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Entries in Deli (12)

Monday
Dec032012

New Market Menu comes to UMAMIcatessen

*Post by Mark.

It wasn't long ago that Adam Fleischman's UMAMIcatessen opened in downtown, expanding the popular burger empire into a multi-headed beast of a delicatessen/burger-stand/bar/donut/coffee shop. When the 170-seat, table-service dining hall first opened, we scarfed down delicious shrimp burgers, brainaise-covered fries, donuts stuffed with foie gras (not anymore, thanks foie gras ban!) along with pigs ears and cured Spanish meats thanks to San Francisco Chef Chris Cosentino's involvement. 

It's been nearly a year, and UMAMIcatessen continues to evolve. Recently, we were invited in to try a number of new dishes to counter the otherwise rich, meat-heavy menu. The pork, burgers and donuts haven't gone anywhere, but now there seems to be a nice happy balance.

First, it'd be negligent of us not to mention that The Back Bar at UMAMIcatessen is worth checking out in and of itself. The bar boasts a really solid beer list, a fun cocktail list - including the Bourbon Pig with bacon-washed bourbon, sugar, bitters and crispy pig ear (below, center) and the Black Jack with Jack Daniels honey, apricot liqueur, orgeat, lemon and blackberries (below, right) - and a substantial wine list. In other words, they've got your alcohol needs covered.

 

 

But the real news is the addition of the newly launched Market Menu, featuring seasonal small plates that provide meat-eaters a little ruffage to go with their protein, and give vegetarians/pescatarians a much wider selection from which to choose.

Smoked sturgeon potato salad with fingerling potatoes, celery, and truffled creme fraiche ($5, below, left) features chunks of fish so smoky and meaty, you could almost believe it was bacon, as well as a luscious dressing. The macaroni salad ($5, below, right) is the lightest version of the dish you could hope for, with carrot, cabbage, and slivers of scallions providing heft and crunch, pickled shiitakes adding a litte tartness, and a creamy but not-at-all heavy Japanese dressing pulling it all together.

 

 

Both the colorful salad of black quinoa, chickpeas, bell pepper, tomato, and cucumber with a citrus vinaigrette ($5, below, top left) and the cilantro ginger slaw ($3, below, top right) with green and red cabbage, Asian pear, mint, and pickled chiles tossed in a traditional gingery Japanese dressing, are bright, light and refreshingly crunchy. Most interesting of the new plates is a dish of crispy Brussels sprouts leaves tossed with a generous helping of honey mustard dressing and parmesan ($4, below, bottom center) - basically sprouts with a fast-food style makeover, and I mean that in a good way.

 

 

Slightly more basic, but no less tasty are the earthy, sweet multi-colored roasted beets, served with dollops of light-as-air dill creme fraiche ($4, below).

 

 

The caramelized squash ($5, below) is also really simple, but truly outstanding: cumin yogurt, lime and smoked paprika work beautifully against the slight sweetness of the squash.

 

 

The last of the small plates, the roasted baby carrots ($4, below, top center) get an elegant dressing up with a subtle honey glaze, torn mint leaves and a smear of dark, spicy harissa.

UMAMIcatessen is also keeping its core list of salads, which are pretty straightforward, but well-executed and more substantial than the small plates: the Greek salad ($12, below, bottom left) is a combo of marinated sous vide chicken, pickled peppers, cucumbers, olives, cherry tomatoes and feta vinaigrette; the chopped salad ($12, below, bottom right) is a mélange of albacore, radicchio, endive, butter lettuce, chickpeas, red onions, and gribiche (coarse vinaigrette, with chopped cornichons and capers and hard-boiled eggs) dressing.

 

 

You may feel the need to scarf something more indulgent after all those greens, and obviously, UMAMIcatessen has got you covered. A rich clam chowder (not currently on the menu, but likely to make an appearance in the future) with thick, gilstening slices of pork belly wipes out all the good points earned from the salads, but it's delicious enough to be worth it. 

 

 

Even more intensely meaty is the P!GG Breakfast sandwich ($11, below, left), a housemade English muffin jam-packed with sausage, pig-ear bacon, cheddar cheese, hot sauce, and a maple-poached egg. You can almost feel the heart attack coming over you as the perfectly runny yolk dribbles down your chin, but the sandwich is just too good to stop. And if you want to sate your meat cravings with beef instead, the pastrami from The Cure (below, right) has got you covered.

 

 

With all the good stuff going on at Umami Burger, The Cure, P!GG, and the bar, it would be easy to forget to save room for dessert. That would be a mistake, as UMAMIcatessen's very own donut shop in the corner makes a mean whisky bread pudding donut ($5, below) topped withdried fruit and zested orange cream cheese.

 

 

So yeah, carnivores and lovers of the decadent, UMAMIcatessen is still your jam. But now you don't have to leave your vegetarian family member/friend/significant other at home when you visit. Bring 'em along - you can all get stuffed at UMAMIcatessen together. 

UMAMIcatessen - Downtown LA
852 S. Broadway,
Los Angeles, CA 90014
213-413-UMAMI (8626)
Web: http://www.umami.com/umamicatessen/
Twitter: @umamiburger

Hours: Sunday-Thursday,11:30a-11:00p, Friday-Saturday, 11:30a-12:00a

UMAMIcatessen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Sep202011

A Tale of Two Bay Cities - Obtaining Santa Monica's Preeminent Sandwich

*Post by Mark.

Ever since I moved to Los Angeles, every conversation about sandwiches has always taken a turn towards Bay Cities. The gourmet market has been serving Santa Monica since 1925, and its sandwiches, with an extensive array of Italian meats and cheeses, may very well be the closest thing to a bustling New York deli you'll find in LA. After much procrastination, we finally made it into Bay Cities on a recent weekend to grab some pre-hike sandwiches.

Yet, we discovered, there are two different ways to approach Bay Cities with dramatically differing outcomes. The experience of ordering online can be a pleasant one, whereas a spontaneous visit can prove a stressful free-for-all, and it wouldn't be fair to consider the deli without taking both experiences into account. 

 

 

Let's file our first Bay Cities experience into the lesson learned category - a harrowing, nightmarish adventure filled with folly. Consider this a cautionary tale. Our first mistake was going around lunchtime on a Saturday morning. Cars were lined up in the street, backing up traffic, just to wait for a spot in the parking lot. But the experience wasn't all about our mistakes. Before we even made it through the front doors a security guard welcomed us by screaming about not taking pictures inside. 

We acquiesced to the apparent no-pictures-inside policy, but soon discovered it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Inside, we were pulled into an elbow-to-elbow maelstrom of disorganized chaos. Along the right side of the store, the long deli counter and the crowd surrounding resembled a war zone. People fought their way to grab pre-made sandwiches like Bay Cities' signature Godmother sandwich. Everyone else grabbed a ticket and fought to hold their position near the counter. I've seen tamer crowds in the pits of a Rage Against the Machine concert.

 

 

When our number was eventually called, Angela took care of the ordering while I ventured away to scavenge for some side dishes in the market section of Bay Cities, which was not much better than the deli counter. Narrow, packed aisles meant people stepping on your toes, hands reaching over top of you with blatant disregard for humanity. It was like The Road Warrior and obtaining a plastic tub of potato salad was a kill-or-be-killed conquest.

 

 

Meanwhile Angela was having troubles of her own. A moment's pause while ordering sandwiches?  Well that gets you yelled at, too. Twenty minutes later, sandwiches in hand we stepped into another long line to pay. With all the pre-made Godmother sandwiches, we could've saved ourselves a lot of trouble, Angela noted, if only she hadn't wanted her Godmother without onions. Nevertheless, we paid for our sandwiches and left, attempting to wash our hands of the last forty-five harrowing minutes whilst also trying to return our blood pressures to normal levels.

 

 

We waited until we were settled at a picnic table in Temescal Gateway Park before unwrapping our hard-won prizes. I had opted for a simple sandwich with proscuitto and hefty chunks of fresh mozzarella (above). The bread, although not as fresh as I would have liked, was excellent - crusty, chewy and flavorful.

 

 

Angela, still shaken from the whole process, managed to enjoy her Godmother (above) for a full 30 seconds before realizing that, despite her specific request, her sandwich contained onions. All of that waiting and shot-nerves was for nothing. She chould've just walked in and grabbed a pre-made sandwich after all. Once she had the chance to rant, cool down and pick the onions off, she begrudingly conceded that the both the bread and ingredients (Genoa salami, mortadella, cappicala, ham, proscuitto, and provolone) were top notch.

 

 

The sides I managed to grab, cole slaw and potato salad (above), didn't really register one way or another. But these little Peruvian cookies we nabbed (below) gave us a nice sweet ending to our picnic meal.

 

 

Where Bay Cities is truly king is their extensive selection of fresh ingredients. But, if you're willing to accept more limited ingredient offerings, we'd recommend All About the Bread, where the bread is always fresh out of the oven and the counter-staff actually remembers your name instead of yelling at you. Of course Michael Voltaggio's ink.sack and Westwood's Fundamental are leading the wave of a new gourmet sandwich shops in town providing reasonable alternatives. 

 

 

But it would be purely sour grapes for us to suggest that Bay Cities isn't responsible for some of the best sandwiches in LA. Order ahead and you'll likely agree. When you order online you'll find your sandwiches waiting for you on a rack in a much tamer side of the market. But if you stumble upon Bay Cities during peak hours without planning ahead, I suggest following the immortal advice of The Road Warrior's villianous Lord Humungous, "Just walk away."

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Friday
Feb112011

Bagel Nosh

*Post by Mark.

Like most cities not named New York City, Los Angeles seems to suffer from a relative void when it comes to good bagels. Sure, maybe it's that perfect pizza/bagel-making holy water that flows like manna from the pipes of New York City that does the trick. I won't deny the magic capabilities of New York City's drinking supply, but I do think part of the great bagel dilemma comes from a lack of freshly baked options, plain and simple. 

 

 

My first time at Bagel Nosh involved a little embarrassment. Stepping up to the counter, I had ordered a 'toasted bagel'. "Toasted?" the employee scoffed back at me. The bagels were fresh from the oven. He wasn't kidding. A plume of steam greeted me as I opened the two halves of my bagel. It's certainly been a while since I've made that pleasant discovery. I spent two years looking for a decent bagel in D.C. (okay, I may have been doing other things in addition to that, but you get the point) but my efforts turned up only bunk. 

 

 

Okay, so yes, this salted bagel (below) is clearly toasted. Subsequent visits have returned bagels that were further removed from the cooking process, so I've settled for the toaster. Yet there's still something to be said for a bagel that hasn't had to journey through all of Middle Earth just to arrive in a plastic basket on my table. In the age of Starbucks, I've nearly forgotten how amazing a freshly-made bagel tastes. That's not to take a knock at the coffee conglomerate, even the most well-meaning cafes have their bagels outsourced.

 

 

On my last visit, I had to convince Angela just to try one. She's not exactly the bagel enthusiast that I am, but someone had to keep my company while I scarfed down two of their warm, golden bagels. 

 

 

Angela sprung for a bagel sandwich with sausage and pepper jack cheese. While her sandwich earned obligatory points for freshness, the combination of ingredients came off surprisingly bland. The plain bagel could've used a little more salt, and even the pepper jack seemed lacking in seasoning. But there's no denying the tastiness of the bagel itself.

 

 

I may have had better bagels (namely in and around New York City) but gotta give Bagel Nosh credit for doing it right. If it isn't fresh, it's just a dried out waste of carbs. Anyone have a favorite bagel in Los Angeles? A place where I can satisfy my cravings at the source. I've noticed that Salt's Cure has freshly made bagels in their window every morning. If they're as good as everything else we've had from their kitchen, perhaps that will make for a future post. 

Bagel Nosh Deli on Urbanspoon

Monday
Jan312011

Food + Lab

*Post by Mark.

The simple signage (below) out front of the Santa Monica Boulevard storefront says it all. Food Lab brands their store with the international symbols for 'Heart', 'Food' and 'Happy'. Does the heart stand for love or heart-healthy? A strong case could be made either way. If it's not the collection of quality ingredients served inside that keeps me coming back, it's the superior service and branded smiles on the baristas and servers who man the register and deliver your lunch.

 

 

Breakfast, sandwiches and salads can be spruced up with a supplemental selection from a case full of fresh sides (below, left). Those browsing the case will also discover an assortment of winning takeaways, like housemade speck, Boccalone salami and Dean & Deluca sauces.

Diners sip on coffee or house-made juices while eating pastries out front or in the larger seating area out back (below, right), where the only thing that disrupts the tranquil afternoon is the occasional rumbling engine from the Thunder Road Motorcycle Shop next door. 

 

 

Coffee drinks come in big ol' bowls (below). The portion is appreciated, though a handle would be a nice gesture to keep me from slurping and dribbling my latte down my chin. In spite of how much may or may not make it into my mouth, it's some of the better coffee in town.

 

 

The organic European-style yogurt with berries (below, right) is one of the lighter options on the breakfast menu. During the weekends, you can also fill up on organic egg dishes like the smoked salmon and creme fraiche omelette. 

 

 

The breakfast menu also hosts a collection of sandwiches. The hard-boiled egg sandwich (below) is served on wheat bread and loaded with juicy ingredients like farm raised bacon, watercress & aioli. Sandwiches are served a la carte and range from $7-$12. The price is usually justified by the quality of ingredients, as you'll find stuff like fresh figs or lingonberry chutney on your sandwich.


 

Salads are no different, ranging from $9.50-13. Food + Lab's plates of greens are loaded with impressive toppings. The crispy prosciutto & fig salad is served with halloumi, candied pecans, balsamic and apricot over a bed of arugula. 

 

 

For lunch, you'll find an entirely new assortment of sandwiches. I enjoyed the chicken salad and Cuban-tyle sandwiches, respectively. The delicious organic turkey breast (below) is served on wheat with brie, pear, honey and fig compote. Balancing out the perk of the extensive menu is that Food + Lab tends to run out of some of those quality ingredients with regularity.  

 

 

Having already catered and cooked for celebs like Gwen Stefani and David Beckham, the mother and son team of Esther and Nino Linsmayer has turned their catering business into a collection of storefront Food + Lab markets around town. Come for lunch or just for coffee, Food + Lab is a great place to meet friends, get some work done or just waste a couple hours on a warm spring afternoon. For those wanting to finish their meal with dessert, the Lab also carries ice cream sandwiches from @Coolhaus and delicious cookies from @DeLuscious to sate your sweet tooth.

 

Food + Lab Cafe & Marketplace on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Jan202011

A Belated Blogiversary Best of 2010

*Post by Mark & Angela.

One whole year. A year since we started this little experiment of a blog, a year since we took our food game to the next level. Loyal followers of the blog have stuck with us since our ugly layout over at blogspot, and may have noticed a slight evolution in picture-taking (we're still figuring out how this thing works). With this post, we'll have put up 100 recipe posts and a 150 restaurant posts. Not too shabby for our first year.

In that year, we've switched coasts, moving from DC to LA. We've also made a lot of really good friends through blogging, and had a handful of mind-blowing meals, some great ones, some good ones... and a few duds.

But today, as we look back on 2010 - our first year of blogging - let's focus on what was great (like this seared foie gras from Proof in DC, below). Ready?

 

 

Best Unblogged Meals

Not every meal lends itself to being blogged. Sometimes toting a camera is inappropriate. Sometimes, you - err... forget said camera at home. 

The former was the case when Angela toured through Chef Keller's 9-course menu at Per Se, and the latter was true when we found ourselves at DC's classy cafe Palena, sans camera. The fried marrow at Per Se blew Angela's mind and the Roast Chicken (crappy iPhone picture below) at Palena was arguably the best Mark had ever tasted.

 

 

Everyone knows the old adage, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Well, if you're a food-blogger and you don't take a picture of it... did you even eat it at all? When it's become your hobby to obsessively take pictures of everything you eat, the answer is sadly not as obvious as you might think.

Best Pizza

Ah... a subject very dear to our hearts. Let's start with the runner-ups - our two favorite DC-area pizzerias: Taking the DC crown by a thin slice of pepperoni is 2 Amys (also unblogged) whose Neapolitan pies are almost perfect. Pizzeria Orso wasn't that far off, (Orso's meat-heavy Giamette below) with their volcanic brick-oven churning out pizzas almost identical to 2 Amys. 

 

 

A New York trip enabled us to check out the pies (and super long lines) at Grimaldi's, but the real winner in 2010 comes from the birthplace of 'Apizza': New Haven, CT. At Pepe's we were treated to some of the finest, most perfect pizza we'd ever tasted. It wasn't just the best pizza we'd eaten in 2010, it was probably the best pizza we've ever eaten.

Best Cheesesteak

This section exists only because we were lucky enough to make a few summer trips to sunny Philadelphia in 2010. Mark posted not one but two extensive reviews of the best cheesesteaks in town. The winner turned out to be John's Roast Pork (below), whose steak sandwich is even better then the pork it built its namesake on.

 

 

Earning points for creativity is Jose Andres with Minibar's "Philly cheesesteak" (below), which has a clever and delicious spin on the Philly classic (the 'whiz' is in the middle!).

 

Hottest Food

You can't have a 'hottest' section without a hat tip to the Thais. At Pa-Ord, Angela found out the hard way just how much spice can go into dish. The boat noodles at Pa-Ord were an easy choice for runner-up. More on them in a minute.

The winner was a concoction of our own, in which we loaded a curry with Ghost Pepper. The best part was that video-taped our friend eating an entire plate of the hot-as-lava curry:

 

 

Best Burger

While we have to give a nostalgic mention to our favorite DC burger franchise, Ray's Hell Burger, the winner was an easy choice. Oaks Gourmet's burger (below) comes stacked with black forest bacon, taleggio cheese, red onion, arugula and a jalapeno-pineapple compote. Burger chains, take note - this is how a burger should be done.

 

 

Best Sandwich

Our Los Angeles adventures have already made us huge fans of the sandwich shop around the corner, All About the Bread and its fresh baked, crispy-on-the-outside bread. But, aside from all the delicious burgers and cheesesteaks we've eaten this year, the best thing we ate between two slices of bread were the amazing Italian sandwiches (below) at Di Pasquales in Baltimore.

 

 

Best Cheap Eats

Nothing beats a great meal that doesn't break the bank. Any short list would have to include Vietnamese sandwich at the DC-area Bánh Mì DC Sandwich, the mouth-numbing mapo tofu at DC's Great Wall, the aforementioned sandwiches from Charm City's Di Pasquales, Ethiopian delicacies from Lalibela, a Luchador-themed taco shop in San Diego and delicious new-wave tacos from Los Angeles' very own Tinga Buena (below)... which, truth be told, aren't even that cheap compared to most taquerias. But this is our list, so be quiet.

 

 

Once again, a little Thai hole-in-the-wall just outside of Hollywood has stolen our hearts and left us our wallets. Not only did those spicy boat noodles (below) at Pa-Ord make an impression on us heat-wise, but entrees at this authentic Thai eatery are mostly $6 or $7. 

 

 

Best Dessert

A few desserts stand out above the rest. Osteria Mozza's trio of gelatos, the Tre Gelati Misti nearly stole the show from an already amazing dinner. The 'Kit Kat Bar' (below, left) was a memorable meal-ender at Michel Richard's Central in DC. And that's olive oil ice cream melting over the Chocolate Cream dessert (below, right) at DC's Equinox, but it's the chocolate and coffee granules that made it a textural treat...

 

 

But the big winner was a subtle dessert that achieved the impossible. This one got Angela, a notorious dessert-skipper with no sweet tooth, to fall in love with dessert. The bacon-seared pound cake at Eola combines an artful presentation with subtle savory flavors. Served over a delicious bacon anglaise, the pound cake is topped with berries, herbs and a cucumber-basil ice cream.

  

Best Meal At Home 

We love to cook, too. And by 'we,' we mean 'Angela.' Mark has been on the receiving end of more home-cooked food then he deserves. They can't all be winners, but some meals have stuck in our minds longer then others. Take for instance Angela's Chicken Adobo (below), or that one time that the gnocchi turned out the way it was supposed to. 

 

 

Angela's Beer Can Chicken (below) combined two things we're passionate about (poultry and beer) to great effect. And we may be trying to forget the finale of the show 'Lost,' but we won't soon forget the dorky-as-all-get-out 'Lost'-Themed Dinner we prepared for the final season's premiere.

 

 

But the most memorable meal may have to be our first foray into homemade pasta making, when Angela magically turned hours of frustrating labor into some of the best pasta we've ever had. Angela's Butternut Squash Ravioli with Butter and Sage (below) melted in our mouths. Sure, things tend to taste better when you've slaved over them yourself, but this is a dish I'd be happy ordering anywhere.

 

 

Favorite Restaurant Experience

Because it's not just about the food, sometimes service and atmosphere can contribute as much or more to the overall experience. It was pretty awe-inspiring just to be in the house that Ripert built at Le Bernardin and to experience seamless three-Michelin star service. At Baltimore's Woodberry Kitchen (below) we discovered just how far a concept and environment could take an already great meal. 

 

 

We left San Diego unable to talk about anything besides the fantastic food, service and experience we'd had at Whisknladdle, and had memorable experiences at Chef Byron Brown's Artisa Kitchen in DC and Thursday night Big Fat Greek Supper at LA's Papa Cristos.

But the ultimate dining experience this year was our trip to Jose Andres' Minibar in DC - a six-seat bar where a team of chefs concoct a series of dishes before your eyes with mind-blowing molecular technique. We enjoyed thirty courses in all, like the maki-style, rolled 'Guacamole' (below, left) or the 'Tzatziki' (below, right) created by dropping greek yogurt in liquid nitrogen.

 

 

Best Food

Experience-wise nothing tops Minibar, whose food was still amongst some of the best we've tasted over the course of 2010. We also can't leave out Le Bernardin or Per Se. Other close-to-perfect meals, like our memorable trip to DC's Eola, just seemed to have the food-ordering gods looking out for us. We can't leave out our new favorite LA restaurant, Fraiche (Chef Ben Bailly's veal tartare below) after an incredible Christmas evening dinner with family.

 

 

But the big grand prize winner of the year goes to Komi, DC's top-rated restaurant for very good reason. Weeks of busy signals finally yielded a reservation, and our treat was a 20-course Greek-inspired menu, crafted by the masterful hands of Chef Johnny Monis. Komi doesn't allow pictures, but we still vividly recall every dish that - arranged in a journey that culminated with homemade pastas and a feast of slow-roasted goat shoulder - is still something we dream about. 

Thank you all for sticking with us this year! We're looking forward to another year of eating great food and meeting wonderful people. 2011 is sure to be even better then 2010.