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Los Angeles Food Diary

Jun 23, 2011

Venice Canal Venice Canal, Los Angeles

I had certain cliché visions embedded in my memory of Los Angeles after watching Pretty Woman as a school girl. Julia Roberts became my new idol, very similar to the one I had given up a year or two earlier, Barbie. Just like the time I figured I am not getting any blonder by day to look like Barbie, when I grew as tall as a typical Turkish girl can get, to 5 foot 4, it dawned on me that this was as long as my legs were going to get and that they were never going to be like Julia's. Nevertheless I kept holding onto a more viable vision I gathered from Pretty Woman: that one day, with high brand shopping bags, I would strut like her on Rodeo Drive. This vision too has recently crushed not (only) because I can't afford so many high brand goods but more because Rodeo Drive didn't turn out to be anything like I imagined. 

While we drove up and down with our rental in the streets of Los Angeles, I constantly looked for something unworldly and glamorous like I have seen on movies. Thinking how my parents had spotted Larry King, in a Beverly Hills cafe couple of years ago when they were visiting LA, I thought we'd also be lucky or even luckier to see someone more of an eye candy quality. But no. Not only were we deprived of a sight of a single celebrity, the city looked disappointingly normal. Apart from the delightfully picturesque Venice Canal that looked like an oasis, I can't say this Turkish girl was very impressed. 

Anyhow, my expectations weren't about cities but more about the trip itself. It was more going to be about wining and dining not celebrity spotting so I let that be. I used my camera to shoot almost everything I ate and where I ate it and by doing so I annoyed certain people, my brother to be exact. Doğa remained as supportive as usual by being my hand model. In the beginning I was too uncomfortable and timid about using my camera even after asking permissions so the pictures you see in the beginning of our trip seem more like candid camera footage. As we advanced towards north to Napa, so did I, becoming fearless and daring enough, to have the courage to stand up and shoot our food from a bird's-eye view.     

Father's Office

Father's Office BurgerFather's Office Burger with arugula and elliptical burger buns. 

To leave time for recovery from the 14 hour non-stop flight, our first night in LA wasn't pre-organized. After taking a three hour nap which made me feel even dizzier, my wish to do something as casual as possible made it a perfect occasion to taste the famous burgers of Father's Office, a gastro pub. The tips of a friend guided us through our days in LA and I'm glad we took her word for Farther's Office, too. The only downside was that the place had an open table system, meaning there was no body to help us be seated and we were on our own.

College students crowded long tables and we were both too tired and shaken to be swift for table hunting. As we sleepwalked among the crowded tables of college kids with ice cold beers and fat burgers in front of them, we became more thirsty, hungry and impatient. I approached a young couple who were occupying a four seats table and in my kindest voice asked "if we could squeeze" next to them. They looked at me in schock as if I was proposing something fairly indecent yet I was just a jet-lag beaten tourist who was eager to meet American food. But appearantly I was invading their personal space, stupid me, a space much larger than the one we Turks are used to. With a broken heart, I gestured Doğa that made him loose his last bit of patience. So he ordered at the bar, chancing to hold a burger in one hand, the beer in the other and leave the fries alltogether on the counter. But before we had to, I plunged at a table which was being vacated. I remember thinking half asleep and in peace, how good the gastro-burger and golden french fries tasted.  

Toast ve Joan's On Third

 

ToastToast

Only after visiting Toast did I read on a review site that this place is where famous becomes famous. I wasn't really looking around too much because I find scanning other people in restaurants rather rude but a guy who got out of his pink Chevrolet with his sparkling little purse on his shoulder couldn't escape my attention. After brief remarks I got busy working on the menu to satisfy my usual appetite boost that comes as a side effect of trans-oceanic flights, besides jet-leg. I was indecisive between something savory and sweet and in the end , I devoured a wholemeal pancake topped with bananas, berries and caramelized pecans after eating a whole portion of scrambled eggs with dried tomatoes, goat cheese and avocado. The only downside was that I was hopelessly craving for a pancake in a matching quality for the rest of the trip and was constantly disappointed.

The next day The Farm on the Grove was a place we randomly searched on Google for a breakfast location nearby the hotel and we weren't really shattered when we found out that the breakfast was a mediocre one. If I were the rulemaker I would definitely be breakfasting in Toast but Doğa thinks that our goal is to explore places and that doesn't happen if we keep revisiting places we've been before. I liked the photos I took in the Farm though, for they represent a classical American breakfast which I can't say I don't enjoy.

The Farm on the GroveThe Farm at the Grove: standard pancake and classic bagel cream cheese

Before we hit the road on our last morning in LA, we stopped by Joan's on Third just across the street from the Toast. Two days in a row I had eaten pancakes and it was time for a French toast, after a fine herbs omelet. If you think what I typically eat home, a Turkish breakfast composed of cheese, olives and tomatoes you'll understand what a drastic change of diet it is, eating pancakes and french toast with maple syrup, three days in a row. So I wasn't surprised when my belly started to swell only after three days and only then, did I go back eating eggs and toast only.

The creamy delicious omelet I ate at Joan's made me reconsider my own "world's best omelet" recipe or at least the title, which I start finding too pretentious anyway. While we enjoyed our omelets with cream on their side, the conversation of whom we assumed to be two script writers was becoming more and more interesting to the ear but it was time to take off. Before I got lost in the aisles of Joan's, studying each and every package of its delicious goods, Doğa sensed the danger and called out for me so I only had time to grab a box of caramel and chocolate coated peanuts among packaged goods of Joan's. And you will see who happened to enjoy them the most.

Joan's on Third Joan's on Third: Omelet with fine herbs and Monterey Jack cheese with cream on the side.

Katsuya

Among the reviews about Katsuya on the web, I read that people go to there for celebrity spotting and when there is no celebrity around, they don't feel empty-handed because they get to eat delicious food. We didn't go there with the same drive but left feeling the same way: fulfilled and happy.

 Katsuya(Left to right clockwise) 1) Katsuya sushi bar 2) crispy rice with spicy tuna 3) Kobe Tobanyaki 4) Miso marinated black cod  

Had I known their cocktails were so spectacular I wouldn't volunteer to be the driver for that evening. The spicy Burning Mandarin was to die for. If it wasn't the United States I would certainly be less rigid about the number of cocktails I was having. We followed our waiter's guidance and ate some of the most beloved dishes of chef Katsuya.  Crispy rice with spicy tuna was something I could have over and over again, and sure deserves the title "what Katsuya is famous for". The miso marinated black cod, another signature dish, was something we don't get to eat often here in Turkey where fish is usually served and consumed as it is, like fish. The Kobe Tobanyaki was also delicious but with too many mushrooms that left us fishing desperately for a piece of meat.

The Bazaar

The Bazaar Bar CentroThe Bazaar's Bar Centro

Luckily, The Bazaar is not the first restaurant created by José Andrés that I've been to, thanks to my brother who lives in Washington DC where Andrés himself resides. Years ago in Zeytinya, which means "olive oil" in Turkish with a dropped "g" in the end, I remember eating Turkish, Greek and Lebanese specialties with unusual twists to them. Although I don't recall as clearly as Zeytinya, Oyamel was a very colorful and lively Mexican restaurant where we had lots of Margaritas to wash down small plates of Mexican specialties.

Naturally when molecular gastronomy is in question, getting your stomach stuffed can't be among your expectations. As an inexperienced foodie in that territory I was sceptical and hadn't foreseen the beauties of it. As I look back now with all the restaurants we had the chance to visit that looked more or less like carbon copies of one another, I appreciate The Bazaar's edginess and creativity even more.

The Bazzar Menu Left to right clockwise: 1) "modern" olives: green olives liquidised with liquid nitrogen 2) jicama wrapped guacamolé with micro cilantro and corn chips 3) Brussels sprouts with lemon purée, apricots, grapes and lemon air 4) seared chicken and dates with mustard caviar and spicy mustard greens

The Bazaar has five sections, two restaurants with two distinct menus, a patisserie, a bar and an exhibition space. We were seated at Rojo y Blanca, the Spanish Tapas restaurant which was louder, dimmer and livelier than them more luxurious Saam. Decyphering the menu seemed harder than ever so our waiter came to rescue and proposed us to leave things to his hands. He prepared a balanced nine course menu with meat and vegetables from the selection of traditional and modern tapas.

With the landing of each plate on our table, we attentively listened to our waiter while he introduced us each dish, each one with interestiong remarks. Following that, we scrutunized them first visually then by tasting and got surprised at the genious that lied in their making. In the words of our hostess some of the dishes were so minimal that "you take a bite and then it is gone". Regular green olives followed by liquidized olives gave us a chance to see what liquid nitrogen does to food. The olives had become so wobbly and fragile that when I managed to put one in my mouth before dropping it on the table and cause it to squish, it popped open as soon as it landed on my tongue and tasted exactly the same as the traditional olives. A strange sensation...

I wasn't fond of every single thing we ate though but solely as a result of my own pickiness about foie gras and eggs. Foie gras hidden inside a web of sugar candy, no doubt a product of imagination, was something I could hardly swallow. Quail egg cooked in 60 Degrees and vegetables was another weak link but that again has something to do with my intolerence of runny eggs.

The Bazaar Menu Left to right clockwise: 1) Braised Wagyu beef cheeks with California citrus 2) Catalan spinach with apple, pine nuts and raisins 3) Philly Cheesesteak 4) Chocolate, raspberry and vanilla ice cream with flower petals  
 
When we were asked if we were ready for dessert I was eager for a sweet round of interesting plates but were taken by surprise when a hostess came and asked us to gather our things and follow her to the patisserie. The patisserie stood next to Bar Centro, quiet and deserted in contrast to our previous location, making us regret that we ever said "yes" to the dessert option. Cookie jars assembled side by side, full with candies and petit fours looked more like waiting to be served for a tea-party than to be follow a molecular minimal meal. A traditional french patisserie was indeed meant to contrast the rest of the Bazaar's sections or was Andrés too lazy to develop a revolutionary dessert menu the Bazaar deserves? Undecided, we ordered three scoops of homemade ice-cream to share which turned out to be balls of heaven in a bowl.

Overall, what lingers in my memory and my palate was Philly Cheesesteak, something we were advised to taste by people who've been to the Bazaar before: "Air Bread" covered with thin slices of Wagyu beef with runny phillycheese inside. Certainly a sight and a taste to remember.

Yol

While I prepare the Santa Barbara and Carmel post just imagine I'm on the way...
 
Father's Office 
3229 Helms Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 736-2224

Toast Bakery Cafe 
8221 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 655-5018

Joan's On Third 

8350 West 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 655-2285

 

The Farm of Beverly Hills at The Grove

189 The Grove Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 525-1699 
 

Katsuya (the menu)

11777 San Vicente Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 207-8744

 

The Bazaar (the menu)
465 South La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 246-5555

 

 

 

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