Bon Vivant's written and pictorial diary of her culinary adventures that will amuse and excite your virtual taste buds...

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Belmont - Sigh

My beautiful French Martini. Was it as good as it looked? Keep reading to find out.

Dear Reader, you do remember my last experience at The Belmont, do you not? I got charged $8 for a Virgin Mary; felt old, fat, and ugly; yet experienced the greatest macaroni and cheese of all time, so all was well in my world that night. This past Wednesday was Foreign Correspondent D's birthday, and you may think me a great friend for risking my self esteem to deliver her bday gift to her (a much needed sangria pitcher), but alas, I have a confession to make: it was all about the macaroni and cheese.

This time when I showed up (and I showed up late so I wouldn't have to sit there for a half hour staring at Les Jeunesse), I was smart enough to 1. order a drink right away, and 2. order something alcoholic. Oh, my drink was non-drinkable and for some odd reason kept expanding every time I took a drink from the glass (normally this might be a good thing but when you are trying to get rid of a drink it can be quite frustrating.)

So what was going on that night? The macaroni and cheese sucked! It was rather dry and I think that it didn't have any cheese in it - it tasted like it was made with a really weak white sauce et c'etait toute. Thank god that we ordered it before 7 pm when it was still half priced (even at $6.50 it wasn't worth it.) Not only that but the fish and chips, which I formerly had raved about, weren't very good either. It could have been a perfect night (it was FCD's bday, and there was noticeable lack of euro-trash on the patio) if not for the lousy food.

But wait! There was one good dish. The ahi tuna tartare was quite tasty (we added avocado for an extra $1)

Who is that sassy minx eating the tartare?

Please, no one hold my birthday party here. Please. Thank you.

I think that I need to start drinking that drink that E with a K orders - she always has a great time at The Belmont!

The Belmont
747 N. La Cienega Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Picture Tale of a Rosh Hashana Dinner

The beautifully set table awaits the hungry diners:

Many thanks to Chickfillet and her hubby for hosting a wonderful Rosh Hashana dinner last Saturday night. I'm going to let the pictures do the talking for me.

Above, we nibbled on our appetizer of chopped liver crostini as we drank Prosecco (and when we ran out of Prosecco we switched to Champagne.)

Above, one of our first courses, an heirloom tomato salad with fresh mozzerella. I just missed the action shot of hubby drizzling the olive oil and balsamic sur la salade (he had such an expert hand - just the exact amount of each.) Our other first courses included gefilte fish with horseradish and prosciutto wrapped melon.

Above, the best matzo ball soup that I've had in a long time; the broth was so flavorful and the matzo balls as light as an Italian grandmother's gnocchi. Chickfillet adds her own little touches - can guess what they are? Watercress and enoki mushrooms.

Above, the main dishes: braised brisket and a grilled hunk of salmon.

Above, the side dishes: roasted asparagus with pine nuts, roasted potatoes, and the best roasted brussel sprouts.

What a great way to start the Jewish New Year!

Drink of the day: Prosecco, Champagne, Zin, Chianti, and molti piu Italian red.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Opus: a Creative Work. Indeed.

Three of the four wines that I received as part of my "Spontaneous Wine Pairing." From left to right, a wonderful Spanish white, sake, and Champagne:

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the beautifully decorated Opus Restaurant (located on Wilshire Blvd. right next to the Wiltern in the old Atlas space) since the LA Times Food Section article regarding the best deals in town appeared on September 13th. The LA Times listed Opus' 3 course tasting menu for $30 and they also offer more courses at higher prices. But you definitely want to get the 3 course meal since you may end up with 4 or 5 courses at no extra charge.

What I love about the tasting menu is that it is "spontaneous" so you don't know which dishes you are going to receive: an LA Chowhounder wrote of her experience and even though we were there on the same night, her table received different items than our table did. Same goes for the wine pairings which makes sense since even the server probably doesn't know which dishes the customers are going to get until the chef decides.

Above, our first course which was an avocado creme dotted with fresh salmon roe and salted hijiki. This dish was simplicity at its best! The salty, crunchy salmon eggs went so well with the smooth, creamy blandness of the avocado. I was served the Champagne with this course.

Above, the hamachi sashimi with preserved lemon, sweet ebi with umbashi (salted plum) sauce, and the kodai skewer. My favorite item on this plate was the kodai skewer which was served with a white soy sauce sauce. You can taste the high level of skill that went into making this sauce: Chef Josef Centeno explained that he simmered the white soy sauce with bonito flakes, and normally when I have a broth or a sauce with bonito the taste of the dried fish really overwhelms, but not at Opus; this sauce was wonderful and obviously the bonito enhanced the sauce rather than dominated it. The sake was served with this course.

Above, the halibut cheek with artichoke (I think, I was getting pretty drunk at this point) and a tomato salsa. Like a grilled hamachi collar with a simple ponzu dipping sauce, I think that this dish would have been much better with just the cheek with the sauce. Would a customer be able to enjoy the minimalism of the cheek (which is such a delicacy!) or do they expect superfluous stuff on the plate? I drank the wonderful Spanish white with this course.

Above, the braised short rib served with sweetbread with a lobster bearnaise sauce. We received a glass of Australian red with this course and I was really drunk. I took a slice of the sweetbread and declared it the best roasted potato that I've ever had! (I then realize my mistake.) The bearnaise blew me away; most of the time I can just taste the tarragon but once again an item that can usually dominate the sauce ends up enhancing it. The short rib's braising sauce carmelized wonderfully, and did I taste a bit of coffee in that sauce?

For dessert we received a tapioca creme brulee served with a great cherry sauce; the tartness of the sauce really complimented the sweet tapioca.

So, for $45 I received a five course dinner with four wines which were poured quite heavily - practically full glasses. Another plus is that the server took our valet parking tickets so that our cars would be waiting for us when we exited the restaurant. That was such a great finishing touch to a fabulous meal.

Opus Restaurant
3670 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sunday, Lovely Sunday

Our final picnic at the Hollywood Bowl's last concert of the season:

What could be better than eating and drinking under the stars? If you are going to the Hollywood Bowl it is de rigueur that you have a picnic before the concert. The Bowl is probably one of the best picnic spots in Los Angeles because it is the only place in this city where everyone is in a collective good mood.

I have a confession Dear Reader: since I went to ten concerts this season I got a little picnic burn-out and so for the last two events we bought food at the Bowl. In the above photo you can see our spicy tuna roll and the grilled chicken and soba noodle salad with some interesting carrot ribbons. Before that we indulged in kung pao chicken bao, har gow, and chicken and shrimp shui mai. Pinot's West Cafe specializes in Asian cuisine.

We ordered from the Pinot Grill when we went to see James Brown. It was nice not to schlepp anything on that night except for the wine. When we arrived at the box, our tables were set and our appetizers were there to greet us. Since I bought a really good Zin that night I had ordered the grilled rib-eye steak which was really good. Maestro had the pork porterhouse and Ms. Hollywood had the cold roast chicken with eggplant and hummus.

I think that my favorite picnic was when we brought the meze for four from Marouch on July 9th when we saw Tosca. It was still a lot of work to schlepp the food, flatware, glasses, table clothes, etc but it was nice not to cook and the meze were really good. We had hummus, mtabal (creamy eggplant dippy), fatoush (a salad made with toasted pita, cucumber, onion, tomato, and parsley with a lemon dressing), tabbouleh, fried kebbeh (like a deep fried meatball), labneh (seasoned yogurt cheese), Armenian sausages, basturma (like a very garlicky prosciutto), dolmas, and meat and cheese turnovers. We also ordered fool mudammas which are fava beans in a lemony, garlic, olive oil sauce.

Some of the favorite items that I prepared are the grilled ribeye steak salad with baby spinach, onions, tomatoes, and Rogue blue cheese (if you haven't tried this blue cheese yet get thee to the Cheese Store of Silver Lake tres vites! It's an award winning blue cheese from Oregon that has been smoked over hazelnuts.) For the same meal I made a really good sour cream curry dip that I served with Persian cucumbers (Stubborn Gourmet T forgot the chips.) This was Latin Jazz night when we saw Arturo Sandoval, and Maestro, Stubborn Gourmet T, and Les Beaux Cheveux, Esq. drank four bottles of wine between the three of them.

I also was impressed with the garbanzo bean salad that I made to go with our various Fra'Mani salumi. From the same cookbook, Michael Chiarello's Casual Cooking, I made a spuma di tonno which is essentially a tuna dip that you serve with crostini. This was on July 9th when we saw what I considered one of the best concerts of the season: Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, and Herbie Hancock.

I loved the bread basket chicken that Ms. Hollywood brought to the AFI's Big Picture. It is interesting to note that the recipe is included in the Hollywood Bowl Picnic Cookbook.

Our staples were always Fra'Mani salumi, various cheeses, and olives from the Cheese Store of Silver Lake.

Marouch Restaurant
4905 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Cheese Store of Silver Lake
3926-28 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029

Monday, September 18, 2006

(Very) Luscious Dumpling

A photo of the glistening pan-fried pork dumplings:

Luscious Dumpling indeed!

A few of BonVivant's favorite things (steaming bowls of soup noodles!):

The first photo is the beef tendon soup noodles. This is mumsy's favorite dish. Although I don't eat the tendon, the noodles and the highly seasoned broth (a mixture of hot and sour) are wonderful.

The bottom photo is the stewed pork soup noodles. I usually order the pork and pickled vegetable soup noodles but wanted a change this time. I didn't really know what to expect but was very happy with my choice: the "stewed pork" is pork belly that was so soft that it was more silky than butter.

Here's what I love about Luscious Dumpling:

1. Unlike at Din Tai Fung, you don't have to arrive an hour before it opens; usually if you get there right at eleven you'll have no problem getting a table.
2. Unlike Din Tai Fung, Luscious Dumpling has "soup dumplings" everyday, not just on weekends (soup dumplings are steamed dumplings with pork broth inside the dumpling so they are juicy, juicy, juicy!)
3. They usually sell out their menu at each lunch and dinner so you know that the food is freshly made.
4. It is really cheap. You can pig out for $10-$14 per person.
5. I've never had a problem with parking.
6. The food is wonderful!

Dear Reader, since I promised that I wouldn't bitch the traffic anymore, I'll spare you the details of my ordeal of trying to get there that morning (some idiot at CalTrans decided to turn the 10 into a two lane highway, and close the carpool lane, right after Fremont.)

Luscious Dumpling
704 W. Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Night in Tunisia!

Below, Mr. Taste of Thai has just finished showing his appreciation to the belly dancer:

The cares of the day seem to vanish
The ending of day brings release
Each wonderful night in Tunisia
Where the nights are filled with peace

A bunch of us got together for a wonderful night in Tunisia; ok, actually it was Moun of Tunis restaurant which has been a fixture on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood for over 30 years.

Before the feast began we were greeted with some wonderfully garlic heavy hummus and cumin scented olives. We opted for the Morrocan Feast which included Brik, salads, shrimp brochettes, Bastilla, lamb stew with artichokes, and vegetable couscous with "Boulettes" (lamb meatballs).

The Brik (which I guess is a variation on Borek [fried cheese or meat turnovers]) was quite interesting: it was stuffed with mashed potato, capers, and a runny egg (might this be a French influence?) Passport Dining Queen mentioned that the goal of eating Brik is to not spill out any of the contents within the fried shell. Ha! We all failed miserably.

The salads were wonderful. The big hit was the minced carrot flavored with orange blossom water. It had a very different flavor yet it was so refreshing. There was also a spicy carrot salad, a roasted bell pepper salad, and then a chopped onion, tomato, and bell pepper salad.

Below, the shrimp brochettes:

As we were eating this feast most of us agreed that the food was much better at Moun of Tunis than at Marrakesh where we ate back in July. The main dish, the lamb stew, was very flavorful plus the meat was served on the bone (a lot of us gourmets are bone people) and I don't see this happening in the Valley. At Marrakesh the couscous was really bland and watery but at Moun of Tunis it was wonderful and spiced very nicely. And of course the inclusion of the meatballs made a difference as well.

Lamb stew with artichokes:

Couscous with Boulettes:

Moun of Tunis
7445 Sunset Boulevard (at Gardner)
Hollywood, CA 90046

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Maru: Homestyle Korean Food

Below, some steamed vegetable dumplings (they were pretty good but the problem was that we had ordered the shrimp dumplings):

My Doppleganger had organized a girls' night out at Maru, a restaurant discovered by Chickfillet who knows of every restaurant in town. I was really looking forward to going here because I had seen the luscious photos that MD took of food at the reconnaissance dinner. Also, I had done a little research ahead of time and on Citysearch two reviewers raved about Maru.

While there were some very good dishes, this restaurant turned out to be a little underwhelming. First, they change their menu often so dishes that people had recommended were no longer available. Second, a lot of items on the menu where not available like the mung bean pancake! (How could they be out of pancake? We were very disappointed.) Third, some of the items that we ordered were just ok - the Bulgogi tasted good but I've had much better elsewhere. We ordered a stir-fried pork belly with chili sauce, kim chee, and onions, but the pork belly was very chewy (pork belly should be like butta), the sauce wasn't spicy, and the whole dish seemed to be lacking a certain finesse.

Above, a huge plate of Chap Chae served as part of the pan chan. I really liked this Chap Chae but the other pan chan were just ok at best - Sa Rit Gol really seems to have the best pan chan in town.

Above, one of my favorite Korean dishes Bibimbap (isn't that a cute name? It's a rice dish with various vegetables and meat served with a sweet chili sauce on the side.) I thought that Maru did a fabulous job with this dish and it was my favorite of the night. Though, it was supposed to be served with a fried egg and many of the girls got a little peeved that it was omitted.

This restaurant is a little hard to find: it's on the northeast corner of Western and 4th Street in a big yellow building with a theater marquee (you can not see the restaurant from Western.) Entrance to the building and parking are on 4th Street.

356 S. Western Avenue #201
Los Angeles, CA 90020

Sunday, September 10, 2006

An Homage to Foreign Correspondent D's Grazing Platter

The infamous grazing platter in it's full glory:

On the top row from left to right: radishes; Cotswald and Gruyere cheeses; sliced tomatoes sprinkled with torn basil, blue cheese, and fresh ground black pepper; Persian cucumbers; and in the bowl, sliced dates.

The bowls in the middle row from left to right: E with a K's famous "homemade" hummus (actually the Sabra brand); roasted red and yellow bell peppers; and FCD's wonderful tapenade (this was homemade).

The bottom row from left to right: mulit-seed crackers and mini pita breads; salami, and Treviso radicchio and endive sprinkled with crumbled blue cheese.

This grazing platter was as beautiful to look at as it was good to eat.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Blue Hen Vietnamese Kitchen

Fresh Spring Rolls filled with organic chicken:

You know that gentrification of a neighborhood is almost complete when a trendy Vietnamese restaurant moves in. I love how one can order a banh mi (Vietnamese sammie) that is hardly stuffed with anything for nearly $9 in Eagle Rock or Silver Lake, yet in San Gabriel one can order a huge banh mi overflowing with meat and vegetables for a whopping $2.75 max. Is it that the rent is so much more in trendy areas or is it that they figure that trendoids don't know the difference?

But Blue Hen has a Slow Food philosophy that I like. Blue Hen supports local farmers and organic farming principles. When you read their menu you always see organic chicken, tofu, and dairy products. They also have many vegetarian and vegan choices as well. Even though the restaurant is very small it was a very comfortable space to dine in.

Above is my Blue Hen Sandwich with chicken and cilantro mayo on a baguette. The sandwich was ok, I've had much better banh mi, and I felt for the price it was kind of a screw considering how little chicken was actually in the sandwich (all of the chicken was on the edge of the sandwich so you could see it but once you bit into it you realized that it definitely needed more stuffing.) Also, the baguette was a little stale.

But let's talk about those fries! To the left of the sandwich are the hand-cut Tumeric Fries which were simply divine. Ducati Dude was sitting across from me and he got the fries too and we both looked at each other and nodded in agreement, "these fries got it going on!" Passport Dining Queen had this agile arm/hand movement and was stealing DD's fries but luckily she is Mrs. Ducati Dude so I don't think he minded that much.

Mama Luu's Tofu with a scallion dressing:

Blue Hen Vietnamese Kitchen
1743 Colorado Blvd.
Eagle Rock, CA 90041

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hey! Hey! It's Donna Hay!

Below, the infamous grazing platter compartmentalized:

On Labor Day we all met up at Foreign Correspondent D's place for the American version of the Donna Hay party. Apparently these parties are quite popular in Australia and are now just hitting our shores. For those of you who have never heard of Donna Hay, she is an Australian food editor whose cookbooks are filled with pictures of yummy looking food in lots of white dishes in modern minimalist settings.

We were greeted by the most beautiful grazing platter. I arrived a bit late to the party because I was watching the S. Williams/Mauresmo match which didn't end until after 6 so I had really bad positioning at the table when the platter was set down. Not only that but I had a pisser migraine and was not moving very fast that night so I didn't get to inhale the bits on the platter like everyone else. C'est la guerre!

After the grazing platter, FCD brought out some Sticky Chicken and a sweet potato/leek frittata. Yours truly made a spinach salad with warm garlic dressing (and capers, sundried tomatoes, olives, fresh thyme, and lemon juice). While Vivacious Gourmet E was performing accupressure on my hand (I was really sick Dear Reader) FCD served a wonderful Trifle. She kept the banana toffee pie in the kitchen claiming that people would be too full to eat it. Yeah, we know the story D.

The wonderful Sticky Chicken:

And the Winner is...

A preview of coming attractions:

The moment that you have been waiting for is finally here! My pre-determined word verification word was "vdlslukk" and one contestant was so strong that two of her words were in first place! Only four other submissions came close - only two letters in each word matched "vdlslukk."

And the winner is...Heidi! (Luckily, mdb didn't participate in this contest so I won't be accused of manipulating the results.) Her winning words were "syrsdkk" and "umvuusad." Raven had a runner up word with "ktkty" as did chickfillet with "kvxvxc."

Heidi, let me know when you are ready to say, "Bulgogi chuseyo!" (please give me Korean BBQ!) I want to thank all of the other participants (Raven, chickfillet, luswei, and scribble94) for participating in the First Annual Word Verification Contest. I hope that you all can make it to Heidi's celebratory luncheon at Sa Rit Gol where those in attendance will receive consolation prizes.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Final Stretch of the Word Verification Contest

NoodleWhore speaks:

I just wanted to inform you Dear Reader that the Word Verification Contest will end this Wednesday evening/Thursday morning at 12:01 am so you have about 34 1/2 hours from this writing to submit the winning word.

If you are new to the Contest see details here:

Buona fortuna!