd like to take the best part of each of the three men she's dating --  one's rich, one's sexy and one's smart -- and create one perfect man. My mind drifted and I realized that the Mozza brand is like dating three different men.

While she wants to cut their bodies up, stitch them back together in a lab and zap life back into them via a brown-out causing surge of electricity, I doubt she'll do it -- she can't sew.

But I can build a fantasy date/meal from the heavenly bodies of the three Mozza eateries -- the casual Pizzeria, the classy Osteria, and the breakaway-takeaway, Mozza2Go.

First, I hit up the Pizzeria. Mozza's Hancock Park neighborhood is stuffed like a calzone with retro-mansions and fierce parking restrictions make pricey valet parking mandatory. I swung open the promising door to perfect pizza, and sent my eyes flying past the hostess in the pretty dress, and across the small dining room, to land on the open kitchen. Once I saw dough flying, I knew love was in the air and took a seat at the bar as if waiting for my date to be ready.

Their bartenders are as friendly and knowledgeable as food waiters. Technically better than a food waiter, because they also have the booze and they're mostly confined behind the bar. I didn't plan on pawing at them for more cheese, but it's nice to know they're close.

The richly-colored walls of the inviting room wrap me with the strong arms of an Italian. The menu is to the point and clear so my about-to-be romanced mind can think. I started slow by ordering the vegetarian eggplant caponata.

Bread put Nancy Silverton on the culinary map with La Brea Bakery; so I tore off a piece and used it to embrace the eggplant and onions, which is served surprisingly cold, like a spurned lover. Her bread warms even the coldest dish. The chefs take a couple of days to marinate the eggplant and spices, making this one of the best appetizers I have ever spread.

Sitting at the bar supported my lack of commitment to just one Mozza eatery and let me know that their craft beer menu is given the importance of a wine list. I was perched on the end near the door with one foot on the floor.

I had to order the prosciutto and arugula pizza. Everyone wants this pizza. Mozza's dough is worth the hype and the years spent in development. It's the hot girl in high school you never dared to touch. Now twenty years later she's right here before your hungry eyes served to you on an actual platter. She might've let herself go all soft and doughy, but I guarantee that once you have a taste, she'll be as good as you imagined.

The rhythm of the room is excitingly fast and this prequel to a meal warmed up my appetite. I paid the modest bill and on my way out I quickly poked my head into their adjacent wine-bottle lined smaller dining room. I noted that this intimate nook would make a great place for a small party. It's so private that if everyone kept their eyes on the corkscrews we could go clothing optional.

Walking the few steps along Highland Avenue to my next date, Mozza Osteria, I looked in the window as if peeking at other diner's plates. But I really used this reflective opportunity to check my hair and new Prada shirt, confident that no one else thought to theme-dress and exclusively wear Italian designers -- I wanted to look good for fancy Osteria. As I pulled open the door, I gasped -- the black, brown and white room is Prada. Like good Italian fashion, it looks expensive; it's crisp yet mysterious, open yet intimate.

The subtle beauty of the room and its great lighting flatters everyone. White cloths muffle the bustle and dress up the close tables. The couple next to us was celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, so we toasted them, making a note to selves to keep our own table banter clean. A platter of freshly-made mozzarella whizzed by, jiggling like an eager young girl's breast.

Just the sight of grilled sardines on the menu recalled my July spent in St. Jean Cap Ferrat. Swarthy chefs at nameless beach side cafes tenderly pulled the shiny little fish from the shimmering Mediterranean Sea and threw them on the grill, then tossed them on a bed of lettuce.

When my sardines at Osteria arrived, I delicately poked my fork at the crispy skin, and sighed as it separated gently but firmly from the white, tender flesh. My mind was flooded with sensory visions of accented voices belonging to perpetually bikini-clad tanned bodies, who paused their sun worship just long enough to eat.

This dish is that summer in the South of France.

Fantastic house-made Burata with leeks roasted three shades past caramel, almost beyond recognition, was lovingly presented. I used my tongue to identify the charred, flat bodies of the leeks underneath the creamy thick mozzarella. No crime was committed, and the mustard bread crumbs on top did a good job of complimenting a cheese masterpiece. One should always know a double-jointed accountant, an honest mechanic, and a man who can make cheese.

Their oxtail ragu must have roasted all night, tended by chefs taking shifts and drinking strong Italian coffee to stay awake. The meat happily took on the flavors of the vegetables and herbs like an ox takes on a burden, making it seem effortless. I thought the waiter was trying to cut in on my dance with this dish when he tried to clear my plate too early.

I ordered the guinea hen with liver pancetta sauce, and ate it quickly to prevent my dining partner from wiping the sauce all over my naked body and inviting others to lick me clean. It can happen in this room: Love and lust is in the air and it smells a bit like bacon.

Our last plates were cleared. During that lull before dessert, when my table is empty, I'm hyper-aware of other silverware hitting china and get jealous that others might be having something I missed. Rather than be that guy always looking for the next best thing, I let the flavors of my dishes linger on my tongue, and in my mind. It was all so good --  I know I'd chosen well.

I readied myself for dessert like I was meeting a first date -- both can look harmless and/or threatening. Italian people smoke, drink, eat pasta and gelato, yet are always runway ready. So, since in Rome, I ordered Bambolini with lemon mascarpone and huckleberry marmellletta.
It's all made in-house, somewhere deep in the hidden kitchen.

As soon as I saw my plate, I had this desire to march back there and find the chef-agician who knows how to conjure up perfect doughnuts and beg them to marry me. I bet they keep the doors locked.

The soft doughnuts cut easily; the gooey center gushed out. Instinctively we fed each other bites -- this is the movie scene where the couple falls in love and everything starts to get literally and emotionally messy. The tart cheesy lemon ice cream served alongside brought out our shy smiles; it's borderline naughty.

My night wasn't over. Stumbling out the door, I headed a few feet down adjacent Melrose and fell in lovely Mozza2Go.

Here I picked up hand-cured olives and garlic knots -- they generously hand out their lovingly raised food-babies to take home. You had me at to go.

Their brilliant idea to half-bake pizzas in their flavorful wood oven means that you take it home and finish what they started. It's a sure-fire way to multiple male orgasms--you discreetly smell the thrilling pizza baking here, and then, let the aroma knock you to your knees while finishing it up at home.

I grabbed one of their lasagnas to cook later just to be wonderfully reminded that all lasagnas don't come frozen in a box with a peel-off plastic film that sends a burning blast of steam up after its microwave execution. 

Once home, we sat fireside and let the heat tear our clothes off. We talked about dinner and planned a trip to Venice while feeding each other love knots. Mozza is an amazing date, but I realized I'd had my perfect mate the whole time.

Ever been in Italy when in love? That's any meal at Mozza. 

Mozza Group. Melrose and Highland Avenues, Los Angeles, CA. (323) 297-0100.