Does Provenance Dictate Quality?

On a recent trip up to Northern California for the Concours De Elegance at Pebble Beach, I had the opportunity to observe the lifestyles of the 1%. A place where $10 lattes are the norm and $800 breakfasts are no big deal. It got me thinking does the provenance of a restaurant or Chef make the actual food taste that much better? Or is it all in our head?

I have experienced it time and time again here in Los Angeles, where there is this huge hype for a restaurant run by some big name Chef, that just disappoints both my palate and my bank account. Why do I continue to do this? Why does it even matter? Shouldn’t we be enjoying the ingredients or the flavors of the food rather than let who made it or where we ate it dictate whether or not we liked it?

Since I was up in the Monterrey area for several days I had the chance to eat at several of the restaurants at the Lodge at Pebble Beach; a perfect example of a place where supposed provenance overcomes quality. One of the restaurants, Stillwater, which is supposed to be one of the best in the area, was extremely overpriced and quite a disappointment. Stillwater offers seafood dishes ranging from hamachi and tuna sashimi to olive-oil poached halibut. While the quality of the seafood was in fact quite good, the dishes themselves were boring and poorly executed;certainly not worth the $50 entrée price.

Another example was a few months ago we went to Jose Andres’ restaurant Bazaar ;a restaurant with very high ratings simply because of the fact that the Chef came from El Bulli, another big name restaurant in Spain. Not only was the service appalling, but the food was almost inedible. Nothing was seasoned properly nor really made any sense (Jose Andres is a big molecular gastronomy guy). The only thing worth eating was the Jamon Iberrico, which they don’t even prepare, it is cured ham that is imported from Spain. We walked away from their both poor ($200 meal!) and still hungry.

Contrary to that, there is a little Japanese place close to our apartment called Nabeeya, that is run by a very hardworking husband and wife team that offers great chicken teriyaki and spicy tuna bowls that are both extremely satisfying and very affordable (you can walk away spending less than $10).

Now I am not saying that cheap food is necessarily better than expensive food, I am simply stating that you won’t always get the best meal from the most expensive and popular restaurant. The best meals in my opinion, are the ones that are prepared by really hardworking people that really care about the product and the customer and are not caught up in the hype of who they are or where they work.

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Starry Kitchen-New Downtown Location

Last night, after two glasses of rose at Spring Street Bar (one of the best local bars in LA), Cameron and I decided to go check out Starry Kitchen. We had been before to the location in the Financial District, which sadly closed down, and really enjoyed the meal that we had.

Once we heard that they were doing a sort of “pop up” restaurant at the Tiara Cafe, we decided we had to go eat there. I am a big Asian cuisine fan, everything from Thai to Vietnamese, and especially love what the husband and wife duo at Starry Kitchen do. Fresh ingredients, in your face flavors, and traditional Asian dishes.

The staff were very friendly and attentive, and made us feel like we eating at the owner’s house. We started out with the beef wrapped in sesame leaves which was served with a nice pickled vegetable dipping sauce. The beef was a little under seasoned on its own, but once you dipped it into the sauce it brought out the flavors of the sesame leaves and the beef.

Next we shared the garlic noodles, which looked just like plain noodles with butter, but were surprisingly flavorful and paired nicely with a generous splash of Sriracha.

Lastly we split the Singaporean crab, which to be honest was one of the tastiest things I have eaten in a while. The sauce is made with a homemade chicken stock and tomato base. It is spicy and sweet and has pieces of crab floating around waiting to be soaked up by the bread that is served with it. The crab is sweet and succulent. and is large enough to split between two or three people. Truly a spectacular dish. In fact, the waitress told us that on the weekend they usually sell out of the crab by 7:00. So if you have plans to go there make sure you get there before 7:00 or you will miss out on a sensational experience.

Eat, Drink, Americano.

Yes folks, this is the name of the restaurant. Downtown LA has had a huge infestation of “urban-chic” restaurants, Industriel, Urbano, Towne, the list goes on.  As I have mentioned before, I am so happy that downtown is getting more “user-friendly”, honestly I am just sick and tired of the same shit over and over again.

My initial thoughts of Eat, Drink, Americano were that it was going to be the same as all the other mediocre restaurants that claim to be serving “urban farm food”.  However, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a huge, pretentious restaurant catering to the hipsters. Instead, it is a small restaurant that has cool drawings on the walls and unique family-style picnic tables. It has a great ambiance that is friendly and welcoming and doesn’t make you feel self-conscious about your outfit choice (which might be just a me problem).

The menu is really small and the staff is quite friendly and knowledgeable about the wine selection. One thing that was pretty disappointing was the portion size of the chop board, which we paid  5 for $25. There is literally just enough of each for each person to have one bite and pass it on. This is fine if money is not an issue or if you are not really starving and this is all you order. But for $25 I was expecting  generous amount of meats and cheeses, and boy was I disappointed.

The ceviche is quite good, which says something as you know I am a ceviche connoisseur. The fish is fresh, the marinade is refreshing, and the portion size is perfect.

We also tried the mushroom and egg, which was served warm in a skillet  The egg was a little too underdone for my personal taste, creating an overwhelming eggy flavor that took over the delicacy mushrooms.

Next, we had the halibut tempura and romescu sauce, a nice take on fish and chips. The fish was nicely fried, not too greasy, flavorful batter. The romescu sauce, which is a nut based sauce, reminded me of hummus in consistency and had a pleasant tomato flavor that did not overwhelm the seasoning of the fish.

Lastly, we tried the provolone, mango chutney and arugula flatbread. This was the winner for me. The flatbread was nice and chewy, not thick and dense. The flavor combination of the provolone, mango and arugula made perfect sense; salty,sweet and bitter all balanced with the texture of the flatbread.

Overall, it was a pleasant meal. What I mostly enjoyed was the ambience, a nice place to come have a light meal with a nice glass of wine. I will definitely return to Eat, Drink, Americano to try the rest of the menu and to drink more wine.

The Parish-Review

As you know I went to the newest downtown LA restaurant, the Parish, on Friday night. Considering this used to be the location of quite possibly the worst restaurant in downtown, Angelique, I knew that there was nowhere to go but up. We ended up going on opening night, so with that in mind I knew there would be a few mistakes here and there.

The hostesses greeted us with a nice smile and led us to our table which was in the upstairs area of the restaurant. Right away I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it looked compared to the horrendous decor of its predecessor. You have to walk by the open kitchen where you can see the cooks working as well as catch a glance at Chef Casey Lane (who was a lot smaller than I was expecting). The bar upstairs was busy and filled with people trying to grab a cocktail while waiting for their table. It seemed as though everyone was enjoying themselves .The lighting made you feel as if you were in a speakeasy; dark and mysterious.

Once we sat down we ordered a nice bottle of gruner-veltliner which unfortunately was not served cold enough and had to wait at least ten minutes before we could drink it. My friend to the right of me ordered the gin gimlet which was refreshing,  and was obvious that they used nice gin. Once we got the wine flowing we ordered the fried olives, which had a great complexity of flavors and textures; salty, crunchy, and bitter, balanced with the tastiness of the fried aspect. The only complaint was that they left the pits in and had the waiter not told us, we probably would have choked. Then we all shared the deviled eggs which were good, but I thought a were little plain, not worth the $9. The  poutine fried oysters however were great. The oysters were fried to perfection and the gravy was not too heavy;  the fries however seemed a little sloppy and perhaps had been sitting for too long. Next we had the grilled corn which  was served with a honeycomb butter; juicy and sweet, by far the favorite of the night.

After we received these dishes we ended up waiting almost an entire hour before we received our last two; our server didn’t check in on us once. Also there were plenty of bussers to take away our glasses and silverware, but none to replace them. we had to ask at least twice to get some. Thankfully we had another bottle of wine to keep us going through the wait, but it didn’t go unnoticed. We finally received our fried chicken, which was ok, after the olives and the oysters I felt a little “over-fried” and couldn’t really appreciate the dish. The chicken seemed to be fried nicely, but there was some serious seasoning that was lacking. Lastly we shared the dal, which to me if you are going to put dal on the menu, it better be kick-ass. It was underwhelming and the piece of chutney toast that went along with it was tiny, barely enough for one person to get a bite (there were 6 of us, it was awkward).

Lastly, we decided to go all out and split the toffee pudding, which was incredible, not too sweet, nice choice of bread, actually one of the highlights of the night. Overall, I would say that the Parish needs improvement (especially in the service department) but on its way to be one of downtown’s top restaurants.

Industriel

The other night Cameron and I decided to check out Industriel, one of downtown LA’s newest “urban chic” restaurant; defining themselves as “the style of cuisine served up by your grandmother in her farmhouse in Provence, France, with one little twist:
Your grandmother has sleeve tattoos” (industrielfarm.com).

I have to say for the all the hype that it got, I was severely unimpressed. Although I loved the decor and the ambience; honey bear jars hanging from the ceiling, bright red chairs, music played at a decent level, mason jars filled with picked everything, our experience at Industriel was B- as at best. I wish they had spent as much time refining the menu as they did decorating the space.

First of all we started off by ordering a glass of sparkling rose, one of my guilty pleasures in life, and instead received a huge glass of regular rose, which we had to send back. It seemed as though the waiter was not really well versed in the wine list, or perhaps was not really paying attention.

We then ordered the “house-made sausage”, which was actually full of flavor from the herbs and had a nice rustic texture to it. However, it was served with homemade mustard that was bitter beyond belief and was almost inedible. The pickled vegetables, although vibrant in color, lacked that crunch that I love about pickles and had a strange after taste that made me think they used too much clove in their pickling juice.

This was followed by the smoked octopus which is one of our favorite dishes in general to begin with so we might be a little biased. However, the octopus was nicely smoked, and had a delicate texture that was neither too soft nor too chewy. Oh I forgot to mention that at this point in the meal, we finally received our bottle of wine that we had to drink mostly without any food to accompany it. Back to the food, we finished off by splitting the duck which is served with a wheat berry wild rice cake,pecans, currants, baby roots, and hibiscus jus. The duck was cooked quite nicely, but a little unforgettable. The rice cake was really confusing; is it a pancake or a rice cake? Overall the dish seemed forced and just not really well executed. At this point we were a little tipsy from power-drinking our wine and decided to skip on dessert and make our way home. Overall our experience was rather lack luster and we ended up paying an arm and a leg (which I hate doing with mediocre food). So would I return? To eat: No. To hang out at the bar: Probably. Let me know what your thoughts are.

New Downtown Restaurant, The Parish

New downtown restaurant The Parish by Chef Casey Lane just opened in downtown. Going to check it out tonight with fellow foodies. So far from the reviews that I have read, it is one of downtown’s most anticipated new restaurants that offers “gastropub” fare. Im looking forward to tasting what Chef Lane has to offer as I know he is one of the hottest chefs today. Also excited to have a cocktail or two as I know mixologist, John Coltharp from 7 Grand, can make a fine drink.Check out my review coming soon!

Alma

The other night my fiance took me out for our traditional date night to a new restaurant called Alma. I was a little skeptical because to be quite honest some of the new restaurants that are opening in downtown LA are really pretentious and just not very good. I am thrilled that downtown is getting more business, but a little upset that they are all following the same “Urban Chic” trend. Its time for something a little more unique! Alma was everything I was looking for; great food, great vibes, great service. The food was new and exciting, and the staff was filled with energy and ambition.

The menu changes quite regularly which is something I appreciate because I am always looking to try new flavors and textures. Also they have an open kitchen which I admire because to me it means they have to stay clean and organized.

One of the dishes that stood out to me was a blue crab and corn salad that was beautifully balanced with fresh fennel.  We spoke to the Chef who told us that they get their seafood from a local woman, versus the giants of Santa Monica Seafood, which he said can have its benefits (freshness and quality )as well as throw them for a loop if say the salmon doesn’t come in that day.

We also had an incredible sea bass dish that was served with roasted avocado, fried okra, and sea bass belly, that was unlike anything I have had before. The roasted avocado was unripe and had a nice salty finish that made the dish really stand out. Lastly, we had the smoked duck, which on its own was incredibly salty, but was paired with honeydew and arugula. When eaten all together it was brilliantly harmonious.

They also serve freshly made fruit sodas that they prepare to order with their soda stream which I thought was great. Don’t miss out on the squash blossom beignets that is served with a burnt citrus sauce and wild anise, delicate and perfectly fried. For dessert we sampled some of their popcorn ice cream which was not too sweet  and perfectly creamy. Check out Alma and let me know what you think!

Welcome!

Welcome to NatalieEatsLA! As some of you may know I am a pastry chef in Los Angeles. I have worked in some great places, such as The Peninsula Hotel and Bottega Louie. My favorite thing to do, besides bake, is go out and explore all of the wonderful eateries in Los Angeles. Some of the best food isn’t found in the five star restaurants or hotels, but rather is hidden amongst the strip malls that you may drive by everyday. This blog will guide you through the city and help you discover some of LA’s best kept secrets, as well as give you my opinion on new restaurants around town. I will also try to recreate some the recipes of my best-loved spots as well as give you some of my own go-to recipes.

These glorious tacos can be found at one of my favorite lunch time spots Guisados, which is in East LA close to the USC hospital. I highly recommend getting the taco sampler which includes 6 mini tacos; including cochinita pibil and carne asada to name a few. Be careful with the habanero sauce, it is very very hot and will leave your mouth on fire for a long time! Cool off your burning tongue with one of their delicious aguas frescas, my favorite is the canteloup.

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