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Entries in Brunch (12)

Monday
Jul022012

Does Manhattan Beach's MB Post serve the Best Brunch in LA? 

*Post by Mark.

I know we've said this before, but I rarely get excited about brunch. Maybe it's because I'm not keen on overpaying for fried eggs, french toast or fried potatoes - all things I could make at home. Hell, a six-year old could make these things at home. Forgive me for not being excited to have a talented chef set aside everything they know to whip me up an omlette made with the week's leftover scraps. And don't even get me started on 'bottomless mimosas'...

MB Post is one of the rare L.A. restaurants doing brunch right. The credit can go to acclaimed chef David Lefevre - a Charlie Trotter-protege who recently left downtown's Water Grill in favor of the South Bay. All of the homey comforts you'd expect from brunch are still there, just executed with inspiration to create a great small plates menu by a chef and team who aren't just phoning it in. If brunch is this good, it's scary to wonder how good dinner could be. 

 

 

The former Manhattan Beach post office provides a large venue, and the new owners have taken full advantage of the space decorating with long wooden communal tables and tall windows that peer into the busy kitchen. As big as it is, MB Post manages to pack in the crowds every weekend. Do not expect to walk in – we made our reservations two weeks in advance. 

 

 

Upon our arrival, it seems there's nothing in this world that our attentive server isn't ultra-enthusiastic about. Her level-eleven perkiness might feel spurious somewhere, but not here. Taking a look at the "Bangin' Brunch" menu, we too found quite a lot to be ultra-enthusiastic about. This is not a brunch for light eaters or dieters, no sir. Almost without exception, the items are decadent and delicious, and made to share.

 

 

We start with a couple of handcrafted cocktails. The Southern Hospitality (below, left) is a refreshing punch of Eagle Rare bourbon, grilled peach, cinnamon and charred white oak. The Old George (below right) is equally refreshing on a warm summer Sunday. It's a variation on a salty dog, made with chopin, grapefruit, basil, and a beautiful raspberry pepper jam. 

 

 

If you've heard anything about MB Post, then you've heard of the impossibly good bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits. Some of the best biscuits we've ever tasted: crunchy, cheesy exterior, warm, doughy, buttery insides punctuated with morsels of bacon. If that doesn't sound good enough on its own, try slathering them up with the light-as-air maple butter. In fact, these biscuits are so good we fully intend on ordering another round for dessert, though by the end of the meal the size of our stomachs, in light of all this good food, simply won't allow it. 

 

 

Because our pork pangs are too overwhelming to be satiated by the bits of bacon in the biscuits, we supplement with a side of thick-cut slices of crisp bacon, with rosemary, brown sugar and chili. Unlike bacon sides at most brunch venues, the bacon here is perfectly cooked and there's no lack of flavor (we may or may not have dipped the bacon in the leftover maple butter and it may or may not have been really awesome).

 

 

For the bruncher looking to indulge his or her sweet tooth, there’s the French toast topped with whipped cream, cherries and pistachios. A deep slice into the thick toast reveals an oozing forkful of fresh, creamy housemade ricotta.

 

 

We take a breather from the artery clogging to enjoy the sole light dish of the meal: the Fitzgerald & Frog Hollow stone fruit salad - featuring slices of white peach, nectarine, apricot and pluots drizzled with honey, flecked with mint and served over ice - serves as a nice interlude.

 

 

Then it's right back to heart-attack city. The shatteringly crisp outside of the truffle honey-laced fried chicken (served with a nice, but easily overshadowed kohlrabi slaw) hides white meat chicken that has no business being this succulent. This chicken...is too good to be on a brunch menu. At least anywhere other than MB Post.

 

 

Slightly less dangerous, the juicy, well-seasoned turkey sausage patty comes served atop a bed of sage and cavolo nero (black kale) sweetened with maple. It's very tasty, but at this point in the meal, almost superflous.

 

 

The Coughlin's law (below, left) is a variation on a redeye (essentially a bloody mary made with beer and an egg). Here, Tito's vodka is combined with Belgian pilsner, tomato, dill, picante and topped with a quail's egg to make quite the hangover cure. The Avila's heir (below, right) is a spicy margarita made with corralejo reposado, serrano pepper, mandarin and yuzu.

 

 

The burrata, roasted pepper, and green olive pesto sandwich would have been a pleasant enough lunch, with the creamy cheese and sweet pepper contrasting nicely with the slightly piquant spread and crusty bread. However, arriving late in the game, well after our stomachs have reached their breaking points, the sandwich (and excellent housemade chips) scores only a few bites of our attention.

 

 

Everyone is shell-shocked when the server dropped off the monstrous, deep-fried burrito stuffed with scrambled egg, chorizo-spiced pork, pepperjack, and yam, and topped with salsa verde. What happened to small, share plates? Nevertheless, it was good and we kept eating. And eating... 

 

 

Alas, we leave without another dose of bacon-cheddar-maple-butter-biscuits, but fully satisfied. Thankfully Chef LeFevre has shared his recipe for the addictive biscuits here.

 

 

MB Post is not the only place in the county making brunch a weekend highlight, but it may be the best of them. LeFevre has turned what's usually an afterthought into an attraction.

MB Post on Urbanspoon

Wednesday
Feb082012

Black Cat Cafe & Bakery

*Post by Angela.

Based on our posts, it would be easy to assume that we never eat at a place more than once. That's mostly true - even if we like a place a lot, there are countless wonderful food adventures waiting to be had, and limited time, money and stomach space. But when we don't have the energy to devote to the quest for new restaurants to try (which happens most often at lunch on the weekends), we do have our neighborhood go-to options, like All About the Bread, Food + Lab, and new-to-the-roster Mendocino Farms. Recently we visited Black Cat Bakery on Fairfax, a potential addition to the weekend rotation.

 

 

Black Cat Bakery is cute as all get-out, exactly the kind of place I could see us visiting often for brunch. The outside patio, with plenty of seating, is a great place to lounge with a canine friend on warm days. Inside, an array of baked goods takes up a substantial portion of the tiny establishment.

 

 

The food here is pretty solid with a nod to the healthy and a tiny twist of the unexpected. For example, we've seen the combination of applewood smoked honey-cured bacon bits, apples, shallots and cheddar before, but never in the middle of a four-egg omelette. The result isn't mind-blowing, but it's nice and different. In contrast, the accompanying skillet potatoes are pretty standard.

 

 

The bibimbop-style farro takes us on more of a left turn. Swiss chard, roast tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, fresh burrata, and a sunny-side up egg top a heaping helping of farro for a dish that fills us up without weighing us down.

 

 

Black Cat also does lunch and dinner (though it's never open past 8 - click here for hours), offering a selection of sandwiches and salads.

While we won't write about it again, I wouldn't be surprised if you find us here on a sunny weekend in the future.

Black Cat Café and Bakery on Urbanspoon

Monday
Jan232012

Brunch at Mohawk Bend

*Post by Angela.

There is something just so lovely about brunch. Superficially, the portmanteau has a very simple definition: a meal eaten between or instead of breakfast and lunch. But “brunch” in the United States has developed into its own culture, bringing to mind lazy weekend mornings/afternoons, gossiping with friends, a range of sweet and savory dishes designed to soothe stomachs after a rough night out, and more often than not, day drinking. Mohawk Bend, the massive, 10,000 square foot Echo Park restaurant/bar from L.A. beer godfather and restaurateur Tony Yanow, is a great place to celebrate the languid brunch culture for meat-eaters, vegetarians and even vegans.

 

 

In the light of day, the vast and beautiful interior of Mohawk Bend transitions nicely from bar to brunch spot, whether you are seated on the lounge-y front patio under the restaurant’s marquee (it used to be a theater)... 

 

 

or perched at one of the red vinyl stools in front of the main bar's flat-screen TVs and a line-up of taps that appears almost endless...

 

 

or circled around a table in the absolutely stunning brick-enclosed back dining area in front of the roaring fireplace. No place in the restaurant is the immaculate design by Spacecraft more apparent.  

 

 

On this sunny Saturday morning, we started with a little hair of the dog. The chipotle Bloody Mary (below, left), no joke, is one of the finest versions I've ever sampled, equal and ideal parts salty, spicy, and smoky. The frothy Pisco Sour (below, right) is a lighter option, combining Marian Farms Bio-Dynamic Pisco with fresh lemon juice, sugar, Miracle Mile Peruvian bitters & egg white. And of course, we had to order at least one of 72 beers on tap, and went with a recent favorite, the Point the Way IPA from Yanow's own Golden Road Brewing (below, middle). 

 

 

While there are many dishes for the vegetarian/vegan bruncher on the menu, the Elvis French toast is not one of them. Slices of crisp bacon provide the necessary salty, meaty balance to the sweet creamy bananas sandwiched between the crunchy toast. Not decadent enough for you? Spoon on some fantastically rich (but not too-too sweet) peanut butter syrup. 

 

 

Next, something vegans (and those seeking a lighter dish) can enjoy: the JJ kale, which features wilted greens seared with chile, garlic, and red onion, topped with julienned jicama. This texturally delightful and refreshing side won’t satisfy your hunger pangs on its own, but it also won’t give you a heart attack.

 

 

Another vegan-friendly (and gluten-free!) option is the scrapple, which subs in polenta and vegan sausage (as well as broccolini, rappini, spinach, onions, scallions, pasilla chiles, thyme, sage, soy milk, organic polenta, and house made veggie stock) for the traditional flour and pork scraps, and sits the loaf in a not-insignificantly spicy tomato sauce. While I'm a huge fan of pork in all its forms, anyone doubting that vegan dishes can be both hearty and flavorful would find the point difficult to argue after a bite of this dish.

 

 

At some point it our meal, it technically clicked over to afternoon, meaning we could order off the creative cocktail menu without judgment (although it doesn’t really seem like anyone at Mohawk Bend would ever judge a day drinker). Even the manliest of men would feel comfortable with the Mildred Pierce (below, left): despite its ingredients (TRU Organic Gin, FruitLab Jasmine Liqueur, agave nectar, brandied cherries, oranges & lemon, Miracle Mile Orange Bitters, and soda), it is only slightly sweet and fruity. The light, bright Thai Town Mule (below, right), with Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka, fresh limes, lime juice, St.Clair ginger beer & a stalk of lemongrass, is the kind of drink I want to have in my hand at all times on warm days.

 

 

As much as we were enjoying the vegan dishes, brunch just isn’t brunch without at least one egg dish. The Huevos Divorciados, with fried eggs, chilaquiles, queso fresco, crème fraiche, and red & green salsas dividing the plate, is as tasty as it is colorful, and is egg-actly (sorry) the kind of dish best suited for queasy stomachs – the thick-cut tortilla chips go a long way to soak up any lingering evil from the night before.

 

 

Our final dish was probably the most controversial of the b(r)unch. Sera’s Signature Waffles are not the sweet, dough-y treats you grew up with. Nutty and almost savory, with a slightly dense texture, I actually preferred this vegan and gluten-free dish to the more traditional version, especially when sweetened up with a little pecan syrup (maple and peanut butter syrups are also available). Mark and Aaron found it interesting, but were quite content to leggo my Eggo. But chances are that if milk, eggs and butter don't factor into your usual diet, you'll go nuts for this dish. 

 

 

Mohawk Bend only started doing brunch at the beginning of the year (available on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm), but it’s already nailed the brunch aesthetic: the décor, the great food, and the extensive drink menus are perfectly suited for leisurely midday meals with friends, whether they be carnivores or herbivores, day drinkers or teetotalers. It's enough to convert anyone into a bruncher.

*Disclosure: This was a hosted meal.

Mohawk Bend on Urbanspoon

Friday
Jul082011

Playa Rivera - Brunch

*Post by Angela.

A question that seems to constantly come up in our lives as food bloggers is where to take guests. Because of our food-loving hobby, our non-food obsessed family and friends often expect that we will take the to only the very best places. Given these high expectations, deciding on a place to eat can sometime devolve into stressing and second-guessing. Over the past weekend, Mark and I spent a considerable amount of time agonizing over where to take my parents and my little brother out to eat. Trying to select places that really represented L.A.'s food scene, we scored a home run on Saturday night with a trip to Oo-Kook Korean BBQ. Our next meal was enjoyed by all as well, with a brunch-time trip to Playa, a restaurant devoted to "urban Latin cuisine" and L.A.'s "open-air, laid-back, coastal lifestyle."  

 

 

It's clear from the first step through the doors of chef/owner John Rivera Sedlar's second Latin establishment (he is also the brain behind Rivera downtown) that he has continued in his commitment to modernizing more traditional themes. In his own words, the decor is influenced both by his history with Santa Fe and his present in southern California, and the effect is casual, yet stunning, elegant, yet whimsical. And Playa's staff is equally pleasing - our server was not only very knowledgeable about the food, but game to engage in some playful banter with our table.

 

 

Also impressive was the beautiful, well-stocked floor-to-ceiling bar. It figures - when you've got Julian Cox, one of the hottest mixologists around, crafting your cocktail menu, it's only right that you devote some time, space and energy to making your bar a focal point. Mark found a great summer sipper in Cox's Beer and Ball, a refreshing mixture of Campari, grapefruit, lime juice and Miller High Life. My parents and brother, not being big cocktail people, enjoyed Mexican Diet Coke, the only soda stocked at Playa.

 

 

The first thing to hit our palates was the Jewish version of the chef's made-to-order maize cakes, topped with smoked salmon, creme fraiche, caperberries, and crispy strands of fried red onion. I don't know that I've ever had Latin-Jewish fusion before, but the clean-tasting combination of flavors was delicious, with the mild briny tartness of the caperberries and the smoky saltiness of the salmon balanced by the creme fraiche.

 

 

As tasty as the first version was, the salsa semilla version was just as good, topped with rich and creamy burrata, arugula salad, and salsa verde. The flavors here were more subtle, but that just allowed the flavors of the maize cake (like the best tortilla you've ever had) shine.

 

 

We each got a bite of a couple of the crispy thick-cut Niman Ranch applewood-smoked bacon, which was very good. But in a menu full of unique and delectable creations, it wasn't particularly noteworthy.

 

 

Right before our main dishes arrived, our server gifted us with a complimentary order of the wonderfully moist blue corn muffins, made with Anson Farms organic cornmeal and perfectly completed by some whipped sweet almond butter. This is going to sound silly, but the corn muffins may have been my favorite part of the meal (and I really liked everything). A definite must-order on any future visit to Playa.

 

 

My dad and brother order the tamal, cracked corn masa filled with pulled pork and topped with two sunnyside-up eggs. I didn't get a chance to taste this dish, but I liked (though was a bit perplexed) that it was served on a colorful plate depicting a scene from Clockwork Orange.

 

 

Mark ordered the huevos polenta, with lardons, rajas (strips of chiles), calabacitas (mixture of summer squash, onions and peppers) and queso cotija, a luxurious and hearty dish, if just a little bit too much on the salty side.

 

 

My mom and I opted for the duck hash, with Weiser Farm fingerling potatoes, peppers and a 630 egg. Mom thought the duck was a little too salty, but I really, really enjoyed it, especially once I broke into the slow-cooked eggs and mixed all the ingredients with the rich yolks.

 

 

We hadn't quite managed to stuff ourselves silly yet, so we moved onto the sweets portion of the meal, always a favorite with the men in my life. The azul, a blue corn gateau, almondine ice cream, Tahitian vanilla bean sorbet, and apple potpourri was more of a me dessert than a Mark dessert - all of the flavors were really subtle and thanks to the blue corn cake, almost savory rather than sweet. I particularly liked the almondine ice cream, especially in contrast to the vanilla bean sorbet, which was just a touch on the bland side and had an odd texture. Nevertheless, I appreciated the overall effect of the dish.

 

 

Playa's version of the ice cream sundae, with a soft, warm cornmeal cookie, a mild goat's milk ice cream and a side of hot chocolate sauce, was more of a hit with Mark.

 

 

I'm not usually a big brunch person, but Playa manages to elevate the meal to something special. I was so pleased that I was able to share with my mom, dad and brother an excellent meal that really expresses some of the best elements of the southern California lifestyle. I cannot wait to visit again for dinner, and I'm definitely putting Playa in the go-to roster for future guest visits.   

Playa Rivera on Urbanspoon

Monday
Jun132011

The Griddle Cafe

*Post by Mark.

It's 8:15 on a Sunday morning and the line is already snaking out the front door onto Sunset. Luckily we're close enough to walk, though rolling out of bed early enough is the tricky part. By the time morning is in full swing, The Griddle Cafe is already bustling - packing elbow-to-elbow diners into the tiny West Hollywood Cafe like calories packed into the red velvet pancakes.

 

More diners yet are squeezed around the bar, where we spotted Jeff Goldblum brunching with his girlfriend. This is the kind of place I imagine Europeans assume that Americans eat at on the regular. The crowd shovels mountainous caloric concoctions into their mouths. As we perused our menus, the gentleman besides us licked a plate of eggs benedict clean before moving onto a towering plate of frisbee-sized pancakes smothered in cream and nutella. The (shockingly slender) gentleman made it about 5/6th of the way through the pancakes before giving up. This was clearly the place to be if you wanted 10,000 calories inside of you immediately.  

 

 

Angela stayed away from The Griddle's carb-ier menu choices, settling on the omelette 'Pomodoro' (below), which was loaded with fresh chopped garlic sauteed with tomato, basil and parmesan, and came with hash browns and garlic bread. She added some shrimp, which were good-sized and almost surprisingly nicely cooked. While the omelette itself was very tasty and well-seasoned, Angela would have been happy to leave off the accompanying potatoes, which tasted a little stale and fairly bland. The portion size was pretty generous, still probably a more balanced meal then some of the Griddle's more ridiculous options.

 

 

Speaking of those ridiculous options, I made the ill-advised decision to get the 'Peanut Bubba' crunchy french toast (below). I've had breakfast for dinner before, but this was dessert for breakfast. Dipped in a peanut butter crunch and then grilled, the hearty portion of french toast is practically a garnish to the... um... dollop of cream melting overtop. My meal was really tasty, but way too sweet for me (yes, even me) to enjoy the whole thing. I should've offered the rest to the ambitious gentlemen seated next to us. 

 

 

The short walk there became a long waddle on the way home. 

The Griddle Cafe on Urbanspoon