Archive for December, 2010

Il Pastaio

We thought a very late lunch or very early Xmas Eve dinner, we would be perfect. At 3:30 Il Pastaio wasn’t a mob scene and lo and behold we got a parking space right in front. We love sitting outside and the weather in Los Angeles was perfect – no rain and sunny, but not hot.

White wine from their list

Uovo in Camica con Asparagi – Poached eggs served with asparagus and shaved white truffles – Yes, we were extravagant, but after all this was Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, John didn’t snap a picture of the perfectly runny yolk. There is nothing like a piece of good Italian bread, dipped in runny yolk and topped with some truffles – gives new meaning to a sandwich. The truffles were good – not the best I have ever had, but certainly adequate. The combination of all the ingredients was terrific.

Lasagna alla Bolognese – Homemade Lasagna pasta served with meat sauce. John always orders extra bolognese and must have cheese grated on top. The three men seated at the table next to ours were obviously regulars ( they had a lot of visitors to their table.  This is a part of the Il Pastaio scene – everyone seems to know each other.) The fact that they were drooling over the lasagna and vowed that this was a must order on their next visit attests to how good the lasagna was.

Tortelloni di zucca – Homemade tortelloni stuffed with pumpkin and fresh ricotta cheese with sage and parmesan cream sauce – Il Pastaio excels at pasta – never gluey or overcooked. I love pumpkin stuffed pasta so I was a happy camper.

Il Pastaio is a perfect spot for a casual, homey meal. Don’t expect haute cuisine. This is family style dining with well-executed food.


Worst Dishes 2010

The saddest part of the worst dishes of 2010 is that 2 restaurants we have gone to almost since the beginning are no longer on our list. Both Drago and Takao have been “important” restaurants to us, but I can no longer recommend them and in fact have no intention of returning. Pizzeria Mozza made the list because of all the hype that for us is just not there. My next restaurant is from another chef – Chef Voltaggio – who has garnered a great deal of attention. I have only had one meal with Chef Voltaggio so this could be an unfair indictment, but my major feeling at the time was the lack of editing of what is served and that the main protein was sometimes being executed poorly in favor of the bells and whistles of the accompaniments. Stefan’s on Montana is a joke – poor food executed badly. Finally, I have been in search of fried clams with the bellies – Blue Plate used to do it well – no longer.

Actually, the list of worst dishes is very short so I consider myself lucky and very fortunate.

Pizzeria Mozza

Arancine alla bolognese – tiny balls of nothing, My husband ate half of one ball and I took a bite of the other half of the ball.

Fried Squash blossoms with ricotta – our server said this was a favorite antipasti at Mozza. Why?  Tiny fried blossoms with a teaspoon of ricotta stuffed inside is not a wonderful stuffed squash blossom. We each ate a half of a blossom.

Langham with Chef Voltaggio

Skate wing, scrambled cauliflower, chives, brown butter powder and sauce, caper powder – so much effort seemed to be put into the accoutrements that the main protein i.e. the skate was executed poorly – dry and basically inedible.


Green Tea noodle wrapped with flounder, soba soup – this was just not good, a mess with gluey green noodle “stuffing”

Stefan’s on Montana – no pics

Clam Chowder – the clam chowder was thick but was a weird color – sort of brown, definitely not white which it should have been. My husband thought that it had been overcooked and was “scorched.”

Caesar Salad was a joke – mostly consisting of torn up Romaine, a light sprinkling of parmesan, a light dousing of Caesar salad dressing and a couple of white anchovies on top.

Egg white benedict – the olive oil tomato hollandaise was tasteless, the egg white rubbery with 3 small slices of avocado and some stringy spinach on a cold English muffin.


Spaghetti, cured tuna (bottarga), oil, garlic, lemon zest.  The bottarga dish was awful…this is a dish that has had a special, distinctive taste since the restaurant opened.  Last night it tasted like pasta in badly made dishwater…all of the unique character of the bottarga was missing. Jason, the new manager, came over to ask how everything was and my husband said he couldn’t eat one bite of the bottarga. Jason sought to explain this change to us by saying, “We knew you probably would order this and knew you would be disappointed.  We can’t get the original bottarga and this one has to have lemon zest added to try and replicate the original bottarga.  Sorry about that.”

Sweet corn ricotta pillows, white truffles, parmesan cheese – the white truffles made this a $36.00 entree. The white truffles were tasteless and basically non-existent.

Blue Plate Oysterette

Fried Whole Belly Clams – greasy and not even close to what they used to do.

Farm Shop – Brentwood

We have sampled brunch at Farm Shop, then breakfast so it seemed fitting that we try lunch.

This was early during the lunch service, but the room was beginning to fill up with a good vibe.

Open Kitchen

The back mural emphasizing the importance of  “farm” ingredients.

Chef Jeffrey Cerciello

The menu – this isn’t cheap, but portion size is more than generous and we noticed a number of tables sharing dishes. Also ingredient quality is extraordinary so you actually get what you are paying for.

Crispy artichokes, burrata cheese, winter squash and pepitas  – This dish was excellent.  What makes Jeffrey Cerciello’s food distinctive is that each component on the plate is very carefully defined to maximize the perfect flavor profile.  I would never imagine ordering squash this way, but with the burata, crispy artichokes, pepitas and even the greens,  the whole was greater than the parts.

Steak Sandwich and Fries – prime rib, fresh horseradish cream, arugula and wild mushrooms – The meat was perfect -as good as any major steak house could offer…perfectly rare prime rib that melted like butter in your mouth. The addition of fresh horseradish cream plus the wild mushrooms and excellent bread made this a real treat and not your ordinary steak sandwich. The fries were equally  outstanding and the home made catsup was fabulous. (For the record we noticed a number of tables ordering the fries as a side.)

The only complaint about the steak sandwich was that it was difficult to cut with a regular knife.  Michel Darmon, the GM, assured us that steak knives will be available tomorrow.

Fresh and Smoked Salmon Tartine, toasted rye bread, caper berries, pickled vegetables and butter lettuce – again the ingredient quality of the salmon was superb – don’t think supermarket overly salted lox or salmon that has seen better days. The salmon was as good as any you would find in a fine dining restaurant. Casual atmosphere does not equal a casual approach to execution or sourcing of ingredients.

Bread pudding, candied hazelnuts, pear and vanilla anglaise– delicious and a perfect seasonal dish.
The Farm Shop is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood and we can’t wait to go for dinner.

Best Dishes of 2010

We did not go to that many new restaurants this year – we stayed with our favorites. Also, as we didn’t do a European trip in 2010 and only traveled up north; restaurants are limited to Southern and Northern California.


12 Tiny Eggs Sunny side up – Huevos a la Cubana “Andy Garcia” – a crispy rice cake was topped with 12 fried quail eggs, crispy shavings of Jamon Serrano, dabs of an intense, spicy tomato puree, crispy bacon and topped with some diced chives.

Cotton Candy Foie Gras – absolutely spectacular – eat this in one bite and the cold foie gras terrine rolled in corn nuts with the sweet cotton candy is a marriage made in heaven.


Napoleon tartare, hand sliced steak tartare with a layer of caviar

Crispy egg, shaved cold asparagus, dill creme fraiche, ossetra caviar


Escargots de Bourgogne – marinated snails in garlic-parsley butter and puff pastry –  the puff pastry is placed on top with the snail underneath

Boudin Noir – blood sausage with potato puree and poached prunes –  a half portion. Chef Rory is now making the boudin noir in house and it was perfect with decadent potato puree

Scrambled eggs with chives, boudin blanc and white truffles – this was an oh my, off the charts dish – the creamiest eggs, the fabulous boudin and sensational white truffles.


Crispy Soft Shell Crab Cone, Mango, Red Spicy Mayo, Corona Granite – the corona granite was an essential component as this definitely had a spicy kick to it.

Marinated King Salmon, German ButterBall Potato, Red Wine Vinaigrette, Creme Fraiche – this was in a word a Michelin 3 star dish – absolutely perfect


Crispy glazed quail with grilled pineapple – the quail was cooked to perfection and the grilled pineapple a perfect accompaniment


Foie Gras in Cumin Seed Caramel, Ice Plant – this was just an OH MY dish – luscious, extravagant, luxurious with a perfect “mouth feel”

Monterey Bay Abalone in its own bouillon, Cucumber noodles, Squash Shoots,

Octopus a la plancha, Tempura Squash blossom, Bonito Butter- the Bonito butter was just perfect.

Into the Vegetable Garden – Squash, New Potatoes, Radish, Sorrel Leaves, Courgettes, Cucumber, Bronze Fennel, Tomato, Ficoide Glaciale, Green Shallots, Pansy, Green Beans, Mizuna, Arugula,  ”edible dirt” – this really is like walking through the garden; I really can imagine myself wandering through Cynthia’s Sandberg’s Love Apple Farm in the Santa Cruz mountains, stooping to nibble on all the “goodies.”

John Dory a la plancha, Crispy Mussels, Tomatillos, Vichy of Seabeans, Watercress – Chefs should take lessons from Chef Kinch on how to cook fish and the mussels reminded me of the crispy oysters from New Orleans

Roast Porcelet, Boudin Noir, Anchovy Puree, Toasted Barley Emulsion – I am a huge fan of boudin noir and most chefs tend to treat it like a tough sausage – this was melt in your mouth goodness plus the porecelet was bursting with flavor and tenderness.


Goma tofu, Kyoto-style. The tofu is made from sesame seeds, stuffed with uni and topped with freshly grated wasabi and gold leaf, served in a light dashi seasoned with shoyu and mirin.

Kobe Beef Tartar, Caviar to be eaten in one bite. A Slice of Red Bell Pepper as a chaser. My husband declared this orgasmic!

Toro stuffed with monkfish liver and a Japanese vegetable that Hiro described as a type of onion with a strip of turnip from Kyoto topped with caviar, yuzu dressing –

Hoba Yaki – On a giant Hoba Leaf was Santa Barbara shrimp, Hokkaido scallop and Kobe beef, This sat on top of a puree of Kyoto miso sauce that is made by mixing egg yolk with sweet miso.  The dish was being lightly roasted in the Hoba leaf for a couple of minutes over the coals on the brazier.

Lobster Cooked with uni “paste” on top served with a slice of ginger


On the left, frisee salad with whole grain mustard, crispy pig ear and on the right pork terrine, pickled ramps and cornichons – focused food done well.

Scottish Salmon slowly poached in olive oil and duck fat, Beluga lentils, sugar snap peas, Port wine sauce – this was one of the dishes of the evening. I am not a great lover of cooked salmon – I often find it dry, overcooked and in a word boring. This was melt in your mouth perfect; I am guessing that the duck fat poaching had a great deal to do with that. The port wine sauce just added to the excellence.


Tartine d’Oursin – Sea Urchin on a bed of white bean aioli, a touch of espellete pepper on a toasted crouton  – this is an OH MY dish

Gambas a la Grenobloise – The Santa Barbara spot prawns had been alive 60 seconds ago, according to Walter. It was done with brown butter, lemon and capers – the prawns were cooked to perfection – not the slightest bit of rubbery overdoness


Quail en Porchetta “stuffed” with Lamb Tenderloin, Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin on a bed of lentils with zucchini and carrots, Haricot verts wrapped in carrots, Heirloom cherry tomatoes, Potatoes steamed in saffron – what an extraordinary meat dish – every bit of incredible meat goodness in each bite with market fresh vegetables.


Sauteed pork shoulder, crispy pork belly, hoisin, steamed pork buns, Asian vegetable salad (cabbage, celery, carrots, green onions) – another ode to Asian cuisine that was pork goodness to be wrapped in a steamed bun.


This could be called quiche with caviar. Tart with bacon custard topped by American Sterling caviar, creme fraiche, chives, chive blossoms – John had gone to heaven – bacon and caviar – two of his most favorite things in the world. This was off the charts perfect – what an addition to the caviar dishes at the FL.

Mac ‘n Cheese” – House-made Macaroni, Mornay Sauce, Sauce Perigordine, Brioche Bread Crumbs – rich is an understatement. The Australian Black Truffles were shaved table side

Santa Barbara Uni,  Eureka Lemon Granite and Perilla – The uni was highlighted without a lot of extraneous ingredients -”less is more” with just the right balance from the lemon granite

Uni “En Feuille de Bric,” Yukon Gold Potato and Shaved Summer Truffle – unfortunately the photo doesn’t even come close to doing this dish justice. This was a perfect bite of food – the potato was wrapped in the feuille de bric so you had smooth with crunchy, the uni was pristine and topped with one shaved summer trufffle.

Japanese Blowfish Wrapped in Bacon, White Sturgeon Caviar Creme Fraiche, Chive – I love how Tim combines bacon with caviar.

Toad in the Hole” Iberico Ham,  Jidori Hen Egg “Poelee,” Brioche Toast

Australian Truffles shaved on top – The Toad in the Hole with the Truffles was in a word A+

Four Story Hill Farm Milk-fed “Poularde” – Crust of Apple-Smoked Bacon, Brentwood Corn, Corn Pudding, Swiss Chard, Black-Eyed Peas, Black Strap Molasses Gastrique, Veal Jus – again this had a definite Southern influence.

Farm Shop – Brentwood

My husband waited 2 days before returning to Farm Shop for breakfast. This is from their regular breakfast menu and not the weekend brunch menu.

French Toast, Pear marmalade, raisins and Hobb’s bacon – My husband never orders French Toast but a friend who had had the Farm Shop French Toast insisted.   He was reluctant, but as she has a good palate, he went with her suggestion.  He was totally impressed. The bread was Challah and it was treated perfectly. In addition, the raisins, the pear marmalade, the pitcher of very high quality maple syrup were unexpected flavors, but the over-all effect was a wonderful blending of textures and a perfect “marriage” of flavors.

Hobb’s Bacon side – my husband loved the Hobb’s bacon and would love an on-line source to buy some. He is hoping that the Farm Shops retail store, when it opens, will sell it.

Close-up of the French Toast

The most striking thing about Farm Shop from his 2 meals there is the extremely high quality of ingredients. The resources of the chef are surprising and special. Plus the execution far surpasses an “ordinary” breakfast – obviously a well-trained chef is running the kitchen.

Farm Shop – Brentwood

Brentwood Country Mart used to be the place to go in its heyday. We spent many, many afternoons noshing at Marjan’s Deli, munching on Reddi Chick (still there) and happily shopping at its small vegetable and meat market. Celebrities and locals abounded with their children –  happily sitting on the outside picnic benches or sitting around the glowing center fire pit. It was the farmer’s market and meeting place on the Westside. Then Marjan’s Deli left, a larger grocery store took over the smaller markets and finally with the arrival of City Bakery the ambiance was destroyed completely.

I am happy to report that The Country Mart is back! Jeffrey Cerciello who spent 10 years as the culinary director of Thomas Keller Restaurant Group’s casual dining division is the key “ingredient” to Farm Shop. “Chef Joshua Drew and pastry chef Brittney Turnquist are on board to do the menu, market offerings, and catering. Drew hails from upstate, specifically Bouchon and Ad Hoc, where he was the senior sous chef. Turnquist also comes from the Keller family, having worked with Drew at Bouchon. With Cerciello at the helm of this ship, it’s like a Keller restaurant cousin!”

Eventually, Farm Shop will feature a butcher, cured meats, larder, wine and cheese shop, fresh fruit stand, prepared food section and artesanal shops with gift items i.e kitchenwares, linens, tabletop wares.

The shops are not open as yet, but you can see the section planned in the rear of the picture.

The space is family friendly with a large communal table in the center, but it is also suitable for couples and those looking for very good food.

The kitchen is open with an intense, focused BOH staff.

For now Farm shop is open for breakfast and brunch. In the future there are plans to open for lunch – soon and finally dinner with an Ad-Hoc type of menu featuring family-style dinners with wine and beer. I have it on good authority that Farm Shop will be serving Ad Hoc’s famous fried chicken – worth a drive just for that.

With that kind of pedigree and given how close it is, we had to go on the second day that brunch was served. Given they have only been open a week, you would expect service to be haphazard and disjointed. Service was impeccable.

Michel Darmon is the restaurant director and we have known him for years. We also recognized a couple of staff members from Bouchon, Beverly Hills.

Pastry Basket with pear danish, marinated pomegranate, butter croissant ( you could be in Paris) and lemon poppy seed with seasonal home-made preserves and spring hill butter

“Steak and Eggs” – Pastrami, roasted mushrooms, green tomato ketchup, sunny-side eggs – portion size is huge and my husband took some of the pastrami home for a later snack.

served with rye toast

“Hangtown Fry” – Frittata with grilled Hobb’s bacon, fried oysters, pickled chilies – another very generous portion and unlike so many frittata’s not the least bit rubbery or overcooked

The take-out bakery is open

The key to Farm Shop is the the high-quality of the best ingredients, the excellent execution done by first class chefs, the friendly, knowledgeable service staff and an ambiance that will return the Country Mart to its glory days. My husband plans to go for breakfast next week – I can’t think of a higher recommendation.

Bouchon – Beverly Hills

Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to cancel our trip to San Francisco and Yountville – so a meal at Benu, Corey Lee’s new restaurant and 2 meals at French Laundry went up in smoke. What to do? Lunch at Bouchon, Beverly Hills seemed to be just the right tonic. Normally, we eat at Bar Bouchon, but decided that this lunch deserved the main dining room.

White Wine from their list

Oysters – Kumamoto, Luna from Carlsbad, Pipers Point and Shiny Sea from Prince Edward Island – there is never a hint of grit – the shucker does a marvelous job and you can actually slurp each oyster.

Pate de Campagne, cornichons, pickled radish, mustard, country grilled bread – Bouchon does one of the best pates in the city – terrific

Risotto with White Alba Truffles shaved tableside – this is a photo of 1/4 of the portion served with just a couple of truffles photographed – we were so eager to eat this that the photographer ate first before snapping the picture. There was a very generous shaving of truffles and unlike so many other places serving truffles, these were aromatic and top-notch quality. The risotto was executed perfectly.

BYO Red Wine

Chicken with black truffles on a bed of ????? You could add truffles to any dish for a supplement so chicken with truffles seemed just the right choice. Of course, I had visions of L’Ambrosie’s chicken with the truffles under the skin. Basically this is a very unfair comparison – 3 star dining versus a bouchon. But again the quality of the truffles was superb and the chicken moist and full of flavor.

Just for the record L’Ambroisie’s chicken

Scrambled eggs with chives, boudin blanc and white truffles – this was an oh my, off the charts dish – the creamiest eggs, the fabulous boudin and sensational white truffles.

A lovely lunch with great service