Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sparkling, Flat or Tap?

The reviews of La Sosta Enoteca which mentioned tab padding with expensive bottled water has been on my mind as of late. How can you criticize an establishment for giving you what you asked for? NEVER has a restaurant given me bottled water without my approval. It's important for all consumers to be aware of the inevitable question which is the title of this piece and to provide an answer that will make your experience as you wish. If you want to know how much the water costs, ask. Never be intimidated (by a waiter no less!) into ordering something you don't want.
The bottled water at a restaurant issue died a tragic death for me when I caught Penn and Teller's BULLSH**! show on the subject. It was hilarious and worth searching for. In the show they not only replaced the water in each of the fancy bottles with tap from a hose in the back of the restaurant, they also created a fancy water tasting menu and had many takers trying to discern the differences between them. The mind is a powerful thing and I guess if you are paying $10 to compare the taste and clarity of five different waters... well your brain just loves to be creative especially when under pressure from a snotty waiter hovering above your table at a fine dining establishment.
So, now I only order bottled water (flat, no bubbles for me please) when I'm in a foreign country whose water supply I do not trust OR if I try the tap water offered and find it nasty tasting.
If you don't want it, just say "No, thank you". It's as simple as that.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mammoth Lakes - LuLu's and Parallax

I was able to get a good sampling of the food at both LuLu's (located in the Village) and Parallax (located at McCoy station) this week.
LuLu's does a Mediteranean menu served family style on large platters. It is one of my new favorite places in town. The food selection is something special for the High Sierra, with such specials as roasted rabbit over white beans, braised beef short ribs over root vegetable puree and pizzas from their wood fired oven.  The antipasto choices all freshly made are a welcome sight.
Fresh oysters, several varieties, all from WA, are offered and are quite expensive.  I wish I could say they were worth the price of shipping them to the mountain top, but 7 of the 12 we ordered (which came to at least $30, NOT A TYPO) contained a bit of shell.  LuLu redeems itself with a low key yet polished atmosphere and a wine list that is devine.  The large and diverse list contains choices from all over the world (they own the wine bar which is also in the Village).
We hit Parallax three times for lunch. The service is always spotty (NEVER enough staff) but friendly and even includes a sommelier (whom we ran into on a ski lift on day two). The fresh corn chowder with scallops was rich and creamy with perfectly poached scallops and fried shallots on top.  The strip steak special with Cabrales cheese was perfectly cooked to order.
There are three very great reasons to visit Parallax.
One - guaranteed seating for lunch on the hill.
Two - most ambitious menu to be found while still in ski boots.
Three -  There is nothing like watching the weather blow over the top of the mountain as tiny skiers drop down the Cornice run, gondolas coming and going, snowboarders catching rails, all while sipping a wonderful Italian Valpolicella.
So beautiful.

Gingered Trailmix

I found myself with WAY too much dried fruit in the pantry. I pulled it all out with thoughts of trailmix. I found California raisins, dried apricots, Craisins (dried cranberries), some peanuts, and then things got interesting. I found a ziplock back filled with whole almonds I had coated in a sesame and Chinese five-spice mixture for a dinner party recently. And to make things even more interesting, I ran into a can of the Ginger Peoples candied ginger chunks. I threw them all in a bowl and cut the ginger into smaller bits. Wow, this stuff is really good. The kids like it too :^)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sneak Peek at the Corkscrew Cafe

Stopped by the new Corkscrew Cafe in MB this AM. It's at Marine Ave. and Highland Ave. in the new corner building. It's a combination, tapas restaurant, market, and deli/bakery. It has a few rooms and a patio all on different levels. The room we sat in had a view of the ocean. The breakfast menu was sparse, but we had great coffee and B really liked the salsa that came with his breakfast burrito.
It would be a great place to stop in, grab a bagel and cup of coffee in the AM on your way to the beach, then swing by at lunch for a quick sandwich, in the evening you can come back for a nice glass of wine as the sun sets and you enjoy some small plates in the company of good friends and neighbors.
I hope it does well. I'm looking forward to going back without the kids!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Microwaved Croissant?

I had a quick breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien in the Metlox plaza in Manhattan Beach this morning. I've been to this place several times. I've always loved the simple goodness of the food. Hearty breads, fresh salads and creative French/Belgian twists on classics.
However... this morning I ordered the Croissant with French Ham and Gruyere Cheese with Mesclun and 3 mustards. What I got was a soggy and tough microwaved croissant which had been sliced open and stuffed with a slice each of ham and Gruyere. I ate it, don't get me wrong, I'm a food snob but I don't complain to the waitstaff about the practices of the kitchen staff... but I have to say I was sadly disappointed. Definitely not up to the standards I thought Le Pain was trying to keep. Es tu Le Pain?

Links to the comments

Okay, for the person who just had to see the reviews at zagat and chowhound...

Chowhound reviews of La Sosta

Zagat review and comments of La Sosta


The 100 Year Old Machine

The parking gods were smiling on us and we found a space less than half a block away. This may not seem relevant, but I really hated the idea of circumnavigating the five corners intersection of Hermosa Beach (Hermosa Ave., Manhattan Ave. and Gould Ave.). It's difficult enough just to get through it!
So we were there, on time, and hungry. The host knew us by name, met us at the door and sat us at a table for two in the middle of a banquette that ran from the front to the back of the small room. The floors and mismatched tables are so dark as to be black, white linens add a crisp clean look. The plaster walls were mostly bare save for a map of Italy, a few large mirrors and candle holders. Everywhere there are lit candles and wine bottles. The flames make for a lovely cozy atmosphere.
Large dark wood cubbies and clever racks for the wine collection line the back of the room. A large low table allows waiters to prepare the charcouterie there in the dining room.
It feels European, thrown together yet quaint. The lack of soft textiles allows the harsh tones of conversations from other tables to be easily heard, my only complaint.
The menu is being reprinted and we are handed three sheets of paper stapled together as a menu and another set of sheets which served as the wine list. The menu was sparse, a few salads, risottos, gnocchis, and at closer inspection I find there are only antipasti and primi (first courses) listed. Ah, specials.
They all sounded lovely and there were many! At least 8. All seasonal, classic Italian, great ingredients.
  • Smoked Duck and Porcinis in light cream sauce with Papparadelle
  • Veal Shank, cooked all day, off the bone into a sauce, with some other thick pasta
  • Saddle of Rabbit
  • Filet Mignon, two different preparations are offered.
  • Monkfish marinated for 30 minutes in lemon sauce, roasted with veggies
  • Roasted whole fish, taken off the grill and filleted for you
I can't remember them all.
We order the Duck Papparadelle, the whole roasted fish, and a board of cheeses and meats to start with.
The waiter helps us choose a wine from the formidable collection of Italians they currently have in stock. We chose the Ripasa Valpolicella 2004 which was lively enough to pair well with the cured meats and light enough to go with my roasted fish. Later in the evening we see our waiter's doppleganger (or brother?), also a waiter at La Sosta, he is leaning over the candle at a nearby table, swirling wine in his glass over the flame as he explains, to the man and woman who are eagerly listening, about the grape used to make the wine and the color and texture properties it adds to the final product. Clearly they care about their wine at La Sosta.
Our board arrives and he manages to fit it between us on the tiny table. The selection is beautiful! Speck (like prosciutto only smoked, he says), Pancetta (I can't help think that I usually cook the stuff and eat it like bacon, so is this bacon sushi?) and a spicy Spanish chorizo style salami he calls caccitino (sp?), Pecorino cheese from Sicily, peppered and aged goat cheese, and a third which was basted in wine and refered to as "drunken". In addition there was truffled honey, a few roasted and marinated tiny tomatoes and slices of pickled eggplant. Wow! The truffled honey paired with the Pecorino was wonderful. The honey and the eggplant were almost better than anything else on the platter. The portions were perfect, not too small, but large enough to have a few good bites of each.
Our second courses arrived and for the most part did not disappoint. The pasta dish was rich and delicious with tiny paper thin slices of the smoked duck and served in a sensible portion which we really appreciate. The fish was succulent and moist but a bit bland. I found a few bones as well. But the vegetables are cooked perfectly and well seasoned.
We skip dessert as usual, choosing to finish our bottle of wine as we chat to the waiter about the meats and the incredible slicing machine at the back of the room. The machine is giant about three feet deep and the same across. We watch as a waiter turns a huge fly wheel and gets the blade moving back and forth with a little momentum and then he takes his hands off the wheel and the blade keeps slicing beautiful delicate slices of the cured meats as it winds down. The host tells us that the machine is about 100 years old and is made by a Dutch maker. When it doesn't work, you take it apart, clean it up and it works again, perfectly.
I really like this place. It has a wonderful vibe and I'm looking past my perfectly cooked but a little boney and bland fish because the rest of the experience gives me hope that delicious, authentic and seasonal food prepared by caring people can be found in the South Bay.
La Sosta Enoteca, 2700 Manhattan Ave.(27th St.) Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
La Sosta on Urbanspoon

The Build Up

I've driven by the place dozens of times in the past few years. It has curb appeal, quaint and inviting. but for some reason the place always slipped my mind when thinking of where to eat next.
Valentine's Day was approaching and a new exercise class had me passing La Sosta twice a week, so I made a reservation for the week of the 14th.
I had to know what to expect, so I did my research.
The ratings on Zagat were impressive. Everything over a 20 (good to excellent). But the reviews in the new discussions board were dreadful. Not only were they useless reviews (no mention of the food!) they all generally agreed that the place was overpriced, noisy and pushed bottled water on the guests to pad the checks. Adding to the confusion, the official Zagat description of the place sounded great. Words like romantic, Italian wine selections and cheese and meat cart, had me especially intrigued.
So I continued onto Chowhound where I found experienced reviewers who gave the place a general thumbs up with a nod to authenticity, respect for the concept and good reviews of the food.
I was ready to eat.